Would You Trade Board Oversight For Investor Scrutiny?

The Clyde Fitch Report takes a close look at a bill being proposed in the U.S. Senate to give Broadway investors the same tax break as those who invest in movies.

The goal of the legislation according to a press release put out by the bill’s sponsor, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is to provide more incentive for banks and investment funds to invest in Broadway shows and therefore spur job growth.

“..Due to the tremendous risk involved, it is very unlikely that any managed fund or banking institution in the United States will lend resources for live theatrical productions, so the majority of capitalization comes from small or independent investors.”

After some analysis The Clyde Fitch Reports’ asks if there really is a dearth of investors and they wonder if banks should really be investing clients’ money in an endeavor widely acknowledged as likely to lose money.

Do you believe banking and investment institutions should gamble their clients’ money to produce Broadway shows?

Do you believe 233 names, sets of names and/or entities listed over the title of a random list of 10 Broadway shows represents a problem generating a “pool of interested investors in Broadway”?

Do you believe investors in commercial Broadway deserve a tax break?

Are there any other individuals in the American theater for whom tax-code tweaks might be desirable?

When I first read the article, I thought it was a proposal to get investors paid earlier in the process. While it isn’t, I wondered with the weight of large investment institutions present, would the arrangement get altered so that investors recouped sooner and “Hollywood accounting” adopted resulting in the creatives getting little.

I also wondered with more money behind them, would Broadway productions become more adventuresome, or even more oriented toward stage adaptations of proven works and revivals.

On the other hand, since I am always keeping my eyes open for alternative funding models, I also wondered if this might provide more options nationally to arts organizations.

When I first read the following from the Schumer press release, I thought perhaps these investment tax breaks might be applicable to artistic projects created around the country.

“On average, Touring Broadway contributed an economic impact to the local economy that was 3.5 times the gross ticket sales. This income is also vital to sustaining our nation’s theatres, as more than 50% of Performing Arts Center’s ticket sales derive from patrons attending the Touring Broadway series. This revenue permits local venues to offer opera, ballet, unique exhibitions and to fund much needed arts education curricula. Without Touring Broadway, all of these vital programs would suffer.”

Then I realized, no, what the release is saying is that Broadway needs the tax breaks so everyone else can present Broadway tours.

I am a little skeptical about the economics cited here. I don’t know about the venues with week long runs, but while Broadway audiences are among our biggest, they are also the shows that tend to lose the most money for us. We ain’t funding anything else off the proceeds.

Now if they were obliged to lower their rates for non-profits in return for this tax break, that would be beneficial to us. But I don’t see that happening.

All the same, I do wonder if the law being proposed could benefit people in other parts of the country looking to run a performing arts center as a commercial enterprise by allowing them to solicit investors.

Or perhaps it could help turn other cities into development centers by attracting investment for works that weren’t necessarily contemplated to go to Broadway but rather stay put in Portland, Minneapolis, Miami, etc. as a significant attraction for the region.

The productions may not gain the same cachet it would from Broadway, but what it did develop might be enough to create regional or national interest in a tour of say a multi-media dance work that generated a respectable return on the investment.

If the legislation is not written in such a way to include non-Broadway productions, is it worth lobbying to have the scope widened?

As the title of this post suggests, it would change the complexion of the way performing arts entities operated.

By Faith Alone

Yesterday I wrote about the need for grace in the face of criticism. It must have struck a chord with some folks because the traffic to that post exploded (I am sure a great deal of credit goes to Thomas Cott, though.)

Today I wanted to touch upon the equally frustrating, but much more gratifying “that was amazing, too bad more people weren’t there,” event.

To be clear, this isn’t the show that your staff and arts insiders from your community thought was excellent for its artistic quality. This is the show at which 100 regular members of the community filtered into your 550 seat theater and absolutely loved it.

You know they loved it because right at intermission as you move to use a urinal a total stranger thanks you for taking the time to visit his group and tell them about the show.

(If you are a guy, understand just how much he must have loved the show that he couldn’t adhere to the unspoken rules about not holding a conversation with a stranger at the urinals.)

You know they loved it because strangers keep coming up to you at restaurants and supermarkets for weeks later to tell you how excited they were.

Not to mention the social media conversations that you may catch.

This is the type of reaction that makes a career in the arts worthwhile. Few other professions get this sort of heartfelt thanks.

Except, you know, you would probably be okay trading a “that was awesome” for “that wasn’t bad” if it meant having 300-400 more people in the audience.

That brings me to the real purpose of this post, which is to ask a question.

There is some received wisdom that once people learn they can trust your organization to provide a quality experience, they will be more willing to take a risk on unknown and unfamiliar shows.

So my question is, is that really true? Can anyone point to a case where their local community grew to trust their judgement and attended unfamiliar events in sustainable numbers based on faith?

I am not talking simply about growing an audience. I increased attendance at dance concerts when I was in Hawaii. But that was more about marketing and making dance programs and schools more aware of performances and talking to them about what we were planning for next year.

While this certainly generated trust in our work, it was more a matter of effectively tapping into an existing interest group than cultivation.

I have also definitely had people who have said they weren’t sure about a performance, but attended because they knew we did quality and interesting work.

The problem is that their numbers were relatively small and while they may have represented the unexpressed sentiment of a larger group, attendance often made it clear there weren’t numbers to be sustainable.

At the base of this is the necessity of taking a critical look at whether pursuing audience trust as a long term goal is realistic or is it a pleasant ideal to which non-profit arts organizations have subscribed.

