Planning for Next Season

So I haven’t started my current season yet and I am already deeply involved in planning the next one. Given that I am new to the position and don’t even know how people will react to the upcoming shows, I am going to be making a lot of assumptions about what people like.

Having looked over the materials from my visit to Spokane, I have to submit a list of names of people I would like to present to the president of the booking consortium tomorrow.

Tonight I went over the house of one of my co-workers and I showed them the DVDs and publicity materials for the performers I am thinking of booking. The reason for this was two-fold- One, they have a better sense of what sells than I do. Even though they may be unfamiliar with some of the genres I am looking at introducing to the theatre, they do provide educated viewpoints in a number of areas.

Another reasons is an attempt at the open book management that I mentioned way back in February. I hope to involve/inform the staff about the elements that go into the decisionmaking and budgeting processes in the hopes that they will become invested in improving matters and controlling costs.

It occurs to me though that open book management may not work too well in organizations where people don’t have anything to gain or lose. Being part of a state institution, there is no opportunity for profit sharing, bonuses, extra vacation, etc. Turning a profit could result in the ability to buy new equipment or perhaps hiring more people to help out. Or those things could occur if we don’t.

Because of collective bargaining agreements, I am reminded that it would take one of them killing someone in broad daylight in front of 10 unimpugniable witnesses and a guy with a camera and yelling “At last my 6 months of meticiously planning has come to fruition” to actually cause them to be fired. So there is nothing much too lose either.

On still another hand, the folks I work with do have pride in their work and are glad I am here with a vision so there is plenty of opportunity to rally their support to cut costs and work more effectively and effect improvements. So I am optimistic.

Art, by Mob

I came across and article from Slate I was reading way back when I started my moveArt Mobs. The author, Clive Thompson explores the power mobs have had recently, especially in relation to the arts.

While many artists draw influences from many sources, the common wisdom is that art created by committee, rather than by a unified single vision (albeit sometimes shared by 2-3 collaborators) is usually crap. Thompson’s article shows that in some cases, that isn’t necessarily so.

Witness Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia written by grace of contributions of the masses, which in three years has exceeded the size of the venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica. (It has nearly triple the number of articles and double the number of words)

Thompson also cites the generally successful mob creation of letters via voting whether a pixel should be white or black. On the other hand, when faced with less concrete concepts like creating a face or a goat, by voting pixels black or white, the mob had a hard time creating anything that resembled..well..anything.

Likewise, the person who intitiated Wikipedia has tried to get mobs to write textbooks. Some projects are doing okay, but most are not because of the lack of a unified vision and voice.

These are really intriguing experiments and results. But the application for the arts manager can be fairly simple in some respects. You can solicit all the feedback about programming a season you want from as many sources as you want, but in the end, one central vision must make the determination regarding what will appear on stage. If you try to please everyone or as many people as possible, you end up with an utter mess.

Andrew Taylor said something similar in his Simple Truth 1 posting and a follow up when he says of a presenter who put out a call for programming ideas that would work in his performance space.

“Given the simple truth that audiences buy expectation rather than performances, and given that consumers can’t really say what they want until they have it, and often not even after that, Law is looking in the wrong place for inspiration.”

Eek! Cancelled!

Okay, by now folks are probably tired of me evoking what I learned at the WAA conference in every entry. However, I forgot this one last bit until I sorted through my papers last week. I had attended a forum on cancellations sponsored by NAPAMA (North American Performing Arts Managers and Presenters) on cancellations.

I hadn’t known cancellations was such a hot topic until I attended this forum. NAPAMA has a whole section in their code of ethics devoted to avoiding cancellations and attempting to preserve a good will relationship between agent and presenter if a cancellation has to occur.

There are a number of reasons why cancellations occur according to Patty Milch who lead the discussion,–Force Majeure, tours or funding fall through, directors of presenting organizations change and the next person doesn’t honor the contract, less experienced presenting organizations think it is acceptable for them to cancel.

It was actually these last two points that caused the most discussion and relation of anecdotes. Apparently amateur presenters don’t know if they ask for a contract, they have essentially orally said they have every intent of presenting this person, save some minor alterations to allow the presenter to accomodate the performer.

According to some stories, people are asking for contracts so they can pass them around a committee table and contract 2 of the twenty they asked for. The agent on the other hand is already preparing an artist’s itinerary and working out routing with other presenters based on the issuance of that contract.

These instances turn out badly for all involved because the agent stands to lose face and money, but he will enforce the contract. The presenter gets a bad rep and has the agent/manager glaring and threatening him with legal action.

The other instance is again due to inexperienced people who believe that the decisions of predecessors doesn’t bind the organization if the leadership simply changes. If only it were that simple, eh?

The point of the forum was to discuss how the rancor could be avoided and how a better operating environment might be created. Not surprisingly, we didn’t really get past the discussion of the problem and no one really had any suggestions for a solution.

Lying-Double Time

So yesterday I attended a grants workshop held by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. It was an interesting experience on many fronts. For one thing, they are on a biennium grant schedule which means you apply this year for money for the next two years. Now for a laid back place like Hawaii, it seems strange that you have to get so organized you know what you are going to do for the next two years!

I can’t but think that they are essentially encouraging people to lie their butts off. Arts organizations make things up for annual grant writing, but it pretty much goes without saying a two year cycle essentially encourages people to try to fund their wildest dreams.

Now all this could be moot because of the (big surprise) arts funding problems in the state. When the arts foundation submitted their proposed budget in April/May, all their funds were frozen and remain so. There was a big uproar and the governor allocated money from health and human services earmarked for drug prevention for the arts foundation. (One of the criteria now for getting money is serving at risk youth)

Back in June or so I read a report that said Hawaii had the most per capita spending on the arts. (Which isn’t a heck of a lot given that there are only 1.2 million people living here, but still, a good proportion.) Ah how quickly they fall.

In any case, the people leading the workshop essentially said to live this year as if it were the last we were being funded because it probably is.