Bean Counter Hero For A Few Days

As the guy controlling the budget, I often have to either say no or ask people to scale back their plans. Therefore, it gives me great joy when I am in the position of telling artists that they are limiting themselves and need to think bigger. I had that opportunity about a month ago when I was discussing the site specific performance we are developing with a local performance group for next Spring. One of the artistic directors was telling me a board member was encouraging her to limit the action of the show around the theatre building.

My whole intention in approaching her about a site specific work was to get away from the building and exploit the potential in other nearby locations. Also, given that the show is about celebrity and achieving that status is divorced from formal performance settings these days thanks to our ability to record and distribute events from practically anywhere, it seemed counter intuitive to have everything happen in the theatre environs.

Given that we are about nine months out from the performance, I told her I felt it was premature to start eliminating some nearby locations that ignited both our imaginations. It felt great to be telling someone to keep dreaming about a performance.

I did feel a little bad for the nameless board member I was contradicting. Perhaps this person has made valuable suggestions in the past, but for a little while in my mind I was relegating them to the clueless board member bin. While I was feeling the hero, I was envisioning this faceless person as the stereotypical board member who valued the product, but didn’t quite understand the process of the organization which he/she served.

I didn’t think it is was particularly fair that board members end up playing that role in so many organizations. And let me be clear, since I was envisioning a theoretical board member, I certainly can’t say this is the case at all with the board of our partner organization. Let me also say that I realize this little fantasy is not only unfair to the anonymous board member, but likely short lived since the time will come soon enough when I will begin tugging on the reins and conform to the parsimonious administrator stereotype. Allow me this short time in the sun, eh?

There have been many discussions about how board members do it to themselves by not involving themselves enough. It is also true that organizations work to marginalize involvement so that the board is little more than a rubber stamp for their activities and then stays out of the way.

It seems this might be another argument for arts people not the subscribe to the notion that you have to be poor and suffer to be true to your art. In the nascent stages of some arts organizations, boards are comprised of fellow artists who understand and are invested in the work. At a certain point, it becomes clear that if the organization is to expand, it will require people of influence and means. If financial success were frowned upon less in the arts world, there would be less of a need to choose between those who get it and those who got it because they wouldn’t seem so mutually exclusive.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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