No Simple Solutions

While I was out in the middle of the Mongolian steppes gazing out from my yurt, I happened upon a copy of the Oxford Business Group’s report on Mongolia in the dining hall. I put aside the novel I was reading and devoured the report. It was intensely interesting to me to read about all the factors that contribute to the emergence of a developing nation. In many respects, I saw some parallels to the arts and culture sector.

As I mentioned yesterday, one of Mongolia’s greatest assets is its land. The people are largely nomadic and their large herds of horses, sheep, goats and cows benefit from the grazing land. Tourists such as my friends and I come for the natural beauty. And the country has large mineral wealth.

There are many factors that must align for the country to be economically successful in each of these areas. The banks must have enough capital to support investment; insurance companies must have the resources to insure the industry; the government must be stable and generally unified in its vision; people must be confident that laws will be fairly applied and agreements honored; work force must be well trained and industrious; a quality transportation infrastructure must be in place.

This is no small task for a country that moved from Soviet style communism to a parliamentary republic in the early 1990s. The report mentioned that even countries like Canada which has a more mature and practiced economy and political system were challenged in trying to exploit their mineral wealth.

One of the things the report made clear is all these elements are interrelated. Success depends on addressing deficiencies in all theses areas and that balance is necessary. For example, there is a growing concern that the rise of the mining industry with its good salaries not develop to the detriment of other industries like manufacturing and tourism leaving the economy too dependent one segment. The impact of copper prices falling sharply a couple years ago is still fresh in people’s minds.

In the same respect, problems faced by the arts and culture sector in the U.S. and elsewhere won’t be simply fixed solely by achieving one of the following: more government funding, better cultural policy, more corporate donations, better board governance, changes in foundation policy, arts education in schools, new business model or marketing to younger audiences.

Its all of these and no one thing. We all generally know there are no simple answers, but it is difficult to remember when we are told the solutions to our problems can be achieved with a simple pill; in as little as 30 minutes a week; or just cutting/raising taxes.

Certainly when you are operating in perpetual crisis mode, or at least a low grade state of emergency as seems to be the case in the arts and culture sector, thinking the solution lies in achieving progress in one fairly significant goal provides the hope you need to carry on.

While it shows the reality of the situation to perhaps be more overwhelmingly complex, in the context of the factors necessary for developing the Mongolian economy, it is obvious that a more holistic and balanced approach to improving the operating environment is necessary.

It only makes sense that financing, infrastructure, law, education, etc are all important to a developing country. Progress won’t be made if one area is deficient. Trying to convince others to stop trying to advance conditions and policies in other areas and devote their time to what you think is important may ultimately be counter-productive.

Something to remember if you are making the rounds of conferences and such this summer and you are getting a lot of messages about what is absolutely the most important thing to do.

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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