Interesting Thoughts On Arts Management Styles

Andrew Taylor made an interesting video/post about dominant arts management styles on his blog recently.  I am always wary about personality type tests and categorizations, particularly because so many are based, developed and administered using questionable methodology. I do think they can be useful as a tool for self-reflection and consideration if they are subsequently discarded and not used to define oneself.

In this particular case, Taylor is applying Ichak Adizes’ PAEI management framework to arts managers. PAEI stands for Producing, Administrating, Entrepreneuring, and Integrating. Taylor is careful to note that this frame:

“…is not to suggest there’s just four kinds of people in the world or the working world. The purpose is to suggest that each of us brings a dominant concern to the work; a dominant way of paying attention; and a dominant understanding of what it means to be productive in the workplace.”

Because everyone employs a mix from each of these areas, to get a sense of what your dominant approach is, Taylor says you might look at how you react when you are under stress and things around you are going poorly. Also, if there are things other people do in a work environment that drive you nuts, they may be operating in a mode opposite to your dominant approach. He gives the following examples of how each of these styles might manifest in practice:

Do you double down and get the work done that’s in front of you? Are you a producing energy?

Do you pause and think about what’s the better system to manage this process? Rather than getting it done now, let’s get it done right? Making you an administrating energy?

Do you focus on a distant future and say, Well, maybe what is in front of me now is really not the useful thing. Maybe there’s something bold and new and different I should be thinking about?

Or is your impulse to check in with others and your team and see how they’re doing and what they’re doing and how they’re finding focus in their own energy in this moment?

Taylor says that the extreme of each of these can be very damaging for an organization: The Lone Wolf Producer that moves forward with the work without concern for whether it serves the needs of the organization; The Administrating Bureaucrat that focuses on things being done according to the rules and best practices, halting progress; the Arsonist Entrepreneur who consistently burns everything down in order to create something new in the ashes; the Super Following Integrator who focuses on serving whatever needs the group expresses today.

I am skipping over quite a bit here, but the video and accompanying transcript are really relatively short so if your interest is piqued, it is worth the time to check out his post and ponder the insights you may receive.

Consent Agenda Probably Most Useful Than Ever Before

In an ArtsHacker article I wrote back in 2015, I had advocated for the use of consent agendas as a way to quickly dispose of routine matters at board meetings and leave time for discussion of substantive issues.  Now that we are in a place where at least some members may be attending virtually, it is probably even more important to conduct business in a manner that incentivizes people to maintain full focus on the business at hand.

Some of the links in my original ArtsHacker post are no longer valid, but a quick web search will help you find a number of resources that address how to use a consent agenda such as the Council for Non-Profits.

Basically what happens is that the organizational staff prepares materials which it sends out in advance of the board meeting. Those materials are placed into a consent agenda which is approved as a whole at the start of a board meeting. The Council for Non-Profits lists the following as things which might be placed in such an agenda.

• Approval of board and committee minutes
• Correspondence requiring no action
• Committee and staff reports
• Updates or background reports provided for informational purposes only
• Appointments requiring board confirmation
• Approval of contracts that fall within the organization’s policy guidelines
• Final approval of proposals that have been thoroughly discussed previously, where the board is comfortable with the implications
• Confirmation of pro forma items or actions that need no discussion but are required by the bylaws
• Dates of future meetings

Best practice is that any questions board members have should be asked prior to the meeting so that they can be researched and addressed in advance. When the meeting starts, the chair asks if there are any parts that the board feels need to be removed from the agenda. If there are, those items are removed and then the meeting moves forward to approve the remaining items. The removed items are then addressed later in the meeting.

So if a board member has major corrections to the minutes or questions about something in the financials, they should make a request to have those things removed from the consent agenda. Once the agenda is approved, there is no backtracking to engage the board in discussion about those items such as whether the organization should be entering into a contract that was included in the consent agenda.

