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March 1, 2005

Yet another hyphenated competitor

Just as I was getting used to edu-tainment (education that's entertaining), eater-tainment (restaurants that sell themed experience), and enter-tailing (retailers with an experiential eye), along comes another contender for audience time and attention: agri-tainment. It's a catch phrase for farms and other agricultural businesses that push tourist or attraction revenue to balance their books. According to this article on the trend:

Today, the economic existence of many family farms is being threatened by the modern global agricultural economy. To offset the loss of traditional farm income, many farms are taking advantage of their unique nostalgic, rural and outdoor appeal by developing entertainment attractions as additional sources of income, sometimes referred to as 'agri-tainment' ('agri'culture plus enter'tainment') or agri-tourism. These options range from such strategies as U-pick-it or pick-your-own, petting zoos, hay rides children's play areas and children's discovery farms to destination mazes, school field trips and unique eating destinations. One of the most successful independent entertainment destinations in the United States, Knott's Berry Farm, started as a traditional U-pick-it berry farm.

The new hyphenated competitor sprung to wider attention in Wisconsin recently, as one county board worked to regulate such efforts on working farms. To their eye, corn mazes, country breakfasts, hayrides, and pumpkin festivals were drawing crowds and traffic, raising health and safety concerns, and stressing rural community infrastructure.

Regardless the regulation, arts managers will now have to add another industry to their watch list of leisure time, experience-based competitors. Who's next? Pharmaceuticals?

Posted by ataylor at 8:39 AM

March 2, 2005

Pricing a la Wal-Mart

I'll admit to a strange fascination for how Wal-Mart does business. As one of the world's largest companies (they added about 50 million square feet of store space around the world last year, opening 50 - 70 new stores a month), the company is a machine of terrifying efficiency. And their sales volume offers them an interesting perspective on how consumers make choices, perceive value, and compare options.

Avid readers of Public Management magazine (all three of you) already know about a great overview of the Wal-Mart phenomenon -- and its implications for communities where stores are being built or planned.

One particularly fascinating section describes the mega-store's pricing strategy, which doesn't work toward the lowest prices on all items, but only those items that people can consciously compare:

A mid-size Wal-Mart supercenter may offer for sale 100,000 separate items, or stock-keeping units (skus). Wal-Mart and other major retailers believe that the general public knows the going price of only 1 to 2 percent of these items. Therefore, each Wal-Mart store shops for the prices of only about 1,500 items in their competitors' stores. If it is ever found that a competitor has a lower price on one of these items than Wal-Mart, the store manager will immediately lower his or her price to be the lowest in the area.

Price-sensitive merchandise is displayed in prominent places such as the kiosk at the entrance to the store, as well as on end caps, in dump bins, and in gondolas down the main aisles. Consequently, when Wal-Mart customers see the items of which they know the price, the ones always priced lower in Wal-Mart, they start assuming that everything else is also priced lower than at competing stores. This assumption is simply not true.

While I'm not suggesting an arts organization has the volume or scope of product to approach such a strategy, it is interesting to consider what elements of price are in the minds of our audiences, and how we can scale our pricing (both up and down) to shape their on-going dance of cost and value.

In a bizarre side note: Wal-Mart is also continually connected to actual sales through its main data center. The discoveries they make through this meta-worldview are often strange and compelling. For example, after tracking sales at their Florida stores surrounding hurricane Charlie, they discovered that consumers weren't only buying batteries and water, but also strawberry Pop-Tarts and beer. So, as a second hurricane approached the region, they bumped up the local stock of strawberry Pop-Tarts and beer.

According to this panel discussion, that commitment to feedback and strategic response is another key power of the Wal-Mart machine:

[So] you have a company that is deeply committed to understanding the nature of its customers, integrating that data closely with its operations; and the managers are willing to react strategically in a way that allows them to outdo the competition in terms of their ability to react. The lesson is that a proactive orientation where the managers are committed, where the systems are capable of delivering value, where the customers are going to react positively to that value when it's delivered and the company is able to efficiently deliver and earn a profit associated with that relationship, seems to be the hallmark of success.

There's lots in that statement of direct value to arts and cultural managers. We don't have to become Wal-Mart, but we can learn from it.

