Thought Exercises About Your Revamped Future Organization

Non-Profit Quarterly recently wrote about the big impact the closure of libraries during coronavirus has had on communities. In recent years there have been people who have opined that libraries don’t serve a purpose because nobody reads, etc. and should be shutdown. Now everyone gets to see the implications of that.

In addition to being a place where people grab books and do their homework, libraries have long provided a raft of community services from available meeting spaces, use of computers, mentoring, shelter for homeless, life skill classes. When I served on a library system board of directors, I was always amazed by the amount of income came in a nickel or dime at a time during this time of year as people photocopied tax forms.

All those services are inaccessible now. My local libraries are boosting/relocating their wifi modems so that people can sit in the parking lot and use the internet. Staff is also streaming themselves reading books for kids. If you have access to the right devices, you can download ebooks. But all the historical archives and other resources are locked away.

According to the NPQ article, some libraries are using their 3D printers to make facemasks for the community and medical staff.

I bring this to your attention because as pointed out in the Wired article NPQ links to, during bad economic times the budgets of libraries get cut. So as bad as things are now, the situation may not get much better once the libraries open their doors again. Everyone knows they can’t access these services now, but once the library opens, people will be looking to use them again and they may not be there.

In some cases, budget cuts may literally create a situation where a library is literally no longer there. Certainly that may be the case for a lot of arts & cultural non-profits.

As a person in the creative field, you may be pondering how your organization or how you as an individual might have to change your business model or scope of activity to reflect the changes the current situation may create. There are indications things will change and we won’t be able to go back to doing business as we had in the past. As you are thinking about that, you may want to consider what your potential might be to fill voids left by shuttered libraries or other organizations.  Do you have large unused spaces? Relationships with service providers and educators you might be able to leverage if need be? Technology or material resources?

It certainly isn’t something we may be comfortable contemplating, but if there is another entity’s program you admire and think the community would be the worse off for its lack, you may want to perform a thought exercise about your capacity to absorb the program and what conditions might have to exist to allow you to do that.

For example, there are a lot of foundations out there that recognize the situations nonprofits are in and are deviating from their normal procedures to make it easier for non-profits to retain and report (or not report) on the use of fund. It may not be out of the realm of possibility that a conversation with the foundation about how you are assuming responsibility for an amazing after school program might allow it to retain full funding on top of the funding you already receive from that foundation. (Well, you can hope.)

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. (

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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