NPR Series May Help Expand Conversation About Theatre in US

Keep your radio tuned and your ears open to your local NPR station for the next month or so, especially if you are a theatre professional. The network is doing a series over the next five weeks about the 75th anniversary of the regional theatre movement. In a piece that aired this morning, they provide a little bit of a preview of the topics they are going to hit on from the impact of Covid, to economic concerns, regional theatres as a feeder to Broadway and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The short piece mentions many of the conversations and activities which have unfolded over the last few years, from the mass resignations at Victory Gardens Theatre; the “We See You White American Theater” statement; the viability of subscription model and questions about the utility of the non-profit governance structure:

Theaters also started rethinking subscription plans that prioritize well-off people who can purchase a season’s worth of prime seats in advance, while leaving everyone else scrambling for leftovers. And they began reconsidering the current, frustrating governance model at most non-profits, where theater artists must answer to a volunteer board of directors, often with little theater expertise, which has all of the authority and none of the accountability.

It may be useful to have these topics discussed by an outlet outside of the usual theatre channels. Being able to point to NPR stories may end up being like the consultant effect where an outside “expert” repeats everything internal staff has been saying resulting in decisions to mobilize to achieve important goals.

Most board members and patrons don’t read American Theatre and related information sources, but many do listen to NPR and find it a credible information source. The NPR series can provide an entree for conversation or simply raise awareness among the greater community involved with arts and cultural entities around the country.

Next To Pick Up The Reins

Since there is a bit of a cross-readership, many of you may have already seen that Drew McManus announced yesterday that he was going to cease posting regularly on the Adaptistration blog. Drew is one of the few people who has been posting on the topic of arts management longer than I have.  Way back when he reached out to me about moving my blog from the Movable Type platform I was on to the Insidethearts.com site back in the early days of WordPress.

In his post, Drew noted that even after posting for 18 years, potential topics of discussion have not been exhausted.

Having said that, it still feels very odd to reach the realization that it’s time to stop while simultaneously having no shortage of ideas and topics that deserve attention…but it’s also clear that now is the time to let new voices step in and pick up that conversation. The emerging practice of audition fees, virtual audition practices, underpaid/overworked staff, the post-pandemic compensation reports, and so much more are all issues that need the sunlight of public examination in a non-partisan environment.

I will readily admit that the blog format has gradually fallen out of favor. My active readership has gradually decreased over the years. But I am also pretty clear that I am writing as much to help myself work through thoughts about arts policy and practice as informing a readership. Just as many people have a daily discipline of writing in a personal journal, I am mulling things over publicly.

My intent is to continue writing this blog, but as Drew says I equally hope new voices step up and address topics of concern for the arts and culture field.

Welcoming and Belonging For All

Last week I received an email from Arts Midwest noting that September 9-18 is Welcoming Week, an international effort to provide a welcoming experience at all levels. This includes government and social policy and action to make communities more welcoming to organizational efforts to provide a sense of belonging in workplaces and other social interactions.

The concept of creating more metaphorical doors through which people can engage with arts and cultural organizations is a frequent topic here so I wanted to call attention to the effort and some of the resources that are available. In addition to the Welcoming America website, Arts Midwest created a page of resources focuses on how arts organizations can create that sense of belonging for employees and community members with whom they interact.

Arts Midwest is also hosting a webinar on Wednesday, September 14 4 pm EDT/3 pm CDT/1 pm PDT on the topic with a focus on “how arts can transform, deepen, and enrich immigrant inclusion work. ”   Sign up if you would like to learn more.

 

How Will Non-Profit Law Change To Meet Shifting Expectations?

Gene Tagaki raises some interesting thoughts over on the Non-Profit Law blog on the question of how legal concepts and structures may need to adjust to reflect changing values in the non-profit sphere.  He lays out some thoughts in regard to Charitability, Philanthropy, Governance, Technology, Fundraising, Advocacy, and Employment.

I provide this list with the intention of sparking enough interest in folks to read more deeply because I am only going to touch on a few ideas that popped for me.

One question he raised was whether the IRS would need to adjust its definition of 501(c)(3) entities:

“Would relief of historically discriminated groups of individuals without regard to poverty or distress now qualify as charitable? Would the sale of alternative energy sources for personal use be charitable even if at market rates?”

Tagaki also points out that there is a growing shift in how fundraising is accomplished and how the work of social good is being framed. He notes that crowdfunding focused on supporting a specific project or individual versus organizations which help many. He also cites corporate efforts to “charity-wash” their activities by positioning themselves as reducing social problems.

“Fundraising trends also raise other legal concerns as nonprofit fundraisers face competitive pressure from those raising money from crowdfunding platforms to help specific individuals rather than charities, businesses proclaiming to do more social good than nonprofits, and entrepreneurs looking to both help charitable causes while creating for themselves an opportunity to earn substantial amounts of money.”

Finally, Takagi observes there is a trend not only toward remote work, but also shared leadership of organizations. This approach is likely to exist in tension, if not complete conflict with a hierarchical board governance model legally required of nonprofits in the US.

“Many organizations are struggling with this movement as there are clear and proven benefits with traditional hierarchies and the law is built on boards having ultimate responsibility and authority over the activities and affairs of their corporations. But there are shifts in power that are possible, and laws or regulatory guidance that confirm the appropriateness of certain delegations of authority may be helpful. What are some of the distributed leadership systems that would be helpful if recognized by sector leaders as good practice and by lawmakers and regulators as acceptable?”

As always, many things to think about for the future.