Posted by ataylor at 9:08 AM

March 3, 2005

The new price of symphony in St. Paul

In response to my drone about Wal-Mart pricing yesterday, I was interested to hear of at least one bold experiment in traditional concert pricing. The folks at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are radically rethinking the price of their neighborhood concert series for the coming season, hoping to draw a new family crowd. Says this article on the subject:

Starting this fall, SPCO prices at neighborhood venues will drop to $10 and $25, and $5 for children (17-year-olds will qualify, even if they feel insulted)....

Orchestra officials think they're positioning themselves at the front of a national debate on access to the arts. ''What we've done is completely contrary to the orthodoxy in our industry,'' said Limbacher. Added Coppock, ''It's not just a bold experiment, but a big step forward in serving the community much more broadly.''

The article goes on to challenge the remaining arts organizations in town to consider the question, as well:

And they will have posed important questions to the rest of the arts community: How does the price of admission affect your attendance? Are you letting seats go empty because you charge more than some of your audience can comfortably pay? And what are you willing to do about it?

Of course, arts managers out there can see one challenge to this bold experiment coming down the turnpike: the math. If a regular pricing structure covers only a portion of the actual cost of the performance (a fact that drives one of my current favorite contribution appeals), certainly a radically reduced price will cover even less. It will be left to contributed income on one side (and perhaps cost-control on the other) to remain solvent. But we'll assume here that St. Paul has already figured that part out.

Plus, nonprofit organizations aren't driven by math but by mission...even if they have to answer to math at the end of the fiscal year.

A second interesting element to this challenge is the specific focus on price. As an academic colleague of mine (hi Jennifer) keeps telling me, ''There is actually very little evidence that the majority of consumers believe that cultural experiences are too expensive. Particularly, current audience members are very price insensitive -- it takes dramatic increases in prices or extremely high prices to keep them away.'' More often, she says, the problem is not price, but the cost/value calculations:

Among non-audience members, the more commonly heard opinion is that cultural experiences are not valued as worth the cost to those individuals, which is a very, very different thing from ticket prices being too high. This could mean that these consumers do not value the arts highly, or that the time cost is too high for them, or that the social cost is too high for them, or the travel cost, or the opportunity cost of giving up one of the hundreds of other things that they could do on a Saturday night.

So, the balance, as always, is between yielding the revenue you can from those audience members that can and will pay a premium, while serving a broader mission by engaging folks with a different cost/value calculation. But all the while, the real game is in building perceived, expected, and remembered value through any means necessary.

SPCO is wise to focus its new pricing on its 'neighborhood' concerts, assuming they still charge a premium on their fancy venue shows. But it will be interesting to watch how the cost, the math, and the audience plays out over the coming season.

Posted by ataylor at 8:36 AM

March 4, 2005

That's how much we want the money

In an surprise ending to a story I linked to earlier this week, the entire board of the Lodi Historical Society in Lodi, Wisconsin, switched gears at the last moment and resigned, clearing the way for the organization to receive over $500K in bequest money.

In the town of 2900, the skirmish over a donor's dying wish has clearly worn out both the town and the nonprofit's board. He had given the money in his will, but only on the stipulation that all members of the board resign within a year of his death.

Quoted in this article, one society member was a bit bitter about the impact large gifts can have on small organizations:

Patti Gottschall Schuknecht, a charter member of the historical society, said if the bequest had been $50, people would have seen it as a bribe to disrupt the democratic process.

''The size of the gift blinds people to the fact that it is unethical,'' she said.

Posted by ataylor at 8:51 AM

March 7, 2005

The blog next door

I'll be working the blog next door this week -- a collaborative weblog exploring the recent Rand study, Gifts of the Muse, and its implications for arts advocacy, arts management, and arts in the public purpose.

Come take a look, and lend a comment to the conversation.

Posted by ataylor at 12:15 AM

March 14, 2005

The education reflex

I had a blast last week participating in the special ArtsJournal collaborative weblog asking 'is there a better case to be made for the arts?' There was so much depth and context to the entries and the comments, I don't need to dwell on it here.

But one recurring theme kept striking me throughout: our immediate, seemingly reflexive response to suggest education in the structure and form of art disciplines as a primary key to engaging audiences. The general assumption was captured in one of The Wallace Foundation's bullet-point conclusions in a press release:

Encourage arts organizations to provide rewarding experiences that connect with audiences and educate them to appreciate the arts.

