Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nuggets from Michael Kaiser's Arts in Crisis Presentation

We just returned from a fantastic morning at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center where we heard from Michael Kaiser, President and CEO of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on his only stop in Colorado on his 50-state Arts in Crisis tour. I served on the interviewing panel along with Maurice LaMee from Creede Repertory Theatre and Elaine Mariner from Colorado Creative Industries (formerly Colorado Council on the Arts). We had a lively crowd and Mr. Kaiser presented some great information about what he's learned during his tour and some of his advice for arts groups moving away from crisis and toward organizational health.

COPPeR Board Member Benjamin Day live-blogged the whole thing on Facebook – so for those of you who couldn't be there - here are his posts for all to enjoy!

Michael Kaiser's Fan Club @ FAC... Representing COPPeR at "The Kennedy Center Presents: Arts in Crisis". Parking lot was full more than a half hour before event was to begin.
“Yes, I'm blogging live... Yes, we have had a Coffee Crisis when we almost ran out of decaf; a Strawberry Squeeze when there was a fresh fruit deficit; but no CC Compromise with Bettina facilitating!”
“first instinct of arts organizations when faced with economic constraints is to start cutting." Equates programming to marketing: your programming is your message.
‎"There is no reason to give to an organization that is doing nothing". Huh. Does that extend to organizations / municipalities / communities / organizations outside of the arts?
‎70% of international tourists to the US identify themselves as cultural tourists. 17% of GDP is manufacturing. Smallest number of any developed nation.
A wish not a plan is to do more marketing and more fundraising. Hint: programming. You can't balance your budget on bequests. Talk about the present and the future, forget the past. Plan big transformative projects, meaning a five year calendar. Kaiser has five years of projects as a menu: donors will connect to one or two; if you have only one, ... See Morethey might get distant. The length of time actually helps tighten the bond with the audience. Five years gives him time to educate an audience. Take time to do the exciting work.
Institutional marketing connects people to "the family." marketing: you do it and you do it again and you do it again. Hint: arts organizations fear doing anything big. You don't need big donors: people want to be involved. Big is a pretty easy way to get people involved. Haley Dance Company facing bankruptcy in 1992 paid off their debt within 12 mos.
There is zero room for negativity in the arts, the spokesperson must be optimistic and communicate the positive attributes exclusively. Arts are notorious for whining about their financial problems, reducing programming, being entitled ("ask Bill Cosby for $1 million"... "why? We don't deserve it"), and living in the ruins of their past ("who was ... See Morethe fool who approved the $56K cannon for The Nutcracker? That was dumb. Let's marinade in dumb..."). That thinking organizes no one. Arts must be visionary and paint a picture/direction that is optimistic.
Arts ticket prices have created a large degree of exclusivity and thus irrelevance. The Met has decent tickets for standard opera next year are $750/piece. Arts orgs have to think inclusive and how to get everyone involved. Kennedy Center has a free performance daily at 6. Changes daily. Most popular are what likely would seem most irrelevant: symphonic music and ballet. These "free" events draw more than anyone.
We are channeling Seth Godin here: don't work on your donor base. Work on being exciting. Example Soweto Dance Company. If you can do it there (one of the poorest slums on the planet creates a top int'l dance troupe)... You can do it anywhere. Do exciting & important, focus on that. Biggest arts progam of 2010 was in Gand Rapids, MI, Visual Arts Festival. 1500 artists showed up: year one. Interesting and Important can happen anywhere.
Creede Rep. Theatre has a value of "we will fail." Kaiser: arts must lead. Probably will fail when you lead. Most "best" arts performances people experience are not ones they expected. Arts are risky: embrace that. People don't claim Phantom of the Opera as their lifetime best arts experience... It's good, maybe great, but the best lies in surprise... See More. For me, Arcade Fire and the Sam Lay Blues Band (at Shove Chapel, 1995) are the two best live music experiences I can think of, not the huge, high expectation events. Both surprised me and left me transformed. (Now we are channeling Aeschylus!)
Lots of grumbling before event on the title and use of "Crisis". We are clearly crisis'ed out. We are city 66 out of 69, maybe is resonated more six months ago. In any event, the theme is exceedingly positive and pokes at the crisis-to-crisis mentality, and that "from the 1890's there are accounts of the arts are doomed." Arts are not allowed to function from a crisis mode.
Totally agree..if you have a product, it needs to be exciting more than anything else. Organizations that cut back on programming also cut back on product...no product, no sales. Most marketers look for the "home run" donors, exclusively. But they don't understand that by tapping the base of the pyramid, you can get tons of singles....Singles win Ballgames!
Arts Crisis Alert! Educational problem and arts not considered part of the necessary curriculum. How to address? Proactive behavior of arts orgs should be to concentrate on inclusive events and actions. Again mentions ticket prices as a huge problem and a deficit of thinking about big programming that's exciting. Innovation also really brings people in.
Interesting spiritual nugget: arts leaders should be mentored and mentoring.
Oh dear... First person has left and I can't say I'm surprised who it was. Yes, an EDC member.
More spiritual... Know when to build a building. Debt kills. The line between sickness and health is very slim. What, is he addressing a bunch of 30 yr old men? :) awesome advice for life not expected at an arts event.
Singles win ballgames... I love it Mark. Thanks!
Send off: we sell more tickets for arts then sports in the US.
Imagination Celebration presents the Dragon Hat, as the Protector of the Jewels of the Kingdom.


Bettina said...

Matthew Schniper at the Colorado Springs Independent did a great writeup here: http://www.csindy.com/IndyBlog/archives/2010/07/13/meet-the-arts-savior

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