"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller


Commentary: The arts world is too small to have competition

Jennifer Edwards & Sydney Skybetter, Dance/USA's From The Green Room blog, 7/23/13

The Edwards and Skybetter | Change Agency recently released a report titled, "Organizational Development and Peer Group Learning: Through the Lens of Trey McIntyre Project." (Download the full report here.)

While some leaders in the arts have called for the next/new business model, leaders in several highly performing corporations have identified that building a portfolio of short-term strategies best suits a company's need in a swiftly changing environment. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Rita Gunther McGrath writes, "In a world where a competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year, companies can't afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. To stay ahead, they need to constantly start new strategic initiatives, building and exploiting many transient competitive advantages at once." It is exceedingly rare that arts organizations have the capacity to create and test multiple strategies at once. However, if individual organizations within a cohort group were willing to try something new and report back to the collective, and to the public, each organization would leverage collective learning and implement strategies most useful per their unique challenges. The art world is too small to have competition among administrative teams, either from different organizations or within organizations. We need multiple thriving arts organizations in each community to grow a healthy arts market overall. Don't be afraid to share thoughts with, and learn from, all parts of your extended team, including funders, board members, local government officials, audience members, staff, and dancers. Each group meeting we have convened has been different from the others, and with each conversation a new level of inter-institutional understanding is reached. We are at the beginning of a long process of breaking through the fear to share knowledge, but already have heard from countless people of the importance and positive consequences of such an undertaking. If the arts are a pursuit built on the foundation of collective creativity, then we surely have much to teach, and still more to learn, from our teaching and learning together.


Commentary: A bi-monthly gathering can break down walls in arts community

Michelle Williams, Exec Director of Arts Council Santa Cruz County, Work of Art blog, 4/19/13

Arts councils are a singular and often misunderstood breed. I often get asked what they are, what they do, and why they are important. I always speak passionately about arts education, advocacy, programs, and grants, but the one thing that truly inspires audiences whenever I discuss the unique role an arts council can play is when I talk about the Cultural Council Associates. The CC Associates is a group that consists of 50+ arts-related organizations from throughout Santa Cruz County. We gather every other month to share stories, network, and learn from one another. We start the meetings with "One Big Thing": each organization representative shares the biggest thing coming down the pike. We then discuss any major issues in our field and end with a short "skill share" where one of the Associates steps up to share a technical tool or technique that they've found useful. The "skill share" is a powerful element of the meeting, as they are usually something that can immediately be put to use, as needed, by organizations both large and small. Sounds dreamy, doesn't it? Well, it is. And I'm learning just how rare this kind of group is. Almost everywhere I go, when I talk with other arts leaders, I hear about the competition amongst arts organizations that ranges from friendly rivalry to outright enmity. Granted, it's terribly hard for a nonprofit arts organization to thrive in an environment of incredibly scarce resources, and when you are worried every single day about keeping the doors open, it can be hard to also open your heart and mind to others in a similar circumstance. Because this isn't about organizations, really: it's about the people who work in them, and whether or not they have the interest, ability, and capacity to come together. I have the great fortune to have simply waltzed into a situation that was the stuff of my dreams: a strong arts community that values cooperation, collaboration, and communication. We aren't perfect, but we have a terrific model. I believe that just about any community can make this happen. But there is groundwork that needs to be laid and thoughtful steps to take, which might look something like this.


Commentary: Should you cede your struggling arts program to a 'competitor'?

Joe Patti, Inside The Arts blog "Butts In The Seats", 7/15/13

I was thinking about the growing sentiment that non-profit organizations should resist the impulse to do "more with less." The quality of all programs will probably suffer in an effort to make up for the loss of funding to one. Although it would really hurt organizational pride and morale, the suggestion is to eliminate the program rather than stretching and stressing yourself even more trying to maintain it. A cynical thought crept into my mind that some organization of younger workers unfettered by concerns of good pay and work-life balance might come along and happily [suffer] through its execution. But why not let them? Not that you should welcome an under-captialized organization with unrealistic expectations, but if there was someone qualified who thought they could do a better job, maybe your organization should hand over your files to them.  Most organizations are aware of people doing similar work in their region, whether they are viewed as competitors or providing parallel services. If you are being faced with having to eliminate a program, but are conflicted and a little guilty thinking about all those whom you serve losing something they valued, perhaps it is best to give your program materials to a group that possesses better resources or sees that program as one of their core competencies. Once you no longer view each other as competitors, there may be room for constructive partnerships. For example, a performance venue who is seeing their K12 school show program flounder due to decreasing availability of bus money might direct their clients to a group that performs in schools, but doesn't have their own facility. Instead of looking around at other groups as competitors for the same pie, it may be more productive to evaluate what other people are doing as well, if not better than you, with an eye to possibly having to cede that to them. Boards and staff are likely to have strong emotional attachments to the work your organization is doing. Having an open conversation about organizational priorities as well as what other organizations are doing well may ease the decision to cede/transition a program away if the staff and board has regularly acknowledged the worthiness of another organization to do the work that is being set aside.

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