Monday, February 26, 2007

Is the Alliance stealing?

I attend the United Arts Executive Director meetings monthly to represent the latest happenings with Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway. Last week, I mentioned to the group that we had companies that are interested in sponsoring Red Chair Project now that the website has proven early success. One of the ED's asked if he was being naive, but wouldn't the pursuit of sponsorship via Red Chair Project interfere with his or other organization's attempt to gain sponsorship monies for their own organization. Do we need yet another entity sucking from the money pool? Essentially, the Alliance would be stealing the limited funds available for its devious purpose to increase participation on behalf of all arts and culture organizations.

Naive? No, not naive. Ignorant of basic principles on collaboration, but not naive. I won't begin with the assumption that everyone works from the theory of abundance, which clearly this ED does not, but I don't think you have to have an optimistic outlook on Central Florida's untapped financial sponsorship resources to understand the basic principles of collaboration. Two key principles are longevity and leverage.

Longevity: Research, experience and best practices all point to the fact that for long-term success, collaboration needs a third party to drive the project or program. Does that mean that two or more groups can't get together without a third party like the Alliance to work on a project to advance their mission? Of course not.

It has been proven, however, that these collaborations are generally for a short, defined period. For long-term success, as a program takes on a life of its own, it stretches beyond any one group's ability to manage outside of the group's main mission, whether that be producing plays, music or otherwise.

Leverage: Red Chair Project is community owned and intended to increase participation in the entire arts and culture community. The Alliance is the third party along with partners United Arts, Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Orlando/Orange County CVB that is driving the project on behalf of the community. Right now the Red Chair Project is primarily funded through United Arts, but UA's money isn't even close to keeping the staff necessary to run the project. In fact, we are a staff person short as other city's use a minimum of three people to manage a project of this scope.

A full staff is only part of the equation to advancing the success. Marketing takes money. We just got a call on Friday from an artist asking where the marketing for Red Chair Project is. It is sitting on my desk right now because it doesn't have the financial resources to be realized. So, if Red Chair Project obtains a sponsorship that allows it to be more visible, hence allowing more people to participate in the arts and culture community, is that taking away or leveraging our community's overall success?

Now not every leader or arts administrator sees the pot as so small that we have to all position ourselves as a pack of wolves deciding how to share a small rabbit instead of seeing over the horizon that there is a whole herd of antelope with plenty of meat for all of us. (forgive me for the animal reference for our vegetarians)

My encouragement is this. We haven't scratched the surface on two things: the amount of sponsorship out there for our community and the leverage the Alliance can represent. Leverage is a key component for collaboration's success. If you want more reading, email me. I have a great Power Point on the subject. I couldn't figure out how to attach it. I also have many more articles, books and personal experiences that I can share with you on how to pursue collaboration. One of them is not cynicism. Don't let that be a cancer where you reside.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hosting the country's service organizations

Because we don't have enough to do, we felt like hosting a national conference in March. From March 14-17, the Alliance along with help from the Orange County office of Arts and Cultural Affairs is hosting the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations. Yes, there is an association for everything. This is the first time the conference has been hosted in Orlando. We are excited to show off our cultural assets as this is the first visit to Orlando for many of these people. All attendees serve roles similar to the Alliance in their cities like concentrating on building awareness and audience development. We have set up a strong itinerary for the group and we will visit many of the area's cultural venues to hold the various workshops.

Why do you care? Well, Terry Olson (the founding ED of the Alliance) and I have offered Orlando for several years, but most of the participants had no desire to come to Orlando since it was a theme park town. I think this conference in a small way is one more step in the right direction of our growth as a cultural community. It is an incremental step of course, but not one to be taken lightly.

I am eager to share our success and our challenges with our peers from across north America and one from London. We will have approximately 60 people from 30 organizations. Here are some of the websites of the groups who are a part of APASO.

Arts Boston

League of Chicago Theatres

San Diego Performing Arts League

Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts

Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Alliance for Arts and Culture (Vancouver)

Society of London Theatre

Monday, February 12, 2007

Miami bus to Marketing and more

A great opportunity for comraderie and learning is on tap in Miami. The National Arts Marketing Conference is scheduled for November 2 - 7 this year. I have attended the conference twice in other cities, presenting at one of them on collaborative audience development. The best practice information and peer group connections are invaluable. The fact that the conference is in our back yard makes this conference very affordable. We are looking into a bus to take a pack of us to the conference. There is nothing better than an old-fashioned road trip together to help us build deeper relationships, while also picking up information to help us advance our missions. If you are interested, please contact me at

I also caught wind of a new study on nonprofit employment across the country and region. It was an interesting look at the growing number of people entering the work force in the nonprofit world. Average wages are also a part of the study.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sports doing drama better than arts?

As a passionate arts guy who spends his full day figuring out ways to increase participation in our arts and culture community, I am also a big sports fan. I know of many people who live on either the "arts only" island or the "sports only" island, not crossing the water to visit the other. Some of that separation starts early in childhood when we are figuring out what we are gifted (or not gifted) to do. I was actually very good at sports and a late bloomer to the arts world. I played high school football and baseball. It wasn't until college before I saw my first play. It wasn't that I had anything against the arts, I just never was exposed. Thus, I have a passion to be a catalyst for others to learn of the arts no matter the age. I grew up in a really small town and my family had no money, so I was never presented with the opportunity to be a part of the arts.

Well, for those "arts only" people, the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl on Sunday. I am from Indiana, so as a fan, I got to share in the glory, along with my three-year-old son. That would be Dylan dressed in his "I want to be Peyton Manning" outfit to the left. After watching the hours of pre-game, I was struck once again how sports have taken a page or maybe the whole book from the arts to promote the actual game. If you follow sports, there is a story played out in any game and plenty of drama, but sports have gone beyond the game. The Super Bowl is the premiere sporting event in our country, so it is even more magnified, but the amount of drama and story telling building up to the game was done so well, that even if you were not a football fan, you would be hard pressed not to be engrossed in some form.

I read an recent article in Arts Reach (, "What Can the Arts Learn from Sports?" This gist in the article is that sports do a better job of being a place of pride for the community and connecting the fans with the players than the arts do. There is much we could debate about, but I think the writer missed the point about sports really borrowing and then enhancing the drama surrounding the game. The arts are about telling a story, whether the medium is stage or canvas. Where we could learn from sports is the build up. Every story about the people involved is uncovered in sports. By the time you get to the game, if you are not a true fan, it could almost be a let down. What else could we learn from sports? Sports fill a great need in humanity for many. My son has a hero figure in Peyton Manning to model himself. The arts also fill a great place in humanity. Sports have borrowed from our stage. What can we borrow from sports?

I know that sports have more coverage, 24-hour television and radio, but instead of whining about it, what can we do about it? Have we asked the Sentinel why it doesn't do an arts insert for high school students to showcase what is being accomplished like it does for high school sports students weekly? Are we open enough as a community? Could we do a better job of telling our story before we tell our story? Do we take ourselves too seriously? It isn't about converting the "unchurched" sports fan to become an arts aficionado or vice versa. Many audience research studies show that it is more about participation anyway. The last evidence I saw was that 60% of sport attendees also attend the arts. It was more about finding people who are active. My questions circle around what as a community we could do to promote ourselves better so that more people who are active participate in all that our arts community has to offer. In the meantime, I will relish the Colts victory and see you at the show.