Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Surprise People!

Those were the parting words of Michael Kaiser, the President of the Kennedy Center (for the performing arts) and a nationally recognized guru in revitalizing and rejuvenating struggling arts organizations. He joined a panel of local arts leaders in discussing the importance of arts to our community and strategies to strengthen local arts organizations. The session was initiated by Kathleen Hacker of UIndy and took place before a full house at the DeHaan Fine Arts Center on the UIndy campus. Dennis Ryerson, former publisher of the Indy Star was moderator. I have read several of Mr. Kaiser’s books, including “Art of the Turnaround” and really appreciate his perspectives. A few of his comments that stood out to me:

- Build a positive cycle based on “Great Art, Well Marketed” that creates a “family” of active supporters that “attracts funds” through attendance, donations, and sponsorships and supports more “Great Art”.
- Plan your programming several years out so you can be ambitious and rally support
- Most organizations should be doing something to surprise their “family” and the community at least four times each year – large arts organization should aim for monthly.
- There are not too many arts organizations but many are not providing “Great Art, Well Marketed”.
- Institutional marketing, making a name for the organization, is at least as important as marketing specific performances in building financial support.

- There are limited economic efficiencies possible in the performance of most art forms.
- Our venues limit our options – locking ourselves into a facility limits our flexibility and earned income potential.
- It would make a dramatic difference if arts organizations put the same energy into developing managers, audiences, and resources, as they put into developing their programs, artists, and artistic directors.
- It is common for a mainstream arts organization to raise 60% plus of its support from individual donors and corporations, that % drops to 8% for arts organizations in minority communities who are mainly supported by government and foundations.

I refrained from asking him my question about whether there have been any communities who have recently established United Arts Funds or workplace giving programs to promote arts in a broader context to their communities. Cincinnati and Louisville created the first programs in 1949 and now they exist in more than 60 U.S. cities raising $10s of millions of dollars, and just as importantly, visibility and buy-in for the arts. Maybe he would respond to an e-mail.

For more information
- History of United Arts Funds (Cincy efforts www.theartswave.org)
- Michael Kaiser’s efforts in training and educating arts leaders at www.ArtsManager.org
- Jay Harvey at the Indianapolis Star did a nice job capturing the conversation.

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