Fulfilling Mission Vs. Fulfilling Design

Drew McManus has recently rolled out a video podcast on the Adaptistration site with the goal of addressing topics facing the orchestra business. Today, he posted the second episode title, Art Has Always Been Political, with guests Jason Haaheim and Weston Sprott.

They get to discussing the familiar topic of how the non-profit model in the U.S. has tended to reinforce the values and demographic composition of those who had the money to support non-profits. Right around the 23:10 mark, Sprott approaches the fact many arts organizations reflect a very wealthy, Caucasian demographic from the point of view of mission vs. design.

He says that many arts non-profits fail to live up to their mission statements, mostly by virtue of the fact that those statements are idealized visions of reality.  From the design perspective, they are operating exactly as intended:

“…if you shift the paradigm and think, is this organization serving the group of people that it was designed to serve, then that is yes…Now that doesn’t mean that the group of people that it was designed to serve is the correct group or an inclusive group, but it is what it was designed to serve.  If you have an administration and a board and everyone that funds you fits in one, in general, to one demographic, then it’s not surprising that the people that perform and the people that attend the concerts…all fit into that demographic.  It was designed to be that way.

I don’t think that a lot of opera companies or The Met, for example, were designed with the idea that we want to make sure that people from all cultures and backgrounds, including black people and brown people and other groups who are marginalized feel like they are truly comfortable in our space. So that is a different question..Does our mission say we reach those people? Yeah it does. Was our organization designed  to reach those people and is it structured to reach those people? It’s not.

This reinforces what Nina Simon says in The Art of Relevance  about needing to create more doors through which the people you wish to serve can enter. While some of those doors may indeed be physical if you are designating space for new people, in most cases they are conceptual. But require no less effort than a construction project in order to properly revise staffing, board composition, funding, programming so that the organization is designed to serve this broader range of people.


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/)

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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