Commentary: "We need to talk more about fatigue in the arts world"

Nancy Wozny, Houston Culture Map blog The Arthropologist, 7/10/11

After listening to a tale of woe from a fellow cultural warrior, I said, "We need to talk more about fatigue in the arts world."  So here I am, writing openly and frankly about when artists and arts administrators do too much because there's no one else to do it.  As audience members, we go see a show, clap, and head home. We may not know that the choreographer was up to the wee hours of the morning sewing costumes, or that the playwright had to rent a van to move the set. Life for small arts organizations is as DIY as it gets. Oftentimes, there's a day job to show up to as well. Over the years, I have heard heroic stories from artists working at many levels, even the ones with Guggenheims. There's work to be done, and if you don't have a staff to do it, it's usually you. It gets old. People get tired. Our labors of love can easily shift into labors of dread.  As someone who has ceased making art, I want to say it's OK to stop.  Being an artist is not a life sentence. People have stopped making art and gone on to other meaningful professions.  Stopping is not the only answer. There's the old "asking for help" solution, a dreaded proposition for many arts people, yet important. Then there's the kicking-your-board-in-gear approach. So many small arts organizations have name-only board members. What if they were replaced with people dedicated to your vision?  Taking a break is a great idea.  Let your fans miss you.  Be mysterious.  Why can't you disappear for a while? Does your season need to be so long?  You determine the amount of activity you can handle, not the other way around. Sometimes an artist needs to let go of the expectation of being an organization and move toward project-based work. Go for quality, not quantity.  Downsizing is also an option. Up the self care. Re-frame healthy activities like eating well, getting enough exercise and rest as part of your commitment to the arts.  If you decide to stop, remember there's no failure in career change. I wish you well on your next adventure. It turned out fine for me. I'm even considering not inviting my laptop on vacation. Wish me luck with that.


Commentary: A survey of the burnout factor for nonprofit executive directors

Joe Patti, Butts In The Seats blog, 6/29/11

A nod to our friends at the Non-Profit Law blog for noting that CompassPoint Non Profit Services and the Myer Foundation [have] come out with a new [report,] Daring To Lead, studying the status of non-profit executive directors.  The last time they studied this topic was 6 years ago, before the recession. Their new findings are worrisome in terms of the lack of succession planning but encouraging in respect to the amount of enthusiasm and lack of burn out the majority of executive directors feel in the face of the recession. Their three main findings:

1.     "Though slowed by the recession, projected rates of executive turnover remain high and many boards of directors are under-prepared to select and support new leaders."  Due to the recession impacting their retirement plans, fewer executive directors left their positions than planned.  While there hasn't been as large an exodus as was once feared, little has been done to prepare for that eventuality. "Executives and boards are still reluctant to talk proactively about succession and just 17% of organizations have a documented succession plan."

2.     The recession has amplified the chronic financial instability of many organizations, causing heightened anxiety and increased frustration with unsustainable financial models. Hardly a surprise non-profit leaders are worried about whether their organization will continue to exist in these difficult economic times. Many first year leaders are faced with the most daunting of situations. "32% in their first year have less than one month of operating reserves; in other words, those on the steepest part of the learning curve often have the smallest margin for error."

3.     Despite the profound challenges of the role, nonprofit executives remain energized and resolved.  "45% reported being very happy in their jobs, and another 46% reported that they have more good days than bad in the role. Levels of burnout, especially given the economic climate, were low; 67% of leaders reported little or no burnout at all. In fact, leaders distinguished between burnout, which they associated with disengagement and ultimately leaving the job, and the realities of fatigue and elusive boundaries between their work and personal lives that go with the job. Forty-seven percent (47%) of executives reported having the work-life balance that's right for them, while a significant minority (39%) said they did not."


Commentary: How to prevent volunteer burnout

John Barrymore,, 7/1/11

The best volunteers are usually the ones most prone to burnout. That's because they're so dedicated, they often fail to take mental health breaks or ask for help. And because they're so dedicated, organizations often pile more and more responsibility on them.  Organizations that depend on volunteers have an inherent interest in making sure this doesn't happen. Good volunteers are hard to come by so it's important to make sure they take care of themselves -- even when they say they don't need to.  The first step in preventing burnout is to thank your volunteers regularly for their involvement and point out their contributions -- especially if they do a lot of administrative tasks. It can also help to set milestones for honoring volunteers, like sending a hand-written thank-you note or a small floral arrangement for service milestones (such as completing 100 work hours) or having a luncheon for volunteers who have completed a big project.  It's also important to encourage volunteers to take time off. Just like regular paid employees, everybody needs a break. You can make it easier for your volunteers by instituting policies like requiring them to take a month off after every four-month commitment or setting concrete end dates to certain projects so they don't drag out indefinitely.  Other things you can do include providing job descriptions with an estimated time commitment so volunteers know what they're getting into, delegating tasks so no one's plate gets too full and having contingency plans so volunteers don't have to worry if they miss some time because of an emergency or illness.


Commentary: Remembering once again why we work in the arts

Michael Kaiser, The Huffington Post, 7/11/11

Every once in a while I have an arts experience that catches me by surprise and reminds me about the power and beauty of the arts. The first time I heard Leontyne Price sing in concert, saw Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" and George Balanchine's "Serenade" are three such moments that come immediately to mind.  I had another magical moment this July Fourth. I wandered around [The Kennedy Center] and, by chance, entered a rehearsal for our Millennium Stage.  The Los Angeles Children's Chorus was performing.  Watching this chorus of young voices was riveting. Not just because of the youngsters' technical proficiency, which was substantial, but for the seriousness with which they took their work. They were supportive of their colleagues who had vocal or instrumental solos. They asked numerous questions of their wonderful conductor Anne Tomlinson. They questioned the acoustics of the space, commented in polite, but direct, ways when they believed the entire group was not pronouncing words appropriately, and focused completely on rehearsal. It was astonishing.   I forgot for a moment the 1,200 guests we were about to welcome to our event, the potential for rain that threatened our party, the challenges of managing the complex arts center. All that mattered was this beautiful music and these beautiful young people who were more real than any group of Glee-sters.  And while I had entered the rehearsal feeling tired from a long season, put upon by budget cuts and questioning how many more years I could do this, I realized once again why I do this work, why all arts managers do their work. The opportunity to play a role in presenting such wonderful, fresh, surprising talent is an honor and a privilege.

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