Monday, May 21, 2007

I get the change, but how are you different than United Arts?

I had a conversation with a local executive director on Friday partly to discuss our changes from being the Performing Arts Alliance to the Arts & Cultural Alliance. You can read the letter here. One of the big questions from that conversation was why do we need both the Alliance and United Arts and how are you different? It is a valid question and was asked in the context of potential budget cuts many arts and cultural organizations will face with the property tax cuts looming.

Before explaining our differences, I reminded the arts leader that the Alliance and UA are not the only service-oriented entities concentrating on our region. This is not an exhaustive list, but within the core of the region, private nonprofits include the Downtown Arts District (DAD), and the Orlando Performing Arts Center (OPAC). On the public side, there is the Orange County office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Seminole County Arts Council and the Winter Park Cultural and Economic Development Division. Finally, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor's Bureau (Orlando CVB) also serves the cultural community in pushing visitors to experience our region's best.

I would need a much larger forum than this blog to explain all the differences between the various service organizations, but two points are important with all of these groups. First, we are not working in a vacuum. All of these group's leaders meet monthly to discuss where are efforts can better work together. A soon to be released arts and cultural economic impact study on the region is the result of these relationships. Second, all of these entities believe passionately abut building the cultural identity of the region and the opportunities for artists.

So, how is the Alliance different than UA? The major difference is that the Alliance doesn't raise money to give it away. UA is our region's major fundraising entity in the tradition of United Way that gives money to both arts organizations and artists. UA is also the designated local arts agency. This primarily means UA is the leading advocate for the arts and cultural community on a regional, state and federal level.

The Alliance's major mission is to increase participation in our arts and cultural community. We have evolved into a boutique cultural marketing and tourism trade association. I stress boutique because the Orlando CVB is clearly the leader in drawing visitors to the area. The Alliance is concentrating purely on the arts and cultural sector. The Alliance serves seven counties to follow the push to build the region's presence. UA serves four counties.

Like other trade associations, we are membership based. Arts and cultural organizations realize the importance of leveraging our strengths to increase participation and that collaboration needs a third party to implement the services necessary to build audience.

UA and the Alliance are different, but share the same passion to elevate our region's cultural identity. In very simple terms, UA is the funding and advocate arm and the Alliance deals in audience development. Are there things we do together? Yes. ArtsFest is a great example of this. Ultimately, the differences are important to help you understand where to go for what services, but I think it is even more important to realize that we are all working together.