Holding boards responsible

Critics and arts journalists are quick to hold artists responsible for the work they produce. They have an equal responsibility to hold governing boards of artistic organizations responsible for their management decisions, especially when non-profit boards have such immense control over what is done.

Lansing's professional resident theater, BoarsHead, recently laid off three employees (their education director, their general manager, and their carpenter) and changed a show mid-season to one with fewer actors after their board demanded they cut $150,000 to $200,000 in expenses. They were forced to do this despite the fact that they've been playing critically successful shows to full houses. Their budget had taken a short-fall due to the death of a donor and the reduction in state monies.

The president of their board, Larry Meyer, is a businessman whoƂ is the president of the Michigan Retailers Association. He appears to have little understanding of how an arts organization is distinct from a commercial business. In the coverage of these layoffs, I kept waiting for Meyer to be asked why, if BoarsHead is to be run like just another business, anyone should donate money to them? We wouldn't donate money to Wal-Mart so that they could increase market share. By showing a lack of commitment to the season and to artists, the board sends the message that money is more important than the art they create--which makes future donors less likely to give.

Also, why lay off the education director who has been bringing in grant moneys far in excess of his salary or the managing director who saves the theater money by hosting actors at her home and who has wide connections in the community?

At the NEA Institute, Ben Cameron talked about a society's need for the gift economy and the market economy to be in balance. Commercial businesses compose the market economy while artists, clergy, and teacher compose the gift economy. The two can't successfully be run the same.

When a board suddenly demands that a theater organization in the midst of a successful season change shows and staffing, there must be a reason more compelling than budget projections not hitting where expected. Nor is it healthy to have a board president whose response to creative suggestions is to threaten to shut the theater down if they refuse to comply with his draconian demands.

Unlike commercial businesses, theater and the arts are supposed to be the vehicle that invigorates the soul in our society. Their success is perilous if their fate is placed into the hands of businesspeople whose understanding of the bottom line eclipses their commitment to the arts.

March 15, 2007 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)


Leave a comment


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on March 15, 2007 11:30 AM.

Taking a break was the previous entry in this blog.

Speaking of BoarsHead is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.