Take the time to understand that your art is not your company’s product. Impact is, whether you want it to be or not. And if your company doesn’t aim for impact, it’ll never be essential.
Everything that happens in 2024 in the nonprofit arts world will go relatively unnoticed. At least in the United States.
The news will cover the poorly-written trash soap/reality show that is the trials and tribulations of one former president and the new trash soap/reality show that is the trials and tribulations of the current president. There will be multiple elections and primaries, national conventions and local terrorists, lots of yelling and lots of self-righteousness, and all the rest. Many people will fall under the various spells of national cable networks, which, given the intransigence of the studios during the recent writers’ and actors’ strikes, may become the only games in town. CNN-itis, Fox-itis, MSNBC-itis, PBS-itis, and NPR-itis will likely affect the airwaves.
It’s hard to capture the interest of a crowd with another rendition of Mame or a jaunty mixed-program from your local ballet company when there’s a circus of chaos and manipulation on television, radio, and the web 24 hours a day.
Who knows? There might even be another impeachment and acquittal, just like the last 2 impeachments and acquittals, which, if you don’t live or study the United States, means that lots of time and money will be wasted based on the following justification, culled from historical and non-historical verisimilitudes and verse directly drawn the greatest thinkers, poets, and orators in the 247 dynamic years of this experiment in representative democracy:
And art will go on, stronger than ever, even if many well-known and not-so-well-known nonprofit arts organizations will not. And no one outside the increasingly insular nonprofit arts organizations’ circle of support will notice the disappearance, or if they do, they’ll merely mutter, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and return to the election extravaganza.
In 2024, my book Scene Change: Why Today’s Nonprofit Arts Organizations Have to Stop Producing Art and Start Producing Impact will be released by Changemakers Books. Here’s a short clip, directed and produced by Becky Bruhn, who, despite an old fart subject, did quite a nice job.
I’ll be touring bookstores, doing podcasts, and generally speaking, doing all the things other authors do. If you want me to visit your boardroom, all you need to do is ask. My contact information is below. And, as the old joke goes, I haven’t bitten anyone in years.
Believe it or not, there is a potential bright spot during times of earsplitting rhetoric. As the cacophony of shouting, lies, and bullying that has replaced the original meaning of a political debate ramps up, you get the chance to quietly sit with your board, your staff, your artists, and your city/regional advocates and change the prism in which you do business in order to save the nonprofit arts industry. And you, of course.
You see, 2024 is also the year in which your organization will finally accede to the fact that its former mission – to produce art for art’s sake, for example – is causing it to die. It may be new to you and, knowing how entrenched people get in “how things work,” you’ll probably dig in your heels and continue to preach that “art is enough.”
But, remember, as an arts organization, you do not create art. Museums don’t. Theaters don’t. Ballets don’t. Et cetera. Artists create art. Art is essential. Arts organizations, therefore, are not.
Think of it like a restaurant. Restaurants do not cook food. Chefs (and staff) cook food. Food is essential. Restaurants, therefore, are not.
In 2024, you’ll think about what makes something essential. You might look back at the articles in this blog. Or others. But you might finally understand that regardless of the technicalities surrounding the tax-exempt activities of a nonprofit arts organization; regardless of whether the arts are even mentioned in the IRS code as tax-exempt activities (they’re not); regardless of whether you’ve been producing/presenting art in the same manner for years and have a loyal audience of people running the last lap of the 30,000-day marathon that is life; and regardless of whether you or your company have won that Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, or other appropriate award; the road to essential rolls through charitable acts. And you’ll spend the quietude of your board meetings and local diner bull sessions asking how you can make that happen and become a real charity that only requires donations and not the sticky commercial attitudes of selling tickets.
In 2024, you’re going to love and hate the business. But hell, you do now.
You’ll probably love and hate me. But hell, you do now.
Just so you know, I’m not going to make any money off this book. It’s not as though I’m independently wealthy. I’m not. But it was never my intention to do anything but sound a very loud alarm, get your attention, and give you a way to succeed. Buy it anyway, preferably from your favorite independent bookstore, but even if they’re all gone, it’s available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon right now. When you finally get it, write in all the margins on all the pages. Agree or disagree with the advice, even if it’s painful. Keep an open mind.
Some people have taken it seriously and their work is happily aimed at creating positive change for their communities. Life is better for a lot of people that way. And they’re getting funded, to boot, artistic vision be damned.
But most are still running lazy, elitist organizations where donors donate only so that donors may attend. And where artistic vision—whatever that means to the artist in charge—outweighs the community’s needs. With all the information you have at your disposal telling you that after a global pandemic in which certain businesses were officially labeled “essential” by the people of the community (none of which were arts organizations), it’s time you either find a way to believe or find a way to be leaving.
Thanks for reading my stuff in 2023. I love the arts. They are still my joy and passion after 30 years in the business, but not as fluff or self-important polemic. You’ll get all that you could possibly withstand of that nonsense during election season. Anyway, there’s a whole passel of material here on this site, free for you to use. And, of course, last I checked, I’m still here. Happy new year, and I’ll catch you on the flip-flop in January.
Alan’s new book, “Scene Change: Why Today’s Nonprofit Arts Organizations Have to Stop Producing Art and Start Producing Impact” will be published in just a few short weeks (makes a great holiday gift, so they tell me)! CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER IN THE UNITED STATES. If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE. If you live in Australia, CLICK HERE. And, of course, it is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other large bookstores. If you can’t find it, just give the bookseller the ISBN: 978-1-80341-446-1. They’ll know what to do.
A few advance copies may be made available for those booking conferences, reading engagements, and speaking engagements. Recruit your local bookstore, conference panel, or boardroom to get a visit from Alan.
SPECIAL OFFER! For a limited time, Alan can offer a free copy for every board member of your nonprofit arts organization when you sign up for a consultation. Contact him at email@example.com for details.