Monday, April 30, 2007

Is the sky falling?

My son's favorite new book is Chicken Lickin. It is an offshoot of the Chicken Little story. In the Chicken Licken story, the chicken leads his other farmland friends to their death on their way to tell the king about the fact that the sky is falling. They meet a wolf who takes them to his den of other wolves and zappo, no more farm animals. Of course the sky was never falling and the fact that Chicken Lickin and his pals were so enamored with that possibility meant they didn't see the very real danger of the wolf right in front of them. Ahh, the lessons of children’s book for us adults.

The Alliance is having to tighten its belt financially and has had to reduce its staff because of this. Our income comes mostly from unearned sources; the earned we do get comes from SAK Comedy Lab's facility rental at the Theatre Garage. We are working on not being so dependent on that rent, but it requires us to get a leaner to do so.

Is the sky falling at the Alliance? Absolutely not. In fact, there are many positive things happening. One of my faults (I have more, but my wife doesn't have time to share all of them with you) is that I see big and want so much for our arts and culture community. I see the huge potential of what collaboration can do for our community, but the reality of the limited financial resources has reared its ugly head again in what we can do. So, the sky is not falling, but we are trying to avoid being eaten by the big bad wolf.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Glimpse of hope...much needed.

For those of you who didn't read Sunday's newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel ran an article about a survey conducted to gauge the general public's opinion about the proposed venues: the arena, Citrus Bowl renovations and the performing arts center. The public was loud and clear that the performing arts center is the top choice amongst the three venues.

According to the survey company, "The performing-arts center is holding the other two up." This is positive as the region recognizes the importance of a new performing arts venue. I wasn't totally surprised as the performing arts venue has so many positives in its favor. Just a few are that building it has been discussed for at least 15 years, it has already over $50 million in private funds raised toward its $100 million goal and the building it is to replace was built in the early 1900's.

I needed a little bit of hope sent my way. I have had too many conversations lately about sustainability issues with arts groups. Staff turnover, cash-flow challenges, lack of audience, drama off the stage (soap operas amongst current and former staffs), uninvolved boards and the impending property tax changes and state funding reductions have all dominated conversations over the last week. Staying in tune with the heartbeat of what we do can be difficult amongst the struggle to survive. Your work doesn't go unnoticed on our end.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Grow together or die alone

It is my familiar drum beat, but it bears repeating and now some more research confirms it. The beat is collaboration. The study came out of Philadelphia funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. RAND conducted the study (see the full study here). Although the study was conducted to primarily help the Philadelphia area, the study's use of ten cities lends itself to application in other cities like Orlando as well.

The ten cities include some that are new and flourishing(Charlotte and Phoenix), some that are older manufacturing centers struggling to reinvent themselves (Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh), and some that are regional centers with diversified economies and stable populations (Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis–St. Paul). Orlando would fall in line with Charlotte and Phoenix, although still trailing in financial stability to the scale of those cities.

The summary of the research holds that cities must have either a centralized agency, public or private, with multiple functions, or a combination of public and private agencies with a clear division of support between them. Locally, we have the combination of public and private agencies and we are working on the clear division of support. United Arts, the Performing Arts Alliance, Orange County Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor's Bureau (Orlando CVB) are just some of the agencies locally concentrating on this.

It also said that city's must recognize the contribution of the arts to other city goals, such as economic development and tourism, and collaborate closely with the established agencies to support those goals. Orlando is still in the embryonic stages with this finding. Although we have seen an increase in the recognition of the importance of the arts, a true connection of the dots with the goals of the city and region has yet to be realized. Mostly, it is just vocal recognition. A true seat in the inner cirlce of planning has yet to happen.

A major accomplishment though is the connection with the Orlando CVB. Margot Knight, president/CEO of United Arts sits on the board of directors for the Orlando CVB as the first arts representative in its history. The CVB has also been assertive in creating relationships with arts groups and creating the Unexpected Orlando brochure, highlighting the area's cultural destinations. This relationship is not common in other cities when I talk to my peers. The Performing Arts Alliance Getaway packages is an attempt to create a boutique cultural tourism focus that the CVB also fully embraces.

The third recommendation is to have strong arts alliances that encourage arts organizations to collaborate with each other on marketing, acquiring employee benefits, controlling production costs, and fundraising.

Score one for the region here in a major way. The Performing Arts Alliance, United Arts, Orange County Arts and Culture Affairs, the Orlando CVB all exist to address the points in the last charge. We are working well in these areas and have our particular niche. For example, United Arts tackles the fundraising, the Performing Arts is concentrating on the marketing end with help from other public and private agencies, while also helping to leverage larger purchases to save production-type costs.

Our puzzle has the right pieces. We have the agency relationships in place. In fact, all of the agencies mentioned plus more like the City of Winter Park and Seminole Community Cultural Arts Council meet monthly to discuss measures to work together more efficiently on a global scale. The collaborative spirit from the arts and culture organizations is primarily positive, save a few (there is always a naysayer in every bunch) and the region is growing. We are on the right pace. Essentially, the research findings say we grow together or we die alone. Let's grow!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What color is your ocean?

I love to absorb information on how the business world is getting things done more efficiently and effectively. It doesn’t always transfer to the nonprofit world, but universal applications are frequent enough to keep me coming back. The book “Good to Great” even printed a booklet version, "Good to Great and the Social Sectors" for the nonprofit community because it had to adjust its methods to equate to a sector where money is the means to an end, not the final goal. Most of these books contain about 3 things you can take away and apply once you mix it up with your other knowledge and experience.

My recent takeaway came from the book Blue Ocean Strategies. The book mainly talks about not competing with rivals, but instead creating your own niche. It used Cirque du Soleil as a premiere example. Cirque didn't look at the circus and say, “how can we compete with Barnum. How can we have a better three-ring circus?” It simply created a new experience altogether. It is Barnum that is now changing its business model to compete with Cirque. I love the Cirque story, but I am looking at things more globally. I am thinking about our entire arts and culture community in Central Florida.

Could it be that we are looking at the competition, whether it be television, sports, concerts, in our case theme parks and saying, “How do we compete with that experience. We don't have the resources.” What if in this digital age, collectively we have a great opportunity staring at us in the face to push the live experience in a new way. What if we could look out and create a new collective experience even while keeping traditional forms of art as a part of that initiative?

There is some good work going on in the attempt at trying to become more Blue Ocean than competitive. There is a group in New York called the Creative Capital Foundation. This group has combined innovative ideas from the commercial sector with the nonprofit sector's integrity of purpose to create a new national initiative for funding artists. What color is our ocean in Central Florida? What possibilities exist to engage people with our stories on stage or canvas? Does our train pull into the station once the new Performing Arts Center is built? Do the traditional art forms draw a line in the sand and say this is real art, it is good for you. You should try it. Or, are there new ways of presenting ways of showcasing the live experience?