Going Corporate

Drew McManus came out with a really strong entry in his Shop Talk podcast today. He talks about transitioning from a non-profit arts career to a commercial career with guests Marc van Bree and Ceci Dadisman, who shifted from orchestra/opera to companies which handle e-commerce shipping and real estate, respectively.

Some of what they say is a little hard to hear. Van Bree and Dadisman talk about the lack of investment/mentoring in employee skill and professional development in non-profits and the low tolerance/preoccupation with failure and mistakes. While this can definitely be attributable to lack of resources and the recording could support a plea to funders to allow money to be used in this area, the guests suggest there are fundamental practices non-profits are failing at that no expensive CRM can fix.

While he was reluctant to use the word “regret,” van Bree said he wonders how much further along in his career he would be if he had started in the commercial sector rather than non-profit.

As the conversation moves on the guests, acknowledge that a corporate environment can be extremely toxic and pretty callous, especially when it comes time to “right-sizing” the employee base. Van Bree makes the observation that work culture follows results, not the other way around. Ping-pong tables and free beer won’t yield great results, but great results can create a positive work culture that doesn’t need ping pong tables to feel fulfilling–a situation which is not exclusive to either commercial or non-profit environment.

The conversation turns toward the difference between an entity focused on creating value vs. generating profits. In the commercial world the latter can manifest in a company whose focus is to look so good on paper they get bought out. Things can go to hell quickly if the company isn’t bought out–and can go to hell immediately after the buy out when that impetus is removed.

Near the end Drew asks what his guests felt they brought from the non-profit world that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Both mentioned that having a broad skillset, both theoretical and practical, and vocabulary that allowed them to speak the language of other departments was something that their colleagues who had been on a more narrowly focused track didn’t possess. (Though Van Bree says knowing how to fix everything and being tempted into doing it may have gotten him in trouble a couple times.) Van Bree said that having to interact with so many different non-profit stakeholders from audience to board members provided him with a very broad range of social skills and savvy.

There is a lot of really poignant reflections and observations made so it is worth paying close attention as you watch/listen. Especially if you are a sci-fi/fantasy fan and understand the Star Trek and Lord of the Rings metaphors at the end which are particularly spot on.

One quibble I did have with the guests comments. After Van Bree wonders about his career path had he started in a commercial career, he suggests that had he gone into non-profits in his 60s after a commercial career it would have been an atypical career arc. I actually think it is all too frequent a path and may be the cause of some of the non-profit arts world’s current woes. So many times we see someone appointed to the top executive position of an arts organization having come from health care, energy sector or other corporate environment.

Dadisman and van Bree said they face some skepticism transitioning to commercial jobs about whether they had the capacity to work at that level, but there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for people going straight to the executive suite of a non-profit without much prior experience in the field.

I am increasingly beginning to believe that may be adversely impacting the artistic missions of many organizations.  While protecting monied interests from being offended has always been a factor, in these times when the importance of equity and inclusion has been brought front and center, I have observed two separate executives violate their most publicly stated core value about equity in the face of very mildly controversial content (i.e. akin to child perceiving parents divorce is their fault when the facts may be otherwise). Even when this lack of consistency has been pointed out, they stick to their decisions and then continue to publicly announce their core value about equity without any sense of irony. I feel like this comes from a very corporate focused cover your ass and keep repeating slogan mentality.


Two Shows, Three Trucks

I was talking with an agent for some Broadway show tours this week in order to get a sense of what things might look like for productions in Fall 2021/Spring 2022.  I was intrigued to learn that they were considering sending out two shows in repertory.

What that means is the same cast and crew rehearse so they are capable of mounting two different shows. This was once a common practice in theatre, and is still not terribly uncommon, especially among Shakespeare festivals.

I have seen some smaller touring productions offer this option, but never heard of it on the scale of a Broadway touring show. Given that you can do so much with projections these days, they can cut down on built set pieces to allow the tour to go out with the same number of trucks a Broadway tour of a single show would.

I am not sure if this is the right solution, but this is the first group I have spoken with that seems to acknowledged that times have changed and touring productions need to adopt new approaches.

This offers an opportunity to be more responsive when it comes to routing a show. Usually the tour of Show A will have one schedule and tour of Show B will have another schedule. It doesn’t help either me or the production company if Show A is touring near me but I want to see Show B.  The repertory approach means they can send one tour out and perform one show 150 miles away and then another show in my venue.  Since they are only sending one tour out with one set of cast and crew, there is a potential to save money vs. sending the two shows out separately.

If they were particularly well-organized and a venue had the space to shift and store things, they could feasibly do one show one night and the other show the next night and have the labor costs involved in doing so be economical for the venue.

How this might impact the quality of the show and the production values people expect, I don’t know. It is absolutely possible to execute a high quality experience with the investment of enough attention.

I suspect the first year or so of post-Covid touring will be an environment that will see even tours of single productions stumbling to find their footing and how well they handle that will be the biggest factor in the success and quality of their product.

Maybe They Could Increase Residency By Offering A Pastry Of The Month Subscripton?

A little bit of amplification of my local community today. Next City ran an article on the Mill Hill artist village that is developing in one of Macon’s original neighborhoods, Ft. Hawkins. The project is a partnership between Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, Macon Arts Alliance and the Historic Macon Foundation which has developed renovated houses once used by mill workers into artist housing.

