Art Reflects Life. So Should Your Mission Statement

Scott Walters made a Twitter post yesterday that suggested organizations start their existence with a Quality of Life Statement rather than Mission Statement or Values Statement.  Intrigued about where he was going with this, I popped over to his blog post on the subject.  He starts with a brief criticism that non-profit mission statements are usually so broad they are meaningless and pretty much interchangeable with those of other organizations.

He moves quickly into discussing the concept of quality of life statements (QoLS) proposed by Shannon Hayes. Hayes focus is mostly on use of QoLS by individuals and families to determine how they want to conduct their lives and relationships.  Walters does a good job of showing how answering the questions Hayes suggests for developing these statements can be applied to arts organizations.

For example:

2. List the people that you want to populate your daily life.

…I sincerely believe that, if this question had been discussed long ago, the 6-day/8-performance week of most professional theaters would never have happened. The current theater world is notoriously hostile to families and extremely difficult on relationships. It can be very difficult to just have a life outside the theater. How might your theater support growth and happiness of members’s whole lives, not just their artistic lives?

3. “Describe the home and land surrounding you as you want it to be

…For instance, are kids welcome to hang out at rehearsal, even if they are not quiet like a mouse? Is there a theater cat? When a spectator opens the door, how are they greeted? What about after the show–is there a place for the spectators to gather to have a refreshment and talk about the show? Do the performers join them? If an audience members encounters a company member at the grocery store, how do you want them to talk to each other? How is that embodied by the way you lay out your space?

There are five points in total that Walters cites and comments on similarly. Now as we move into a next normal environment and recognize the need to do better in serving our community and meeting diversity, equity and inclusion, even established arts organizations would do well to use these questions as guides to their introspection.

While QoLS are focused on a family/organization’s internal members, Walters implication that the resulting conversations should inform external facing statements of mission and values that reflect the specific existence of the arts organization is valid.  Even if you don’t go through the practice of answering questions to develop a quality of life statement, a mission statement should grow from the reality of who you are rather than from a boilerplate form.

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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3 thoughts on “Art Reflects Life. So Should Your Mission Statement”

  1. Hi Joe! Thanks for the shout out. I can definitely see how a QoLS could inform a Mission Statement. In fact, it probably would lead to a clearer mission, which as someone who has participated in the writing of more than one useless mission statement, i would celebrate! Hayes’s QoLS is about a family business, so her examples are about what her family wants. In the case of a theater company, the members “stand in” for family. I think the members ought to be on the same page as far as what their lives will look like if they can make things work. For instance, if the members agree that having time for family is important, then you can’t make choices that lead to a 60-hr week. When I was teaching, my syllabus had to have a “student outcomes” section: “As a result of taking this course, students will be able to _______” followed by Buller points. In some ways, a QoLS is like that: “As a result of building this theater, company members will be able to _____.” (“Participate in projects that develop their talent / take a month vacation each year / get my kids from school each day” or whatever. Every company would be different.) Covey said “begin with the end in mind.” Including how one’s life looks!

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    • Oh, I thought you were saying to develop QoLS as a step to a meaningful mission statement in your tweet. How to start a theatre company has been the underlying theme of a lot of your recent posts so I read that as building the better theatre company by using a QoLS process to form the foundation from which your mission statements, etc would spring. Basically, I felt like my post was reiterating your good idea.

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  2. Thanks for these connections, Joe and Scott! The critique of mission statements reminds me of Peter Drucker’s warning about the common mistake of making “the mission statement into a kind of hero sandwich of good intentions.” But Drucker, as is common in the world of institutions, speaks of the institution as if it’s a sovereign entity somehow separate from its workers. I love the shift of focus here in your conversation toward what the workers want in their relationship to the world they serve.

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