Sunday, June 12, 2011

A New National ENDOWMENT

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on………………………………”

Creating Our Own Endowment:

I know attendance is down for our performances and exhibitions – pretty much across the board, though, of course, some may be faring better than others. And just like the 9+% unemployment is wrecking havoc on our national economy, no doubt that marginal decline in ticket sales is hurting the arts ecosystem economy. Still, 90% of the people are employed and do have money to spend, and we are selling tickets to our events.   To be sure, as many have pointed out, there are problems in the trends of ticket sales.  But we have a good product and to paraphrase Mark Twain:  "Reports of our demise may be grossly exaggerated."

I wonder how many tickets are sold in the aggregate to arts events in a given week across the whole country? In a month? Over the course of a whole year? Is that data available anywhere? Can we even make an educated guess? It must be a lot of people (tickets), and a substantial amount of money in the aggregate, despite not being what it once was or what it ought to be.

What if every organization were to voluntarily tack on an additional 50 cents to each ticket price, and earmark that money to a voluntary Endowment fund? What if everyone did that for five years? And what if we conservatively invested that money to grow that fund for that five years before even considering how to spend it? How much might it grow to in that five year period? Enough to constitute our own (small) National Endowment?

Would an additional fifty cents discourage current ticket buyers to the point where it would negatively impact overall sales? I doubt it. Would it be burdensome to do the accounting and pay that income into a fund? Not really. What if, at the end of the five year period that turned out to be a substantial amount of money? And if we did that on our own, could we leverage that effort into small individual donations (ones that arguably would not compete with an individual organization’s own fund raising efforts) to beef it up even more? Or garner more corporate or foundation support? Would that yield millions of dollars, or tens of millions of dollars. Would anybody want to do that?

Probably not. More likely, it would play as heresy. Too bad, because it could benefit everybody, in all kinds of ways – not the least of which would be to involve ourselves (working together) in taking some small measure of control of our destiny – even if only symbolically.

Maybe such an effort would work to improve the overall psyche of the sector, build momentum and signal that we were capable of controlling our own future to some degree. Maybe it would be amazingly empowering. Maybe it would be a game changer in how we approached the concept of collaboration, and how the diverse elements of our sector worked together. Maybe it would spawn new ideas to cooperate.

What would we do with the funds then? I suppose it could be another source of operational grant support – even if more symbolic than actual in its impact. Or it could be allocated to real advocacy to help finally secure sustainable, predictable government funding at all levels. Maybe it could fund public awareness campaigns, or be used to incubate real collaborative projects. Maybe it could help in providing professional development training to all our leadership. Maybe it could be an emergency / rainy day fund to keep alive certain efforts? Maybe it could subsidize attendance at our gatherings and conferences so more could participate. Maybe it could fund new joint projects with the private sector that would grow our tenuous relationship with business and industry. Maybe it could help to convince parents of the value of arts education. There are any number of ways to allocate funds to the needs of the sector that are currently unfunded.

This is just a thought – an idea how we might begin to leverage the strength of our own massive numbers in a specific, concrete way to demonstrate – if to no one but to ourselves - our collective power.

I would surely like to see us do something big and different and out-of-the-box, even if it were a little risky; even if the payoff was down the road; even if the reward wasn’t direct. Someday we need to find a way to do something that involves all of us in some big effort that would ultimately benefit us all – but which was bigger than any of us. Something proactive, not reactive.  This wouldn’t have to be in lieu of any other effort – but just something we could do for ourselves without anybody else’s approval  -  something under our control. Would we be willing to do that and defer the benefit for a period of time? I would love to be a part of it and I bet at least a few others would get on the bandwagon if it ever got rolling. Maybe Malcolm Gladwell will write a book on just how you get those bandwagons rolling. If ever there was an elusive concept, this may just be one.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

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