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!

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