That last phrase, 'educate them to appreciate the arts,' sounds so natural, so obvious, that we often let it slip by without raising the question: is functional knowledge of an art discipline the primary and most relevant variable of meaning and connection? Do I have to know how about Brecht's 'fourth wall' to feel connected in the interplay of drama and audience? Do I need to know about a recapitulation to be enthralled by a symphonic phrase?

Certainly, my experience with the art form will change as I learn about what makes it work, but is that knowledge really the key to my passion for it?

I'd suggest that the deeper answer to engaging audiences is not just in teaching, but in learning...not just in talking, but in listening. Then we can all discover -- audience, artist, arts organization -- what meaning we make together, rather than one side defining the terms for everyone.

Posted by ataylor at 8:44 AM

March 15, 2005

The future of independent media

More great stuff from the Global Business Network and Andrew Blau (both involved in The Future of Philanthropy report I linked to earlier), this time exploring the future of independent media in the real world and on-line.

The report explores the changing shape and structure of the media marketplace, as the means of production become ever cheaper, and the output from professionals and nonprofessionals starts to flow onto the Internet and other media channels. The discussion has direct relevance to any culture-related enterprise -- for-profit or nonprofit -- and is well worth a read.

Some of the summary findings:

  • The media landscape will be reshaped by the bottom-up energy of media created by amateurs and hobbyists as a matter of course....This bottom-up energy will generate enormous creativity, but it will also tear apart some of the categories that organize the lives and work of media makers.
  • The traditional relationship between the noncommercial and commercial media systems is changing. Both the commercial and the noncommercial realms are growing in size and complexity. What is also growing -- and growing more complex -- is the relationship between them.
  • The commercial/noncommercial distinction no longer serves the purpose it once might have. In part, that's because commercial firms have been getting into areas once thought of as the preserve of nonprofit organizations and noncommercial media....For younger makers and younger viewers, who often don't find these categories useful or indicative of anything, 'noncommercial' will no longer feel like an important marker.
Even if your organization deals in the real world of live experience, it's essential to be aware of cultural participation and production patterns in every realm. This report offers a fabulous map for that exploration.

Posted by ataylor at 8:36 AM

March 16, 2005

The higher math of government arts funding

Financial troubles at the Sydney Dance Company (SDC) and other SOBs (symphony, opera, ballet) in Australia are being laid at the feet of government, at least among some in the arts industry there. Says this article:

The financial crisis at the Sydney Dance Company, and the dismal affairs of the three state orchestras singled out in the Strong report this week, were the result of a lack of urgent government action in updating the way major arts companies are funded.

Although poor box-office returns at the SDC were among reasons cited for the problems, critics who did not wish to be named said the real problem for all the country's major arts organisations lay in the continued use of the original funding model set out by the landmark Nugent inquiry.

Since it seemed to be the source of the 'real problem for all the country's major arts organisations,' I figured the Nugent inquiry was worth a look. Prepared back in 1999 (not by Ted Nugent, which would have been cool...'Cat Scratch Fever'...but by a team led by banker Dr. Helen Nugent), the report was an advisory on how government support and policy should play a role in the country's 'major performing arts.' There's a link to the full report on this page (item number 5).

The report was a surprisingly 'banker-ish' treatise on strategic economics, calling for specific categories to guide funding and support for each arts organization:

The Inquiry recommends that, based on an assessment of a company's economics, artistic quality and breadth of product, each company should be designated -- for its core activities -- as a Global, Australian Flagship, Niche or Regional Flagship company....The Inquiry makes these recommendations so that Australia can benefit -- artistically and economically -- from each company's artistic capabilities. In turn, the companies can more readily take advantage of the changing external environment; focus their activities on what they do well; and avoid having their limited resources stretched too thinly by being asked to be 'all things to all people'.

The five-point funding model took these designations, and applied fairly exacting standards and formulas for funding:

  1. It established a 'normalized' cost base for each company recognizing its strategic role but designed to 'not reward inefficiency';
  2. It established a base level of government funding for companies in each artform, through a 'standard artform ratio' (yikes);
  3. It applied yet another 'adjustment factor' for companies outside of major metropolitan areas, reflecting their 'current inability to generate the same proportion of revenue from box office and the private sector as is possible for companies based in Sydney and Melbourne.';
  4. For four companies based in Sydney and Melbourne, it applied an 'artistic risk adjustment factor' to the base funding, recognizing their commitment to the development of new work; and
  5. It allocated the amount of funding responsibility to the Commonwealth and State Governments according to indicators in points 1 through 4.
Beyond the stark and formulaic approach to arts funding of the report, arts organizations are now also taking issue with the lack of periodic reviews of those formulae, the model's inflexibility to massive environmental shifts, and the seeming emphasis on larger, traditional arts organizations over smaller, non-traditional ones.