In my 2015 post, I linked to an article in which the author recounts his experience attending a meeting which used a consent agenda if you want a sense of what this looks like in practice.

The idea is that the first 5-10 minutes of a meeting are spent addressing the consent agenda and then the remaining time is used to address policy, governance, strategy, etc. It is much more time consuming to go around the room calling on each committee head only to have them report “no report,” or “we met last Tuesday and will have a report next meeting,” than to have that summarized on a sheet of paper you received 10 days before the meeting.

When the nominating committee is ready to propose new members or the governance committee has bylaw revisions to discuss, those topics should be addressed in the main of the meeting rather than listed in a consent agenda. The process isn’t meant to reduce transparency though it can be misused in that manner.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to successful use of this agenda is getting everyone to turn into their information far enough out that it can be assembled for review and then getting all the board members to read the materials in advance so that very little gets pulled out of the consent agenda.

It sounds like a lot of work, but avoiding the committee roll call with a 1-2 sentence report out and quickly getting to substantive discussion is worth the effort and keeps people engaged. While I have never been successful in getting any board I have been involved with, either as organizational staff or a member, to adopt a consent agenda, the times I have gotten “best meeting in a long time” compliments has been when we have been able to get past the reporting quickly and discuss past successes/impacts, exciting initiatives and involve the board in decision making that moved toward real progress.

Time To Review Programming And Rental Procedures

Many people probably heard about a Minnesota venue cancelling Dave Chappelle’s show hours before it was suppose to occur.  Something similar happened a few weeks ago at a venue on the other side of my state where a comedy show with different comedians was cancelled the day before it was supposed to occur.

This has gotten me to thinking that art and cultural organizations need to be doing a better job developing and implementing policies and procedures. Putting aside the question about whether these shows should be cancelled,  the decision to cancel shouldn’t be made so close to the performance date. Regardless of the content of the performers’ show, cancelling anything so close to performance time is irresponsible, unprofessional and bad for community relations.  (I know how complicated it is move venues and re-seat people having done it during Covid. The fact the Minneapolis show was immediately moved to another venue suggests the decision and arrangements were made earlier, but only announced the day of.)

The organization on the other side of my state flubbed things even more by issuing a statement that said the show was cancelled due to the content and then issuing another statement saying it was because the proper paperwork and deposits were not received.   This sort of mixed messaging is an indication that there is not a good crisis management plan in place. I am not suggesting the social and political views of a performer constitutes a crisis, but if you have a plan to have one voice addressing your roof falling in during a performance or an entire cast testing positive for Covid after a week of shows, you have a process for communicating tough decisions.

I suspect the venue in Minneapolis was already generally aware of the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle and the clamor of protest got to a point where it outweighed the benefits of hosting the show.  For most other programming, whether it is a solicitation to book a performance or for an outside party to rent the space, it is important to be very clear about the content and requirements of the proposed event. This is a good policy for reasons almost entirely unrelated to opinions about political and social issues.

Ninety-nine percent of the issues that have occurred in venues I have been involved with have been related to technical requirements. Often renters are too vague about their plans and technical needs or show up and add a ton of things they never mentioned before, resulting in a higher bill because we have to scramble to find equipment and staffing at the last minute. Most of our rental contracting has been held up because the technical director doesn’t have the information he needs to accurately estimate the event.  There are definitely people who neglect to submit deposits and paperwork on time, but we address that well in advance of the show.

Similarly, our biggest concern with shows we book is lack of technical details on one hand or assurances that the show will fit in our space despite misgivings. Agents and production offices 500 miles away are motivated to contract a show and leave it to the people on the ground to work around problems far too often.

We have declined to present productions or rent our venue due to technical concerns far more often than for content. Content needs to be reviewed and considered alongside technical requirements in a holistic process. Things shouldn’t reach the contracting stage if there are issues, much less be a matter of discussion a day or two before.  I suspect our colleagues on the other side of the state saw the opportunity to generate some rental revenue and didn’t really pay attention to who it was until the protests started a few days before the performance.

