Taming our inner speculators …


A few days ago, while doing research, an article caught my attention. It was written in 1936 and it was about the birth of Theatre Arts magazine twenty years earlier (in 1916). Here's how the founding of the magazine is described in the article:*** For it began in revolt against musty tradition, its first issue proclaiming a credo that still rings in the ear: ‘To help conserve and develop creative impulse in the American theatre; to provide a permanent record of American dramatic art in its formative period; to hasten the day when the … [Read more...]

On organizations evolving: when short-term coping mechanisms become the new way of doing business


A couple weeks ago, one of my favorite arts bloggers, Andrew Taylor (a/k/a The Artful Manager) wrote a post whose title conveys a pretty strong thesis: Organizations don’t evolve; they cope.  While I share Andrew’s skepticism of the field’s use of natural world metaphors (ecosystem, ecology, evolve, adapt, sustainability, etc.) it’s not because I think the metaphors don’t apply (within limits); it’s because I think we sometimes misapply them. Andrew begins his analysis with a comparison between individual organizations and individual … [Read more...]

Nonprofit Arts Orgs and the Boards That Love Them

Ashamed head-in-hands

Last week I read an article by Pablo Eisenberg in the Chronicle of Philanthropy in which he argues that greater oversight of nonprofits is needed because nonprofit boards can no longer be trusted to make sure the institutions they govern are serving the public interest, which they are legally obliged to serve. Eisenberg mentions hospitals and universities in particular, citing the recent debacles at University of Virginia and Penn State as evidence for why we can no longer put our faith in boards. However, I think it’s fair to say that the arts … [Read more...]

Are we a sector defined by our permanently failing organizations?

zombies are people too

A few weeks back I wrote a post responding to a session at the Theatre Communications Group conference in which an esteemed leader of a resident theater (Michael Maso) called “bullshit” on some criticisms being lobbed at large theater institutions. I am incredibly grateful to all who took the time to read or respond to the post. The comments, including a link to Mr. Maso’s response, are well worth reading if you have not done so. I want to pick up on some of the ideas raised by Maso and others in a future post, but today I want to draw … [Read more...]

As nonprofits do we (or should we) put all art in service of instrumental ends?


This past Thursday and Friday I had the honor of attending a convening on global performance, civic imagination, and cultural diplomacy at Georgetown University, hosted by Derek Goldman and Cynthia Schneider. By bringing "leaders in international theater and performance together with foreign policy leaders from academia, think tanks, and government," the stated hope of the organizers was to bridge the gap between the fields of politics and culture, to the mutual benefit of both. Over the course of the first two days of the convening some … [Read more...]

Theatre Bay Area’s “Counting New Beans”

counting new beans

Clay Lord and the fine folks at Theatre Bay Area have a new publication out: Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art, which includes interviews with 20 prominent artistic directors and essays by Alan Brown, Rebecca Ratzkin, Arlene Goldbard, Rebecca Novick, and Clayton Lord. It also includes an interview with yours truly. Here's an excerpt from my long and winding conversation with Clay Lord. I've edited together excerpts (elipses mark missing sections) from two different parts of the interview. Clay Lord: You’ve written … [Read more...]

What are the aims of direct subsidies to artists?

why are artists poor

Polly Carl has posted a new piece on HowlRound, A Virtual Theater Movement,  in which she remarks on a recent trend in arts philanthropy: increased direct support for artists. This philanthropic trend prompts me to ask, “What are funders hoping to achieve by providing direct subsidies to individual artists?” and to raise the ideas of a colleague from Erasmus, artist/economist Hans Abbing, who wrote a book in 2002 called Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts, an excellent summary of the chapters therein you can … [Read more...]

The times may be a-changin’ but (no surprise) arts philanthropy ain’t


The Philanthropy News Digest recently sent me a bulletin with the headline, “Arts Funding Does Not Reflect Nation's Diversity, Report Finds” which linked me to an AP Newsbreak article with the headline “Report finds arts funding serves wealthy audience, is out of touch with diversity”. My initial thought was, “Seriously? We need a report to tell us this?” The report, Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, was produced by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and written by Holly … [Read more...]

Why not rid ourselves of the nonprofit burden?

shutterstock_46900666 sisyphus

Chad Bauman, Director of Communications at Arena Stage, has suggested in a recent post on his blog that perhaps nonprofit resident theaters should consider casting off their nonprofit status. These are surprising words given the rather generously supported theater where he works. When I suggested in my recent post L3C Cha Cha Cha (referenced by Mr. Bauman) that some nonprofits might have been more appropriately organized at the outset as L3C’s (if such a model had existed at the time) I was not suggesting that current nonprofits give up their … [Read more...]

Oh, nonprofit model. Where do we go from here?

afta header_logo

May 16-20 I blogged for Americans for the Arts on ARTSblog. AftA brought together a group of thinkers to ponder the future of the nonprofit model. (Cue dramatic music.) In all seriousness, I'm honored to have been asked to contribute to the discussion. Here's the framing post for the discussion, written by Valerie Beaman and my three posts: L3C Cha Cha Cha, Need a new way of working? How about the old way?, and The Blurring/Vanishing/Missing Line Between Commercial and Nonprofit. And if you go to AftA's Private Sector Blog and scroll to … [Read more...]