I've rarely seen a policy document as specific and strategic as this when it comes to the arts...which turns out to be both fascinating and frightening on many levels.

Posted by ataylor at 8:38 AM

March 21, 2005

Mergers and inquisitions

The 2002 merger of the Utah Symphony and Opera is a story worthy of, well, an opera (it's already the subject of a Harvard Business case study, which is sort of like an opera with financials). Full of intrigue and trials, the merger was intended to shore up and streamline the efforts of the two shaky organizations, but seemed instead to create one, larger shaky organization.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that musicians and management had reached a tentative contract agreement, even as the combined organization struggled to fill its multi-year deficit. Says this report:

The group's earned income suffered after the merger as paid attendance for operas and concerts declined and spending climbed. Performance revenue from ticket sales and fees from Utah Symphony & Opera's last season was $3.7 million -- lower than the $4.2 million earned by Utah Symphony alone in the year leading up to the merger, according to a recent audit.

The musicians and the management even pitched in together on a consultant to assess the damage and recommend a way out. Thomas W. Morris, former ED of the Boston Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, noted that:

....the organization has an ''underlying financial crisis (that) has been masked by reliance on major gifts.'' Morris concludes that ''financial solutions (are) not possible without organizational solutions.''

My favorite line from the media comes from the local NBC news station, speculating on the content of Morris' report (which is now available for download on the musicians' web site -- thanks Drew):

From what we can gather, that report suggests the board members and manager focus on finding donors and increasing ticket sales.

So, that's the secret. If only we had known.

NOTE: For more on this merger and the negotiations surrounding it, take a look at my neighbor blogger Drew McManus' entry on the subject.

Posted by ataylor at 9:05 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2005

A new content engine

Faithful readers will notice a whole new look to the weblog starting today. I've just switched from our old blog system to MovableType, the up-and-comer in the weblog world.

The new system will allow all sorts of new options and opportunities, but most of the benefits are under the hood...making this weblog more compatible with the growing blogosphere of search engines, shared links, and other doodads of minimal interest to most.

One handy new feature of the site is the ability for all of you to attach comments to each new post. Just click the 'comments' link where you see it, or fill out the form at the bottom of individual entries. To avoid comment spam, I'll be moderating all comments before I post them.

There are bound to be bumps and bumbles in this transition...and busted links scattered here and there. I'll try to track them down, and I'll thank you in advance for your understanding.

In the meanwhile, let me know what you think of the new site. I'm eager to take it out for a spin.

Posted by ataylor at 12:28 AM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2005

The instant 'season sampler'

In an effort to engage their loyal (and potentially loyal) audiences for an upcoming subscription push, many arts organizations have attempted a 'season sampler'...a CD full of selections from the music or shows to come, occasionally with an audio track or two from the artistic director, talking about why it will be their 'best season yet.'

The problem with the season sampler is the cost and effort...finding or recording the tracks, securing the rights, burning a master CD, duplicating a relatively short run, and mailing the discs out to the world can cost from $2 to $5 per unit.

Nowadays, with the proliferation of on-line audio stores and systems like Apple's iTunes, the 'season sampler' can be a completely virtual experience for you and your audience, perhaps costing only a little bit of time.

Here's an example: let's say your performing arts center's upcoming season features the Canadian Brass, some pianist playing the Philip Glass Etudes, and the local quasi-professional choir doing Fauré's Requiem (okay, an odd season, but I'm making this up on the spot). All this music is already on the web in several places, ready to be sampled and even purchased by your audience. All you have to provide are the links.

Enter Apple iTunes, the audio jukebox software and integrated music store available for free download. A bunch of folks -- on Macs and Windows machines -- use the program as a stand-alone music player. Some have an iPod to synchronize and carry their music with them. To craft a season sampler for my iTunes-enabled audience, I just jump to the iTunes Music Store Link Maker, and my sampler is all but done (you need iTunes installed for these links to work):

Canzon XIV Canadian Brass: Canzon XIV
Etude No. 1 Philip Glass: Etude No. 1
Requiem, Op. 48: IV. Pie Jesu (Sopran) Fauré Requiem, Pie Jesu

If I wanted to get really fancy, I'd create an iTunes iMix for the whole season that I could blast out in an e-mail message. Interested individuals could sample a few seconds, purchase what they like, and carry around my upcoming season on their iPods, preparing for the live experience to come.

