The Ninty Five Processes

Since my second blog entry ever was about parallels between arts management and religion, I was intrigued by a post Scott Walters made earlier this month suggesting that theatres be built along the same lines that Lutherans build theirs.

The process he outlines is thus:

1. Costs for the first few years are evenly split between the new congregation, the regional organization (synod), and the national organization (ELCA).

2. Money is provided primarily to cover salaries.

3. After the first couple years, the new congregation takes on a greater share of the financial burden until it is financially independent.

4. At that point, the congregation begins to make annual contributions back to the regional and national church, which continues as long as the church continues in existence.

5. The congregation is responsible for raising enough money to build a church, if it so desires, but a service organization provides a source of low-interest loans to help with that process.

He compares this with the process for theatres which is basically that you have to exist for three years before anyone will even take a look at your funding request.

The process the Lutherans use is not terribly unique. There are many immigrant groups who have done the same thing pooling their money to fund businesses which were expected to return money to the pot to fund the efforts of others. Upon such things banks were established. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the Lutheran’s practice traces its roots back to immigration.

Given that I have had interactions with people wishing to build a theatre that had no concept of what it actually takes to maintain and run one in the manner they plan, I would embrace the idea that nascent theatres would receive informed advice and guidance.

I have it on pretty good authority that there are performing arts organizations of a certain strata which already trade information and collaborate on planning. The problem is that they rarely attend conferences so few of us get to talk to them. Which is too bad because their expertise could provide a starting point for creating and funding this type of project. I am actually involved with a project which could possible provide a partial template for what Walters is suggesting.

I had a couple concerns about Walters’ suggestions. The first is that it would encourage conservative rather than innovative approaches that would move how the performing arts interact with their communities forward. This process is good for Lutherans because they are dealing with people who already subscribe to an orthodoxy and understand what the expected outcome is. This is not necessarily the case with theatre. You have a choice between different formats and genres to focus on or ignore. It would be disappointing to have groups nudged toward some form of what their advisers know or think would be appropriate. It is still their word that releases the money.

I would assume that once the group of artists had been operating for awhile, a team who specialized in the direction they wanted to pursue would shepherd their progress so everyone wouldn’t automatically be told they were going to be a 250 seat theatre or a three venue facility. Yet the best option might not be a fixed seat venue be it built, rented or borrowed from another but a partnership with a ballet and gymnastic school resulting in an organization focused as much on physical fitness for the community as performance.

My other concern is that the mechanism be able to financially and more importantly emotionally and mentally weather a lot of early failures before they get the technique refined to the point where there are enough successful organizations replenishing the funds. I believe it takes colleges 40-50 years before their alumni become sufficiently successful that they can make significant donations to the school. Granted, the theatres cultivated by this procedure would be required to give back whereas alumni aren’t. Still, it might take 15-20 years before the method is self supporting. Arts organizations and businesses alike fear the inability to show results whether it be to granting organizations or stockholders. This fear could contribute to advocating that new arts groups take a familiar, conservative approach in their activities. And short of someone like Warren Buffet, there aren’t too many funding sources that would be prepared to wait 15-20 years for positive results.

Still if the funders, organizers and participants went into the process resolved to be vigilant about their prejudices and fears and accepting the fact that it could be a long time before any return is ever seen, it could certainly work. Frankly, even if the fears and prejudices did come into play, the process would still be a vast improvement over the current system if it established the practice of arts professionals centralizing and sharing knowledge to avoid replication or re-development of procedures refined or discarded by others.

And how great would it be if causing a schism with the Catholic Church eventually resulted in the unification of the arts? (Finally, we take revenge for being placed below beggars by co-opting religion practice for our own purposes!!!)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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