Monday, March 26, 2007

Fragile and dependent living

I ran into a respectable leader in our community on Friday at the Starbucks at the Grand Bohemian (the Bucks to see and be seen). He asked me and my colleague with me what was pressing in our world and we threw out the potential backlash from the property tax changes coming down from state. Local governments like Orange County receive considerable amounts of money from property taxes that it then uses to do the basics like garbage retrieval to the quality of life issues like funding the arts.

When we both said that the property taxes were on our minds because of the potential implications to our arts and culture community's funding, the community leader quickly responded with "well we do have to have garbage pick up first." Yes, we do. Our point wasn't that we feel arts funding should be held above picking up garbage or other essential services Orange County government provides. Choices do have to be made when money is scarce and cuts are coming that our literally out of our community's control. The hope is that if and when you cut the "non essential" items that county governments do so proportionally, not by simply deciding what is more valuable to citizens by cutting services thought unimportant by a few altogether.

I read a piece in the Fast Company magazine (my favorite national magazine) on the future of newspapers that discusses the possibility of newspapers becoming public services in the model of NPR Radio. The news business has changed dramatically with technology, so the business model will have to change for newspapers to remain in existence. Central Florida's arts and culture community is so dependent on funding that can change in a matter of months depending on the political push. What business model do we need to look to for change in the future? Maybe we need a paradigm shift. What model would be best? Should some things just die to allow for the strong to survive? How do you define strong? Financially? Ultimately. What about strength of relevance?

I do know that our arts and culture product and presence have grown both quantitatively and qualitatively in my 10 years as a resident. Economic development is now recognizing the importance to the regions' total growth. But, if our local organizations are unable to provide the same product because of such dependence on funding outside of their control, will it continue to grow?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Audience development vs. filling seats

We just said good bye on Sunday to the people who attended the conference we co-hosted with the Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs office. One of the conversations that struck a chord with me was the difference between audience development and filling seats. Is there a difference one attendee asked? Isn't audience development supposed to put people into the seats? Yes, ultimately as an end goal, butts in seats is where the compass should be pointed.

I believe there is a distinct difference. Ultimately, I look at audience development as the cultivation of long-term relationships from a diverse population that the arts community engages, educates and encourages participation in a creative and generally entertaining experience as part of an important partner in the creation and execution of art.

Filling seats is short-term focused and driven by bottom line motivations. How can we get more seats sold this week or next for said production? It is important and necessary for an arts organization to meet its budget demands, but filling seats has become our only modus operandi and many times is presented as interchangeable with audience development. When we do this, we will essentially reduce our attendance down to a small segment of the population.

The Alliance doesn’t control the content, production and product produced. Our job is also not filling seats. It is audience development. Now, some of the programs like Red Chair Rewards will help to ultimately fill seats, but the intent is to grow the recipient list to be the largest in the region, so that we can educate new audiences to engage in the arts. The special offer is only the stimulus to try.

The beauty is that by working together, both with attempting to fill seats to maintain the bottom line (arts organization role) and on audience development (Alliance role) through new collective initiatives our whole community will gain. That is where the real bottom line of producing art becomes more than just a commodity or widget to be promoted. It becomes a part of the completion to being human.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Collaboration is King

I mentioned before that the Performing Arts Alliance is hosting a national conference for the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations (APASO). Yes, there is an association for everything. That conference kicks off this week. Terry Olson's office of arts and cultural affairs at Orange County is co-hosting the event. Fifty people from 23 different organizations (our Alliance and Terry's office not included) from 16 cities as far as London and Vancouver are attending the event.

We are excited and overwhelmed at hosting the event. On the exciting front, many of the attendees will be visiting several of our area arts and culture venues for exhibits or performances and the conference itself as we are using cultural venues for the presentations. It will be a time to highlight our growth as a cultural community and to showcase our city to those attending from rich in cultural history like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Boston and London. The overwhelmed part is the to-do list.

One of the topics that will be discussed in great deal will be the concept and practice of collaboration. Each of the 25 organizations represented is a catalyst in some form or fashion in their respective cities. Many of these organizations have decades of experience at helping to leverage the collective power of a community's arts and culture organizations.

Many of the cities are represented in a Power Point presentation from Alan Brown & Associates research. When talking to those in leadership positions at these organizations, many have commented that Orlando is in a good position to establish and build on collaboration early and often. I couldn't agree more and couldn't be more excited about our potential to positively build on our early victories of collaboration. Here is to picking up some more best practices.