The few drawbacks of this system are that the song or piece has to be in the iTunes library already (so you may have to settle for a less-favorite rendition), and the audience member has to have iTunes installed (it's free, but it's still an effort for the software-impaired). But the staff time required is minimal, and the result could be an interesting addition to your web site or e-mail newsletter.

Still need an audio track from your artistic director? Hook him/her up with a telephone and an account on Audioblog, where he/she can record and post recorded commentary for about $5 a month.

Every week it seems, there are intriguing new ways to connect people with cultural content on-line. This iTunes season sampler is just one tiny example of using these technologies to promote and advance the live creative experience.

Posted by ataylor at 8:30 AM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2005

Universities as urban planners and arts patrons

Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell has discovered that major universities are today's urban planners. As city government planning offices have become underfunded and politically weak, universities have picked up the slack, extending their efforts beyond classrooms and dorms and into multi-use neighborhoods and mixed-use downtown areas. Emerging from a panel on the subject, Campbell realized the scope of the trend:

I came away thinking that universities today are like the great aristocratic families of the past -- like the Dukes of Bedford, say, who in the 18th century developed their London estates into the neighborhood we call Bloomsbury. Universities today are working at that same kind of grand scale.

Their actions are worthy of being called city planning, because they involve a lot more than the creation of university buildings. Today, universities find that if they want to build at all, they must build entire neighborhoods, neighborhoods that provide jobs, housing, services, and entertainment for residents who may have no academic connections.

It's an interesting parallel to the findings of last year's American Assembly on 'The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education', which found a similar analogy for academia in the arts:

Several participants at this Assembly made the case that colleges and universities are the most important patrons of the arts in the country. It is surely true that higher education, if it is not the most important patron, stands as an extremely significant patron of the arts in the United States. It is especially notable that colleges and universities provide an extremely high level of support for new and innovative artistic product. In many parts of the country, colleges and universities provide singular venues for witnessing art and most of the opportunities for creating it.

So, now universities are the new Dukes of Bedford, the new Medicis, the new Andrew Carnegies...a comparison that should thrill and terrify them at the same time.

Posted by ataylor at 8:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2005

The stories behind the stubs

If anyone needed convincing about the depth and complexity of the collective creative experience, a quick visit to Ticketstubs should close the deal. Here's a collaborative weblog, open to public posts, that simply asks its visitors to scan a favorite ticket stub (to an arts event, sports event, rock show, whatever), and post the image with a narrative of the story surrounding that memento.

There's a reminiscence about a Jimi Hendrix performance in 1969, an early dating gaff following a Tori Amos show, a meaningful evening with Shakespeare at a performance of Richard III, a boring night of The Nutcracker, and many others...all with an image of the ticket stub, and the personal style of the author-du-jour.

It's clear from reading just a few entries that these are moments that define people's lives, and that the ticket stubs are markers of personal history. What a fabulous way to invite the world to share those markers. And what an interesting idea to extend to your own organization's website.

It's just a weblog with a great idea...start your own.

Posted by ataylor at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2005

It now takes a village to edit a book

Copyright counterforce Lawrence Lessig is taking a new approach to revising his 1999 treatise on technology, culture, and regulation, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. For the revision, he's opening up the original text to public comment, criticism, and editing through a rapidly growing web protocol called wiki.

On a wiki web site, visitors not only have authority to view the text and images on the page, but to edit and add text, as well. The technology has been used to create a massive and growing encyclopedia on-line (called the wikipedia), among other things. Lessig has adopted the approach as a public experiment in collective editing.

Business Week has a brief Q&A with Lessig on the project. Mercury News has a short article, as well.

Since so much creative work is collaborative by nature -- even the final edited and reviewed text of a single-author book -- it will be fascinating to watch how worldwide editing and rewriting of an existing book will work, or not.

If you've got an opinion on the book, wiki away!

Posted by ataylor at 1:28 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2005

Charity identity theft

A strange story out of Illinois suggests that charities can have their identities stolen too. According to this article in the Chicago Tribune, the Illinois Attorney General has filed suit against one nonprofit -- United Front Inc., and its president Alex Brooks -- for reinstating a defunct United Way chapter just to sign over its assets:

The suit, filed in Cook County Chancery Court, alleges that Brooks last September filed papers to reinstate the United Way of Harvey as a registered Illinois charity, although he had no prior leadership role there and thus no authority to do so.

