A Public Conversation Among People Who Care
March 10, 2005Stuck in the middle
The image of arts managers as Wile Coyote suspended in mid-air is now a picture I'll keep in my head for a long time, thanks to Bill.
Yes, it's clearly past time to rethink the system. We have too many organizations in the middle range of size and resource, and if the cracks aren't showing yet it is only a matter of time, to echo Cassandra. This difficulty of the mid-size is by no means confined to the arts; with economists on our blog line I don't need to explain why in any system the middle is usually an untenable place to be -- lots of heavy tomes have been written about this. There will no doubt be some culling, and as painful as it may be this is part of any dynamic system. Adrian notes the problem of the "drive to survive" subverting the purpose of organizations, and this leads to an even greater problem with their long term sustainability: insufficient differentation. Everyone starts to look sort of the same to the consumer, in the same range of artistic risk and about the same price. This is the beginning of consumer indifference, and the points that Ben and Midori have made about the excellence of the product are ones that arts organizations ignore at their peril.
Enough doom and gloom from me. It is time for us to encourage and demand the funding of risk, for all aspects of programming. In the happy event of future surpluses, money should be retained to keep investing in pushing back the artistic boundaries, rather than doing the same thing faster and in a bigger hall. Bill points out that the expected failure rate in the commercial sector is much more realistic -- it's time for us to stop trying to make part of the case for the arts that its leaders have an ability to land on a dime every single time. But we can't have misses to leaven our hits if those misses mean we go out of business. So perhaps one of the better cases to be made to the arts to funders, both foundations and individual donors, is that funding risk and accepting failure are the visionary end of philanthropy. It also means we could take our conversations with them up a level, to actually talk about the art. I suspect they would enjoy it -- as would we all.
Posted by rtaylor at March 10, 2005 12:42 PM