New initiative in Bay Area examines theaters' mission strategy & integration

Dale Albright, Theatre Bay Area, 5/8/12

Nonprofit organizations are required to draft a mission statement that articulates their purpose, but past the point of 501(c)3 application, how often is this core thinking used to its maximum capacity? Theatre Bay Area launched a new initiative in the fall funded by the NEA and American Express. This 8-month program [included] 14 local arts organizations of various sizes [that brought up to 8 people] representing artistic, managing, board, marketing, development, education, ticketing/front of house and individual artists to a series of in-person convenings and conference calls. I had more puzzled glances than I care to mention when I would say that individual artists were being invited to discuss mission fulfillment and integration. Take a moment and absorb that. Artists, one of the most public faces of an organization, one of the key ingredients in the "product" and a prime factor in what makes it different from others, didn't know why they would be invited to be a part of a discussion about why the organizations they work for do the work that they do. We found that many staff members, board members and individual artists didn't know the mission of their organizations - [although] leaders of organizations tended to be absolutely sure their fellow representatives not only knew their organization's mission statement but were "on board" with it. This seems to demonstrate that what the staff and board are actually aligned with is the leader's vision, not the actual mission. Tom Ross of Aurora Theatre [noted another challenge]: "It's natural for part-time employees to be less involved with an organization's philosophy/mission/day-to-day challenges than full-timers....take box office personnel. They are the 'face' of the organization speaking directly to our patrons and answering questions about the plays. But because of their limited hours and frequent evening schedules, they do not attend our weekly morning staff meetings and do not watch run-throughs of plays. Matters of mission and organizational culture are more complex than passing along the running time of a play or whether it has an intermission or not. How do we carry forward the established values that have been a large part of Aurora's success?"


Commentary: A closer look at mission statement transforms a DC theater

Woolly Mammoth Theater's managing director Jeffrey Herrmann,, 2/20/12

Preparing for our 30th anniversary season in 2009-10...we knew we didn't want to use it as an occasion to pat ourselves on the back. [We took] a real close look at our mission statement, which is,

" ignite an explosive engagement between theater artists and the community by developing, producing, and promoting new plays that explore the edges of theatrical style and human experience, and by implementing new ways to use the artistry of theater to serve the people of Greater Washington, DC."

I think for many years we were focused on the "developing, producing, and promoting new plays" part of our mission and, for the first time really, we started to dig into that first phrase, which commits us to igniting an "explosive engagement" with the community. What emerged were the seeds of what we now call "Connectivity," a new strategy for strengthening the relationship between our work and the world, and it's ended up transforming everything about Woolly and how we operate. The essential core of the idea is that at the center of our work is the play, the work of art; but surrounding it is a whole sweep of activity designed to enhance, contextualize, and enlarge the experience. This might variously include lobby installations; pre- and post-show conversations; expanded program content; blog and podcast content; special events; and more. We also take a very pro-active approach to designing who is sitting out there in those seats for each show based on the nature and needs of that show. This has demanded a lot of cross-departmental work. Indeed, Connectivity is a brand new department at Woolly, not just a function, and this has caused a readjustment in how everyone works and relates to one another. Where does one job begin and where does another end? Because of our relatively small size and flat hierarchy at Woolly, we like to think we're easy and flexible and aren't siloed like larger institutions. But we discovered we are, which was surprising and shocking. But the process of introducing Connectivity to the organization has helped us tear down some of those walls; and, in some ways, that's been the most powerful thing about Connectivity: the way it's drawn us all together. That includes the creative artists on each show.


Commentary: Revisit mission statements every 5 years, but don't change cavalierly

Robecr15, Museum Matters blog, 9/28/11

After reading some literature about the importance of mission statements for museums, I got the impression that if a museum isn't working well, its mission might have something to do with it. Many of the mission statements of old were long, rambling things, both very specific and hopelessly generic at the same time. People are right to recommend taking a look at the mission every five years or so, not only to use it as the foundation for strategic planning but to determine whether it should be tweaked, or possibly rewritten altogether. Your museum's audience may have shifted since the 1930s, technology may have opened up new possibilities, or potential donors may have complained about ambiguity or antiquated notions. However, during an interview with Dante Centauri, who has worked at many museums during his career, I received a caution: "You don't want to change it too cavalierly." One should never lose sight of the fact that the mission statement is the foundation of a museum's entire operation. Not only does it tell others what your organization is and does, it guides the decisions of directors, boards, and individual employees. If your collections, programs, or facilities no longer match up with the mission, it may be that the mission needs to be updated, but it may also mean that too few were using it as a reference to guide their actions. If that's the problem, changing the mission is only a temporary fix - the real solution is to take the mission seriously, throughout the organization.


'Mission creep' at Canadian Broadcasting Corp has competitors crying foul

Colby Cosh, Macleans, 5/21/12

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is not sticking to its knitting. Until this year, nobody minded all that much. The corporation's mandate is to "provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains." You see any mention of the Internet in there? When the CBC started colonizing the web, nobody's ox in particular got gored. But now the grey area befogging the CBC's mandate has officially become a problem -- specifically, with the February launch of, the Corp's free digital streaming music service. Private broadcasters are crying foul, saying that CBC mission creep has finally gone too far. And they have taken their complaint to the CRTC, the national broadcast regulator. There can't be much question that the CBC's service is likely to annihilate them competitively. Free is a tough price to beat. Is what the CBC doing broadly okay? [One competitor's] complaint offers [a] potential loophole for the Corp. Its real problem with the CBC's digital service is that the site, being full of American and international music content, is indistinguishable from the existing user-pay services. CBC has a French-language equivalent,, that focuses almost exclusively on French-language Canadian artists, and the private broadcasters admit none of them have provided an analogous French service; they have no objection at all to Espace. They suggest that CBC Music should become more like its French sibling: an "exclusively Canadian service directed to the exposure and promotion of Canadian artists". The problem, as the CBC's Chris Boyce rejoins, is that "ghettoizing" Canadian music on an all-Canadian website almost certainly wouldn't be the best way to promote it. "People don't get out of bed wanting to listen to Canadian music; they want to listen to good music," Boyce says. "Creating a service that's counter to how people consume music would mean giving up an opportunity to expose Canadian artists." 

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