The United Way of Harvey had been dissolved in June 2004 as an Illinois non-profit following a sweeping consolidation the year before of United Way chapters in this area, according to the suit and a spokeswoman for United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.

According to the suit, Brooks was able to reinstate the United Way of Harvey, and, as a new director of the charity, he signed a quitclaim deed for its building over to United Front. The suit claims that United Front then tried to evict tenants of the building.

So, keep your bylaws in a safe place and watch your wallets, or you might find your organization stolen from underneath you. Very strange.

Posted by ataylor at 7:11 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2005

The migration of the young professional

It may sound a bit like Wild Kingdom or some Nova special, but more cities and states are hunting and tracking young professionals. As the perceived importance of this link in the economic food chain rises, and the size of the available pool dwindles (thanks to birth rates a few decades back), governments and civic groups are becoming proactive in luring the skittish species into their nets.

According to this article, the states of Iowa, North Dakota, and Maine are working particularly hard to hold their young folks and attract others. In North Dakota, students graduating from a state university in technology and teaching can get a reimbursement of up to $5000 for remaining in the state to work. In Maine, a new proposal suggests creating a $50 million bond to help repay student loans in return for joining Maine's workforce...up to $20,000 after four years of work.

The federal government is even tracking this sought-after group, most notably in a 2000 report entitled ''Migration of the Young, Single, and College Educated: 1995 to 2000,'' available for download here.

With this competition for young folks at the state level, many cities are jumping into the game. A young professionals group in Milwaukee, for example, is developing a ''regional recruitability index'' (requires login) to benchmark their city's attractiveness to young professionals as compared to several peer cities. The efforts in some metropolitan areas are likely fueled by these inmigration/outmigration rankings that spun off of the U.S. Census numbers (I'm guessing the folks in Gainesville, Florida, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...both showing the largest net outmigration of young professionals...are mightily concerned).

So what does this have to do with the arts? According to Richard Florida's much-maligned but high-traction book on the Creative Class (as well as several smart folks before and since that book), a city or region's cultural life provides much of the lure for this group. By 'cultural life,' he means a full range of things including recreational space, bike lanes, 'street culture' in the form of bars, nightclubs, and hip scenes, and a spectrum of other amenities. Florida downplays the traditional bastions of civic culture as part of this essential mix -- the symphony, opera, ballet, established theater, and professional presenters. But there's some on-going debate about the role and power of these larger institutions in their local cultural ecology.

Either way, any time civic, government, and business leaders start to panic about something, it's a useful time to know how your nonprofit arts organization plays a role in its solution. At the very least, it's a good idea to be at the table for the conversation.

Posted by ataylor at 8:38 AM | Comments (1)

March 31, 2005

If you build'll be sorry

Friend and colleague Adrian Ellis received a nice profile in the New York Times yesterday, emphasizing his distrust of organizational growth as a sign of success. Instead, Adrian has focused much of his consultancy on providing a 'reality check' to organizations considering new buildings, new projects, or new funding initiatives.

For some organizations, he's become a 'party-pooper for hire,' brought on intentionally to balance the fairy-tale aspirations and ego gratification that often drive bold growth initiatives. Says the article:

One result of successes like Bilbao, Mr. Ellis said, is what has come to be referred to as BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goals. But these stars in the eyes can blind institutions to some of the less glamorous considerations, like bigger buildings generally lead to higher operating costs.

''You build them and you've got to run the damn things,'' Mr. Ellis said. ''Every piece of capital has with it a revenue tail.''

It's an organization-level version of the overbuilt issue in the entire arts ecosystem (covered in past blogs here and here). If most forces of nature lead us to get bigger (including institutional funders, major donors, internal and external measures of success, and other factors), what's to pull us back to reality?

And on the flip side, if we really took a rational and dispassionate look at every cultural project, building, or program we hoped to launch, would any of them actually happen? Says Adrian:

''Mission and market always pull you in different directions -- the art of running one of these institutions is finding the sweet spot,'' Mr. Ellis continued. ''As you turn up the volume, then the market considerations become that much larger, and it requires that much more ingenuity to protect the mission.''

Posted by ataylor at 8:44 AM | Comments (0)

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