4 Keys for a Successful Arts Organization

As I’ve been commenting on the recent plague of labor disputes that have engulfed the classical music world (most recently the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, but also the Metropolitan Opera and Minnesota Orchestra), I’ve made references to artistic strategic plans and artistic bottom lines. Some criticized the very idea of these concepts, remarking that they are superfluous—suggesting, apparently, that an arts organization should just get on with the business of “doing” art without wasting too much time thinking about it.

I disagree. In today’s competitive environment, an arts organization that wants to survive has to do more than just going around “arting.”

I would argue that a successful arts organization needs to tend four key areas if it is to thrive: artistic development, financial development, audience development, and administrative development. Moreover, these four areas need to be developed in tandem with each other—they fit together like interlocking puzzle pieces. If one is underdeveloped, the structure as a whole won’t work.

Let me explain. Continue reading

Making Sense of “Sustainability”

Ah, “sustainable.” It is a buzzword of the moment, showing up in discussions ranging from the environment, manufacturing, agriculture… even the arts. Of course, everyone wants to be sustainable, thinking that they, their product, or their service will stand the test of time and last forever.

Like all popular buzzwords there is value to it, and I applaud the notion that we have to look at both the long-range prospects and the long-range effects of the things we do.

But as often happens, the term has been misused by people who fundamentally misunderstand its meaning.

I’d like this willful misuse of the term to stop—particularly among arts organizations. Continue reading

You Can Be a Hero to Cuban Music Students

I’ve learned about a campaign underway to change the lives of Cuban music students that we met during the Minnesota Orchestra’s recent tour to Havana… and I think it will resonate with you, my readers.

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Julie Gramolini Williams, Marni Hougham, Lauren Ríos Hernández, and John Snow in Havana.

Continue reading

Astonishingly Bad Analysis of the Minnesota Orchestra

Approximately two weeks ago, Twin Cities Business published a story about the Minnesota Orchestra that is, to be blunt, terrible. The entire purpose of the piece is to raise questions about the sustainability of the Orchestra’s future, based on suggestions that the recently-signed contracts with the musicians and Music Director Osmo Vänskä are overly extravagant.

Every aspect of this piece is bizarre—its underlying premise, its use of evidence, its timing, its assumptions, and its overall approach to non-profit management.

With respect, the only questions it truly raises are those pertaining to why it was published in the first place.

Emily Hogstad has debunked several points over on her blog, Song of the Lark, and her points are well worth reading. But the piece irritated me enough that I’m going to post a rebuttal of my own. Continue reading

Theater Review: Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker”

Girl Friday, a stellar theater company based here in Minneapolis, is finishing up its run of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker this week. Given that time is running out, I wanted to provide a quick review so that you still have a chance to see it before it closes.

And to be clear, you most definitely should see it. Continue reading

The 10 Greatest Works of the 20th Century

A while back, I ran across an interesting tidbit on my Facebook feed: Pierre Boulez’s list of the 10 greatest works of classical music in the 20th Century. Boulez, for those who aren’t immediately familiar with him, is a hugely influential/controversial composer, conductor, performer, and writer who has long been associated with the avantiest of avant-garde music.

I was intrigued to read his top 10 list—as he was at the epicenter of 20th Century music, his insights are invaluable. But in looking them over, I found myself in disagreement with several of his choices.

Naturally, I decided to come up with my own list. Continue reading