Research has shown that audiences in general don’t discern between whether an event is being held by a for-profit or non-profit entity when choosing what to attend. With that in mine, are there that many in our communities that really appreciate that you are pursuing excellence when others seemingly are not?

It is likely that audiences aren’t thinking in terms of excellence as much as having an awesome or amazing experience, and that is fine. But we all know that it is relatively easy to provide an experience that will be evaluated in these terms by offering a commercially recognizable name.

So again I come back to the question, after having mastered marketing and awareness building, has anyone managed to grow a following/loyalty/what have you, in your community based on faith in your work? How did you do it? Where did you do it? What is the scale of the program?

I don’t doubt that success is possible in cities and communities where the underlying dynamics encourage curiosity and experimentation. But a lot of those places can have higher costs of living so question about being self-sustaining becomes relevant.

Since there is rarely anything in the arts that is truly self-sustaining, what I mean is a program central to the organization’s operations that has become increasingly less dependent on grant support or infusions from other parts of the program. An after hours program doing edgy programming in the black box theater seating 80 is being subsidized by all the other events that keep the organization in business.

A company that has gone from not paying anyone and depending on everyone to costume themselves to paying a stipend equivalent to $1.12/hr and costuming from Goodwill is an improvement, but probably isn’t a proven model yet.

It Is About Time, All The Time

You have probably been hearing or reading a lot about the recent National Endowment for the Arts survey results, particularly about why people they don’t participate in arts activities.

I was recently looking at some old articles I had bookmarked and the statistics from a study on creativity caught my eye. Curiosity sent me scurrying back to the NEA report to see if my suspicions were true.

In 2012, StrategyOne surveyed 1000 people each in the U.S. UK, Germany, France and Japan about their relationship with creativity. It is graphic heavy and very interesting to read.

A couple years ago, Jeffrey Davis summarized the StrategyOne results for the U.S. on Creativity Post.

When Americans were asked what their biggest challenge to being able to create were:

For the Americans surveyed, self-doubt (27%), other personal obligations (29%), other work obligations (22%), and one’s age (13%) ranked fairly low.

That leaves two self-perceived blocks: Time and Money.

54% of surveyed Americans claimed they didn’t have the financial resources to let them create. 52% perceived that lack of time kept them from being able to create.

But when you unpack this question, its potential answers, and the actual responses, much if not all of it comes back to time.

Our perception of time is tied to how we view our obligations. If we think we don’t have enough money to create, this means in part that we think we don’t have enough money to be freed up from other obligations to afford us the solitude and “off-time” necessary to be “on” creatively.

If you look at the NEA study results about barriers to attendance 47% said time, 38% said cost, 37% said access.

I suspect there is a stronger relationship between time and money being the top answers in both surveys than I can imagine. One of my initial thoughts was that creativity is seen as a frivolous pursuit.

With so many other activities that are perceived to be more important, creativity gets lowest priority and so of course there is no time left to pursue it as an attendee, participant or self-directed creator.

As much as I would like to damn society for giving people this message and encourage everyone to free their minds like me, if I am honest I have to confess to feeling the same pressure.

This past Christmas when things were quiet, I felt guilty about catching up on professional reading when I should be doing something constructive like writing press releases. What I was reading were materials provided by our state arts council and still I felt like I was avoiding my real responsibilities.

That is a pretty insidious mindset, eh?

Fortunately, I was able to make up for it and flex my artistic tendencies by blasting music and singing at the top of my lungs since there was no one else on my floor.

Something to think about though. The challenge may not be as simple as getting people to make time to see shows, it may be about getting them to make time for the more fundamental task of being creative.

I suspect if you succeed at the second battle, you will have already made great headway on the first. But that second one is a real doozy to try to accomplish.

Info You Can Use: Good Fellowship Opportunity

Tomorrow as the new year dawns and you make a resolution to be the best darn arts administrator you can be, you might want to consider starting an application to Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new arts administration/leadership fellowship.

According to American Theatre, the Paul Nicholson Arts Management Fellowship is meant to increase diversity among arts leadership.

The seven-month fellowships are for professionals interested in a career in arts management and artistic leadership. Candidates need only be interested in leading an arts organization; a background in theatre is not required. The chosen fellow will work in close capacity with OSF managing director Cynthia Rider, and will lead projects across multiple administrative departments.

Johka emphasizes that while the Paul Nicholson Fellowship is designed to give potential leaders of color an opportunity to develop professionally, the application process is open to all, not just candidates of color.

“You can’t make a claim to have a commitment to diversity and inclusion while maintaining that in order to bring people in, they must have a long history in a field that has been traditionally all white,” Johka adds. “You have to open up your criteria to accept and value all kinds of transferable skills.”

Just in case you breezed over the sentence I bolded above, it is not necessary that you have a background in theatre.

Deadline is February 1 and the fellowship, which includes housing, transportation and a stipend, begins March 31, 2015. Application is accepted online.

Seems like a great opportunity. My only nitpick is that the application process requires three letters of recommendation to be attached at the time of submission. I realize this is likely to be a highly competitive process and there needs to be a weeding out process. However, if the goal is to attract people of diverse backgrounds, requiring three letters of recommendation may end up excluding people who have advanced along the less traditional path with “all kinds of transferable skills” they are seeking.

Getting quality letters of recommendation for your application file in a timely manner is often even a difficult task for university doctoral students who operate in a culture in which they are de rigueur.