Saturday, March 27, 2010

Message to arts organizations in this financial milieu: “Do not cut programming! Do not cut marketing!” This is the clarion call from none other than Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a man who has been engaged in a long history of both.
Kaiser has embarked on a national tour for “Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative”, where he addresses the challenges facing non-profit performing arts organizations through such areas as fundraising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting and marketing.
Last week was 'Delaware Day”. Through the efforts of Paul Weagraff, ED of the DE Division of the Arts, a formidable crowd of statewide arts advocates assembled at the baby grand. To a man/woman, we are all feeling the pressures and looking for insights, collaborations use of social networking and guerrilla ideas
to let us continue down this yellow brick road toward both artistic achievement and black ink.
This is an emergency. We are in Code Red. Let's not quibble. To quote our Favorite Son: “This is a big blankity blank deal.”
The initiative, created by Kaiser, provides free and confidential planning assistance in areas pertinent to maintaining a vital organization in a troubled economy. Presently the program is working with near 500 organizations in 40 states. More than 120 experienced US arts leaders volunteer their time to serve as mentors to groups in need.
The performing arts (for those troglodytes who wish to cut funding) add $300 billion to the economy annually. 70% of foreign tourists are 'cultural tourists'. If you are more concerned with where Michael Vick or Don McNabb plays in the fall (with their vainglorious salaries) consider this: more tickets are sold to arts events than sporting events.
Are there quick fixes? Not unless leaders get creative real fast. Here are some excerpts from Kaiser's inspiring conversation with his audience, some of whom journeyed from Kent and Sussex County:
1.Raising ticket prices in NOT the short term answer. It disenfranchises a whole group of people who heretofore were passionate about your product but now can not afford the price.
2.Program to serve the WHOLE community
3.Think collaboratively with other non-profits and find a common ground. For example, 1st State Ballet Theatre staging Prokofiev's “Peter and the Wolf” with Delaware Symphony; Hagley Museum staging a Living History musical on the du Pont family; Nemours opening itself up to anything community related.
4.Keep Face Book and Twitter updated daily. Change the content. The viral networking will aid in reaching both younger and new ticket buyers.
5.Build 'drama' in your programming, as opposed to creating expensive new projects.
6.Create a 5 Year Plan. This for a few reasons. It gives you time to work through the process and it also excites your staff and your donors for what is to come.
7.Take Risks. Surprise your audience. Dream.
8.Create trans formative marketing. Do something strange.

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