"Art isn't easy... and then when you have to collaborate!"

-- from the musical Sunday in the Park with George, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

 

Commentary: Some ideas for where the arts could collaborate to save on costs

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF blog, 2/27/11

Recently, there has been renewed discussion of figuring out ways to share certain business costs thus saving money for cash strapped organizations - and bringing an outdated business model closer to something more efficient and functional.  But so far, we haven't done much more than broach the subject.  So exactly where might organizations form co-ops and share some of these costs?

Personnel costs: Health care costs (to the extent it is offered at all) can very likely drop IF we use the power of numbers as the bargaining chip. 

Finance: Certainly accounting and bookkeeping functions can be outsourced.  Conversion of unused municipal facilities could provide low cost office space to nonprofit arts groups.  Collaborative efforts to negotiate more favorable rent terms for multiple tenants is seemingly a potentially fruitful area to explore.
Advertising: This is one area where the economy of scale and the negotiating power of our numbers  makes much more possible. We could conceivably get a lot more bang for our buck if we were organized.

Print:  If [a group of arts orgs] were to open our own printing facility, we could probably produce the highest quality work for a fraction of what we pay now in aggregate. 

In the final analysis, there are two principal factors that keep us from using the sheer power of our numbers to reap the benefits of economy of scale: First, to get to such a level [of cooperation] would require both a rethinking of our "business culture" and enormous resources that simply isn't available.  Second, is the issue of "trust".  We simply aren't comfortable outside of our smaller frames of reference, and while we are willing to share some things, consider some kinds of collaboration, and even cooperate in some experiments, by and large we aren't ready yet to work together even in simple back office functions.  It just seems an insurmountable hill to climb.   Yet that isn't enough reason not to continue to try to figure out how to take advantage of our numbers, and to experiment with cutting costs and improving efficiency by sharing certain functions and costs.

 

Commentary: "We do not have the luxury to pit ourselves against one another"

Lynne Kingsley, Americans for the Arts blog, 3/17/11

Though it's a generally accepted concept that infusing 21st Century Skills into education for our nation's students is vital for creating and maintaining a strong, globally competitive society, we, as a professional arts education field, are having a tough time letting go of 20th century habits.  I ask that we, as arts professionals and managers, consider:  "are we practicing what we teach?"  Which one of us has not felt the pangs of anxiety (especially in such harsh budget times) in hearing news of a project serving audiences similar to ours being funded or winning awards? Territorialism takes over and the tendency to work in silos to achieve more than our colleagues (or, cruder, competitors) lingers over us like a dark cloud of doom.  In these economically unstable times, we do not have the luxury to pit ourselves against one another. We're in crisis mode right now and we must come together to work on projects to serve our collective constituencies.

 

In London, a 3-way fundraising collaboration by leading Dutch arts orgs

Arts Professional magazine

The Dutch Masters Foundation is a new philanthropic membership initiative in London which is creating a discreet community of individuals and companies with a shared passion for the arts and culture of the Netherlands. In doing so it is raising funds for three world-renowned Dutch cultural organisations - the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis and Nederlands Dans Theater.  This pioneering collaboration aims to open up alternative streams of income for the three organisations at a time when public subsidy is being significantly reduced in the Netherlands. The organisations were able to supply lists of key contacts in the UK, and the London-based agency [behind the project] has been able to develop interest amongst a wider pool of people. The organisations are very complementary, not only in terms of art, but also in terms of the profile of their supporters, meaning that together they can cover a wide range of audiences without being afraid of 'stealing' each other's clients.  Two levels of membership, individual and corporate, have been established, for a minimum annual donation of 5,000 and 10,000 respectively. Benefits include an invitation to one annual gala event uniquely combining the art of all three organisations, invitations to a further three or four private views or performances, other networking opportunities, and priority booking for performances in the UK and Netherlands (companies are also offered branding and hospitality opportunities).  [Their] target is to have 35 individual members as well as five corporate members by the end of the first full year, generating an annual income of 255,000.

 

In Trenton NJ, the arts discuss collaborations to drive city's economic growth

The Times of Trenton, 3/20/11

Local art lovers know that Trenton is full of arts groups and efforts to promote the arts.  So many groups and individual artists don't know about each other, despite their proximity, arts boosters say. As a result, these groups don't collaborate as much as they could and have not fulfilled their potential as an economic engine for the city.  "What Trenton needs to do -- and this is an issue at least the last 20 years -- is build the connection between these initiatives and other things going on in the city," said Leonardo Vazquez, an urban planner at Rutgers University who is helping create an arts and heritage tourism plan for Trenton. Members of the arts community say they are slowly beginning to make progress. One step was a Feb. 2 Trenton Arts Summit.  Some city arts organizers also attended a Feb. 11 conference on building "creative communities".  Among the main benefits of such meetings are simply the introductions they provide, said Taneisha Nash Laird, executive director of the Trenton Downtown Association. "There were connections between people at the summit who did not know each other," she said. "Their arts worlds in Trenton had not previously collided."  One unanswered question is where the long-term leadership and organization to coordinate and market the art scene should come from. Vazquez said a typical option is an arts council composed of volunteers from different organizations. Laird said she's heard some interest in reviving Trenton's long-dormant Cultural Resources Council, which advised the mayor in the mid-90s.

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