Ensuring Arts Resiliency
Watch the Recording
Note: The recording begins a few seconds into Ben’s opening remarks. Prior to that, Laura opened the call by introducing both speakers. You can read Laura’s opening remarks and Ben’s introduction below the video.
Laura's Opening Remarks:
Rebecca Thomas is a researcher, consultant, and artist. She brings smart, well-researched, informed thinking to each organization she serves. Her experience, the research done independently and with SMU DataArts, and her deep understanding of the nonprofit sector give her a unique perspective on how to move beyond our current reality. She will talk about why organizations need to fully assess and understand the need for radical rethinking about preserving their missions and achieving financial resiliency. She will talk about scenario planning, change, balancing risk, and building financial health. I am asking Rebecca to jump in after Ben tees us off for today’s conversation.
I watched conferences where Ben was a participant and read articles where he was the subject, a contributor, or referenced. I continued to be inspired by his clarion call to organizations and funders to think beyond the current “crisis” and recognize that the hard work was not last year, not the next six months but will be the next 12 to 36 as organizations work to survive, while simultaneously creating new pathways for post-crisis sustainability. Ben uses terms like bold artistic choices, relevance, and adaptability, advancing equity, impact, having a civic agenda, making data-driven but deeply reflective decisions.
Ben and Rebecca are peers and friends, and I know we will enjoy their time with us. The group assembled on this webinar are here because of their involvement in the arts–as a practitioner, funder, administrator, or supporter. Ben, then Rebecca, these are your folks; talk to them, and for those listening, use the chat to ask questions or make comments. I will jump in where needed, but for now, the floor is yours Ben…
Thanks Laura for inviting and Steve for supporting me to be with you all today. As Laura noted, I’m a High Point native—T Wingate Andrews class of 1971—and Greensboro was the big city to me growing up—the place to go to impress a date with dinner at Cellar Anton and a movie at the Janus Theater—and was indeed the place where I later learned to wait tables at Giovanni’s restaurant where in 1981 I waited tables with identical gay triplets names James, Jeff and Joe who did a drag version of We Are Family for charity events and where lock-jawed Greensboro matrons would arrive and announce, “I want a triplet for a waiter.” It’s lovely to reconnect with you all after far too long a time.
I’m of course heartened by the response to our hour and to the potential for a future as described by Barry Nailbuff’s who years ago noted that the arts could continue to fight for a piece of a fixed or shrinking pie, or we could Co-opetate—that is, cooperate to grow the pie for everyone, even while it would be inevitable that we would compete for a piece of it.
I know that Michael Kaiser has done some deep work with the Piedmont Golden Triangle as we called it when I was growing up there—he’s truly one of the smartest people on the planet about the traditional 501(c)3 models and community interaction—and the description of issues he found was typical of the arts world we saw in 2019—a time of stagnant ticket sales, % of house sales typically stuck in the low 60% range, declining operating reserves, negative working capital, aging audiences, donor fatigue with smaller and smaller circles asked to give more and more—a time when financial progress was more likely to be connected to raising ticket prices rather than audience growth and in which balancing budgets depended more and more on incurring deep deficits in human capital by virtue of under-compensation, under-staffing, and overtaxing energies.
2020 has of course been a period of disruption occasioned by a triple set of forces—a COVID pandemic forcing a hiatus in our work and interaction with our audiences and communities; a posi-demic—since I think pandemic sounds negative—a posi-demic of the long overdue demands for an equitable America and a call for every organization to embrace anti-racism in its practice, in its programming, in its constituencies and its mission—and a pandemic, beyond issues of race, of misinformation, deception, deep polarization and election connected violence.
Meet Our Speakers
President, Jerome Foundation
was Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (2006-15). During his tenure, the Foundation created the Doris Duke Artists Awards and received the National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama. He received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, a BA with honors from UNC-CH, and is a recipient of three honorary degrees. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Council on Foundations.
helps non-profits and their supporters balance their societal aspirations with business realities. She assists nonprofit leaders in making choices that build organizational health and adaptability. Rebecca speaks and writes about the relationship between nonprofit finances and mission success, and she advocates for improvements in the way money flows to the sector. She is the co-author of Critical Steps Toward Capital Health in the Cultural Sector, The Case for Change Capital in the Arts, and Change Capital in Action: Lessons from Leading Arts Organizations.