As for the policies and procedures you put into place, that is a matter for discussion with involvement from internal and external constituencies and some legal review. Those policies are going to differ for each organization and community.

More Europe Performing Arts Orgs During Covid

Last week German arts administrator Rainer Glaap made a Facebook post linking to the first ever study of theatres across the European Union (EU).  Additionally, some of the survey participants were non-EU members of the Creative Europe program.  Readers may recall I had made a number of posts looking at how various governments across Europe were providing financial support to artists during the height of the Covid pandemic.  So I was interested in seeing what this report had to say.

One of the biggest difficulties faced in putting the study together was all the differences that exist between European countries in terms of number of theatre, definitions of performing arts activities, funding policies, training practices, etc. There were numerous times the report noted the difficulty in making and apples to apples comparison.

However, there were a number of interesting things I pulled from the report. For instance, apparently France and Germany are the primary models for presenting/touring versus producing.

The so-called ‘French oriented system’ is based on productions, touring and selling plays to other venues making international co-production easier to fit in a programme. In a ‘German oriented system’ whereby theatres operate as production houses with in-house established ensembles, international co-production is less natural since the programme is set for the season.

Since the degree to which European governments subsidize the arts is a frequent topic of conversation in the U.S., having a EU-wide report on this number is obviously of some interest (recall this is an average from 39 participating countries):

“ticket sales in public funded theatres usually amounts to about 25% of the theatre budget. Commercially-oriented private theatres and independent companies however rely mostly on revenues generated from the box office and other commercial activities. Among the surveyed private theatre venues and companies, revenue from sales (tickets, admissions) constituted around 40% of their budgets before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During Covid, many of the measures taken in European countries were similar to those in the U.S. Many shifted to streamed live or archived performances, with results ranging from innovative to downright disappointing. Others found ways to perform in outdoor or non-traditional spaces. Companies in a number of countries started working with hospitals, retirement homes, schools and universities to offer performances. Some organizations experimented with the drive-in theatre experience where people remained in their cars. There was an account of a festival in France which replaced the cancelled Avignon Festival which provided press exposure to smaller arts organizations which normally wouldn’t get it and apparently enabled the organizer, Theatre 14 to reach audiences not used to attending theatre. I am not sure how it was organized to encourage that. I assumed it might be outdoors in public spaces, but it appears the performances were held in physical performance spaces.

There were examples of efforts to provide better support for artists, both in terms of government policy:

Good practices are emerging, such as negotiating a minimum wage for artistic work in the theatre, also for people working on other terms than an employment contract e.g. in Austria or Finland. In some countries, such as Poland, new legal acts and wide-ranging regulations are created to support this professional group. In Belgium, the situation of artists resulting from the pandemic pushed the creation of a new type of ‘fair trade’ contract, in order to improve the contractual relations between artists and cultural operators. As a result of such a contract, a play can either be postponed or cancelled, but in the latter case part of the fees must be paid to the artists.

[…]

….The project was funded via the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs budget line for Information and Training Measures for Workers’ Organisations. It helped the unions to train and put in place a strategy in relation to organising, with a focus on freelance, self-employed and otherwise atypical workers in the Media Arts and Entertainment sectors.”83

As well as acts of solidarity:

Nau Ivanow, a cultural residence space in Spain that has a venue, decided that all income from ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic will be given to the performing companies and artists.
Also, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic they decided to offer their two rehearsal spaces for free for the interested artists/companies.

[..]

Some of the [Romanian] public cultural institutions (National Dance Centre, National Heritage Institute, Clujean Cultural Centre, National Museum Complex ASTRA Sibiu, Studio M Theatre in Sfantu Gheorghe) announced that they did not attend this funding session in order to show their solidarity with the independent cultural operators, whose resources have been drastically diminished, and who were less eligible for support than state funded institutions.

The report also made some recommendations for the future which I will probably cover in my post tomorrow.