They also turned the auditorium building that once served the mill community into an activity space which includes a large industrial kitchen which is being used by a baking collective, but is also available for hourly rental on a more casual basis.

The industrial kitchen was installed as a result of interviews done with the local community when the project had barely been conceived. People had mentioned their mode of creative expression was related to food and that they were running businesses out of their home kitchens.

When the project first began, the people behind what would become Mill Hill worked with the local Roving Listeners group. They went door to door in 2015 for six months, getting stories from people. This included talking with people at Davis Homes, a 184-unit public housing development down the street from Mill Hill.

“We weren’t even talking about a forthcoming project,” Olive says. “It’s pretty common for development projects to go in and say, ‘We’re going to do this planning effort. We’re going to have community meetings. We’re going to do this.’ And it’s all sort of framed around ‘because we’re going to do this project in the future.’ And really, with the Roving Listeners phase, it wasn’t through any lens. It was just knocking on people’s doors.”

They recorded people’s stories and compiled some of them along with photos in a book called “Heard on the East Side,” distributing it to residents. They also referred back to those conversations when creating the Mill Hill master plan, which was completed in 2018.

Currently, there isn’t a lot of occupancy in the artist village. Of the seven houses that have been restored, only one has been purchased by a private individual. One the Arts Alliance owns for use by its artist-in-residence. As those interviewed for the article indicated, there hasn’t been a lot of marketing done to make people aware of the spaces. As a result, they haven’t reached a critical mass of interest.

I will confess to possibly contributing to that. When I was looking to buy a house around this time last year, I was seriously considering some of those houses but the fact listings indicated they had been on the market for over a year raised concerns about how easy it would be to resell a house if I decided to move.

However, one of the great benefits those houses have is that they are located right next to a pedestrian and maintenance gate into the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. It is basically a private entrance into an historic site with miles of walking & biking trails which also hooks up to an expanding community trail.  I used that entrance a number of times when I was living in Macon’s downtown. Even when the historical park is closed, you can pick up the community trail about 1/4 mile away.

I should also mention that the houses are pretty nice with a lot of open space making them well suited for studio use.

While the houses might not be occupied, the former auditorium space gets used a lot for events, classes and meetings of all sorts. The kitchen the bakers used is HUGE and well-equipped. The best events are those which show off the talents of those bakers.

So overall the project definitely has potential for great growth and is something worth watching.

Government Cultural Policy Making For The Unknown

Last day in my series this week covering the UNESCO document, Culture in crisis: Policy guide for a resilient creative sector. Big thanks again to Rainer Glaap for calling attention to it. As much as I try to keep an eye on international culture developments, Rainer is much more plugged in than I am. I definitely benefit from his multi-lingual fluency.

The last section of the UNESCO policy guide, Enhancing the competitiveness of cultural and creative industries, is couched in much broader terms than the previous sections.  This is largely because it is focused on assessing what the next normal post-Covid will be and creating policies to support training and development of cultural & creative entities to operate in that unknown environment.

The subsections here are: Participatory needs assessment and feasibility studies; Adapting business models; promoting national content; tax incentives for foreign investment.

The needs assessment section advocates needs assessment and feasibility studies to see what will help the creative sector. They advise taking the time to clearly understand needs, but don’t make perfect the enemy of the good and delay implementing the first phases of needed relief until the most complete study had been made.

Adapting business models is an area that is familiar to anyone who has participated in the digital delivery vs. live experience debate. The document says the old models will no longer be valid so work needs to be done to understand, implement and support the new models. While there is a suggestion that the next normal will involve digital, it also allows that this may not ultimately be what emerges as a dominant practice.

Indeed in a recent podcast interview Drew McManus did with Scott Silberstein and Mark Larson, it was noted that when TV first became a new medium, people didn’t understand its full potential and were basically doing radio shows on TV.

In previous entries, I hadn’t really called attention to the good practices portion of each section where they list what different countries are doing as examples of what is being proposed. However, I did want to call attention to the partnership between Mexico City and Buenos Aires mentioned here. If two cities in two different countries can partner to provide content to their respective audiences, there is definitely an opportunity for cities in different states within a country like the US, (or provinces/territories in Canada, etc) to work together to illuminate the value of the resources in their cities:

The Culture Secretariat of Mexico City, Mexico and the Ministry of Culture of the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina agreed, in April 2020, to combine their digital information and dissemination platforms to present the diverse artistic and cultural expressions of both countries to wider audiences, using the most modern technological means.  Thanks to this agreement, the Mexican platform “Capital Cultural en Nuestra Casa” (Capital of Culture at Home) and the Argentine platform “Cultura en Casa” (Culture at Home) offer a wide variety of programs that are part of the cultural life of both cities.

The Promoting national content section of the guide seems focused on emphasizing the value of domestic content over that of international content. I suspect that the international content they have in mind originate from pop culture producers like the U.S. At the same time, I don’t think I am alone in feeling the U.S. government does a poorer job of promoting its non-movie/television/streaming creative content both domestically and internationally so this is definitely a tip to be embraced all around the world.

On the other hand, the last section of the guide, Tax incentives for foreign investment, pretty much promotes the use of tax credits to attract foreign film and television production to different countries.

In any case, these three entries have been a significant summary of the content of this document. If anything written in the first or second entries catches your attention, take the time to do a deeper dive.


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