Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on.............."

Nonprofit Arts managers are lousy business people and Four other Myths about the Nonprofit Arts.

I ran across an interesting Opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor on myths about arts entitled: “Anyone could paint that and 7 other myths about art” wherein the author sought to dispel seven common myths about art – click here:

That got me to thinking about prevalent myths about the nonprofit arts world that the public has been spoon fed over the past decades, and which hamstring us in our efforts to gain support. Here then is my take on the subject:

Nonprofit Arts managers are lousy business people and Four other Myths about the Nonprofit Arts.

1. Nonprofit arts managers aren’t real business people. The very moniker of “nonprofit” has been taken to mean that those involved aren’t real business people. They are ‘do-gooders’ who don’t understand or adhere to strong business practices.

False. All arts organizations are at their core, small businesses, and those who manage them are some of the best business practitioners anywhere. They are faced with continuing finance and other business dynamic challenges that would torpedo the average business enterprise and they continue to survive amid the worst of circumstances. Of necessity, they are creative, adaptive, experienced survivors – familiar with personnel matters, budgets, fund raising, program development and management, payrolls, board relations, marketing, public policy and all of the other areas savvy business leaders must deal with.

2. The nonprofit arts should be funded by the private sector not with public funds. If they can’t stand on their own in the market they shouldn’t be in business.

False. Government subsidizes all kinds of private sector industries with special treatment and money in the form of subsidies, investment, tax breaks and more (the current debate on health care but just one example of special treatment given to the private sector; the for profit film industry is another example where jurisdictions fall all over themselves to grant special consideration to film companies coming to work in their areas). Moreover, the nonprofit arts are about protecting cultural legacies and the preservation of art forms that are important to the whole of society. They generate far more public dollars and economic activity than they receive in government funding.

3. The nonprofit arts don’t have public support or as wide an audience as other forms of entertainment.

False. The aggregate attendance at nonprofit art performances and exhibits far outdraw the aggregate number of people who attend either movies or sporting events.

4. Too much of nonprofit arts are either controversial or just plain worthless junk.

False. A very tiny percentage of all the arts produced in any given year in America are even remotely controversial or critically panned as worthless. Moreover, the decision as to the value of any given work of art rightly belongs in the eye of the beholder. The arts have as a core part of their creation the assumption of risk on the part of the artist. A society that wants to move forward must champion that assumption of risk as a basic tenet of progress.

5. The arts are a luxury, a ‘frill’.

False. The arts are an essential to any society. Not only a practical necessity – as an economic engine, as a part of the education of our young people and part of preparing them for jobs in the “creative” global economy, and as critical to the tourism industry, urban revitalization efforts and even health care, but also as a means to promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance, and to build cultural bridges across the planet. We are in the midst of the new “creative driven” economy, and the arts play a fundamental role in keeping us competitive and facilitating new industries, new ways of thinking and new ideas.

We need to work harder to dispel these myths if we are to make progress in convincing the public as to our value to our culture. We need to develop more advanced and sophisticated lobbying (not advocacy, but lobbying) capacity to succeed in breaking down these barriers. We simply cannot afford to let these myths continue in the public psyche or the media coverage of who we are and what we do.


Next Week: Barry’s Blog’s Second Annual Listing of the Top 25 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts

September: An unprecedented six week national public dialogue and discussion of the role of the National Endowment of the Arts’ in Arts & Culture in American society – featuring a veritable Who’s Who of Arts leadership from our national organizations, our city, state & regional arts agencies, foundations and funders, thinkers, consultants, academia, past leaders of the Endowment, the various arts disciplines, and the private sector arts industries. Details to follow.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.