Too many arts groups? ArtWorks reacts to Rocco’s statements.

Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, at a recent panel discussion on theaters, stated, “You can either increase demand or decrease supply.  Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.” (Rocco’s remark’s)  Needless to say, this statement ricocheted across the news, Twitter and the blogosphere (e.g. Diane RagsdaleCreative Infrastructure) with people taking strong stances either supporting Landesman’s statements, or expressing shock that such a statement could come from the nation’s chief supporter of the arts.

Fairly quickly, Landesman blogged a more complete statement on this issue, arguing that this discussion simply must take place, given the results of NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts which showed “a five percentage point decrease in arts audiences in this country.  This is juxtaposed against a 23% increase in not-for-profit arts organizations, and a rate of growth for not-for-profit performing arts organizations, specifically, that was 60% greater than that for the total U.S. population.” (Landesman’s NEA blog post, 1/31/2011).  However, he clarifies that decreasing supply is not the ONLY possible response to this issue.  He names other options that arts groups need to consider, such as arts education and coming up with new ideas to attract new audiences.

As I look at the arts and culture scene in the Triangle, I don’t readily see any surplus arts groups.  But we all know there are many nonprofits struggling, whether from decreased funding, decreased audiences, a declining economy, or a combination thereof.   I agree with many bloggers responding to Landesman’s comments that I certainly would not want to decide how to “separate the wheat from the chaff” or even if it should be done.  I believe we need to explore other options for increasing the health of our current arts and culture nonprofits.

1.  New Audiences/New ideas

As Landesman has suggested, all nonprofit arts organizations should be thinking innovatively to find ways to build new audiences or connect with current audiences. I believe this need is brought on not only by economic changes, but also by the recent drastic changes in media and marketing. The days of promoting your organization through a simple press release to or ad in the local print media are over. Certainly embracing social media is a must.  But groups also need to find ways to 1)Bring a group’s current work to new audiences and 2) Create new types of work that bring in new types of audiences. To create “buzz”, with all forms of media and audiences, you need to do something different….standard performances in unique venues, unique work in old venues….there are lots of new ideas being created by arts groups across the Globe.

Knight Foundation’s “Random Acts of Culture” have brought flash mob opera to Philadelphia and dancers to Uptown Charlotte.  Such events not only entertain, but also promote the organization and “wake up” audiences to the simple fact that they enjoy seeing such performances and want more.  In Raleigh, events like SparkCon have introduced new audiences to the breadth of creative talent in the Triangle, while increasing community  and creating connections that are paying rewards in jobs and collaborations now and in the future.  Longstanding arts groups and businesses participating in events like SparkCon bring their work to new audiences in a new way.

I receive information daily of other examples of arts groups worldwide using novel marketing strategies and new ways of presenting work. ArtWorks will continue to promote these ideas through the website and social media, so that the Triangle creative community can get ideas to use locally.  We will also continue to advise you of local educational opportunities in this area, topics such as how to use social media, new marketing strategies and the like. Be sure to keep us posted if you know of such opportunities.

2.  Rethinking arts infrastructure

Second, as my background is not in the arts, but in business, my natural inclination is to look for innovative ways to cut costs, without sacrificing product.  Some arts groups have dealt with declining coffers by beefing up marketing and fundraising. Others have cut already lean administrative budgets to a minimum.  Some have, sadly, cut programs.

But what if there was a new way to handle arts infrastructure?  What if we could come up with a platform for arts groups to share certain ministerial tasks cooperatively, such as IT support, or perhaps accounting.   What about collaborating on marketing efforts?  Broward County Florida has a program where 70 arts organizations share one marketing group and benefit from group buying power and expertise, saving on staff costs and time.  The Philadelphia Cultural Alliance offers group discounts for everything from payroll to health insurance and other aggregated services for Philadelphia’s arts and culture groups. They have a List-sharing Co-Op program, whereby organizations share mailing lists to increase audiences, and it is working! Can Triangle ArtWorks be the platform for such infrastructure sharing in the Triangle?  We think so.

And what if creative organizations and businesses cooperated or collaborated more, regionwide?  While many groups collaborate now on performances, there are benefits to collaboration in other areas too.   For instance, organizations are almost competing with each other to provide education programs, networking events and the like.   It is difficult now for the creative community to find out about these events, and for the organizations to market them, so more collaboration on these events could result in more efficient and effective events for the community.  Maybe such events could be grouped together and a networking component added.  I know that many of the larger organizations already work together on some things, but I believe it could be done on a broader scale and benefit the larger community.

There simply needs to be a regional platform or infrastructure for such collaboration, networking, and resource sharing. In order to support the incredible creative community we have in this region, this community needs a center.  That center needs to be independent of any specific group or municipality, and serve only as a facilitator and platform forinfrastructure and support. Triangle ArtWorks stands ready to be this platform.  Athough it seems counterintuitive that creating a new arts organization would be required, there is simply not a regional organization in existence to take on this role. We are a nonprofit organization with our only goal being to serve the creative community of the Triangle.

As Rocco Landesman says, we need to begin the difficult discussion of how arts groups are going to adapt to the changing economy, and changing world.   The population of the Triangle has grown dramatically over the last 20 years. We are not the same sleepy region of small towns that we used to be.  People moving here are moving to the Triangle, and then deciding which city/town to live in. When people, such as Richard Florida, talk about the strong creative community in this area, they are referring to the Triangle region as a whole. We at Triangle ArtWorks believe that there need to be new ways of doing things for the creative community in the Triangle to be ready for the future.  Triangle ArtWorks is ready to be at the center of that discussion and hopefully, provide a platform for some of these solutions. Would it be a new way of doing things?  Certainly.  But it is a time for new ideas to carry the creative community into the future.

What are your thoughts?  Reactions?  Ideas?  Ready to help?



Shane Hudson says:

Great post Beth!

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