The Real Competition Is Inaction

As he often does, Seth Godin is speaks right to the arts and culture industry when he suggests that we welcome an environment where there is a lot of activity similar to our own rather than viewing it as competition. (my emphasis)

But for the rest of us, in most industries, it turns out that the real competition is inaction. Few markets have expanded to include everyone, and most of those markets (like books and music) have offerings where people buy more than one.

This means that if there’s more good stuff, more people enter the market, the culture gets better, more good work is produced and enjoyed, more people enter the market, and on and on.

So encouraging and promoting the work of your fellow artists, writers, tweeters, designers, singers, painters, speakers, instigators and leaders isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart as well.

I think we can all see the truth in the statement that the real enemy is inaction, not the other organization down the street. The big concern more than anything else these days is that people will stay home and disengage.

I believe I have mentioned it previously, but when I am asked to speak to groups about what my organization is doing I take the opportunity to speak about how all the arts and cultural organizations make the community a great place to live. Even if people don’t patronize all the groups, at the very least it engenders some pride and loyalty to the community. At best, my description of what is enjoyable and valuable about these places may inspire a visit.

The other factor is that the existence of other arts and cultural entities helps attract and cultivate a talent pool that you can benefit from.

When I started in my current job, I was a little disappointed in how few students were initiating their own projects compared to where I came from. It took me awhile to realize that the students with whom I previously interacted were regularly working together on projects at four or five other organizations, plus doing a handful of one-off projects for other people in the arts community. Not only had they developed a close rapport among themselves, but they had many hours exposed to a variety of concepts, techniques and processes working for other people.

I bristle at the suggestion someone invest their time and talent for the experience and exposure, (getting paid doesn’t inhibit the absorption of new skills after all), but I certainly saw their abilities and judgment develop as a result of their effort and discipline.

Moreover, my organization benefited from them having gone through this process. It was only later that I realized how much.

This basic concept then supports the idea that perhaps Professional-Amateurs aren’t the threat to “professional” artists that they have been perceived to be.

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.


Leave a Comment