Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Creative Response to Tough Times

By Ben Thiem, Director of Member Services

On Tuesday morning I attended an event at the Chicago Cultural Center that was hosted by the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Illinois Arts Alliance, and the Arts and Business Council of Chicago. The topic of the event was The Creative Response to Tough Times and covered a variety of issues all relating to being a non-profit facing this tough economy. The event included a keynote speaker, and he was followed by a panel discussion. I’ve been digesting the information for a couple days now and just wanted to share a few highlights that I took from it.

  • Stay true to your Mission – I’ve heard this mantra numerous times throughout the last several months and heard it again on Tuesday. Your mission sets you a part from other organizations. It is your niche. Now is not the time to change it.
  • Be Brave, but not Ignorant – Don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks with your programming provided that they are true to your mission.
  • Re-think Your Model –Newspapers, non-profits, and other organizations are failing because their model is broken. What is the new model? Not just that, but what is YOUR new model? New earned revenue generators probably need to be a part of that model. What assets do you have because of your mission that are unique and can be cultivated or adapted for new revenue? Sharing resources with another organization may be part of that new model too.

Those are just a few thoughts I garnered from the discussion. Thanks to all of the hosts for their involvement. It really was an excellent event. If you were there, what did you get out of it? They are planning on leading similar events throughout 2009, so watch for announcements and I encourage you to be at the next one.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Web 2.0

What is it? If I’m asking the question is it already too late? Are you using it? Do you have an on-line community? Do they come to the theatre? To what extent? Are the big participants in your on-line community participating on the same level in your actual community? Does more content equal more ticket sales? My biggest worry is theatre doesn’t happen on line, it can’t and it won’t. It needs an actual (is that the word?) community or it doesn’t happen at all. Are people joining our on-line communities and then coming to the theatre? I think they join our community by attending a show and then they join our on-line community. And, yes these are great tools to keep us constantly connected. But, the question is are we/can we actually use it to sell tickets? How do we bring new people into our theatres using these new tools? It’s definitely cost effective but can we actually measure the results, is it time well spent? I heard one use recently that I thought was brilliant, I can’t remember how I heard it or who did it, but before the show the announcement actually said, please take out your phones and tell your friends where you are. But…did it sell any tickets? Don’t know.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Resource Sharing

I’ve been hearing a lot and thinking a lot about sharing resources during this terrible time. I love the idea. I can’t say that I know of a lot of instances in which sharing resources was tried or worked. People refer a lot to Arts Bridge, a program that had shared office space and other resources available to a number of arts organizations. I’d like to hear from anyone who participated in Arts Bridge. My understanding is that for want of a grant, the project went under. I have heard it referred to as a “flawed business model,” but it was around for 15 years. I guess any business model dependent on one grant is flawed, but how many of us are one grant away from insolvency? My guess would be more than a couple. So how can we share resources and come up with a model for sharing resources that is not dependent on funding? What kinds of resources would we share? Staff? Storage Space? Office Space? In theory we could share everything. But, I keep coming back to the same question, if it truly would increase the resources available to us, why haven’t we already done it? I don’t know the answer, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that no one has had the time to organize it. Maybe people are sharing resources and I just don’t know. Maybe it really does need funding to work, at least in the short term. Can it work? Do we want to share? What would need to happen?

Try to stay warm.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Resource Round-Up

By Ben Thiem, Director of Member Services

While involved in the day-to-day business of running your company it can be easy to forget that there are a lot of service organizations and technical resources available to help you. Particularly in troubling economic times, it’s good to remember that you have advocates at your side listening to and addressing your needs. Nationally, we have organizations like Americans for the Arts, which recently released an Arts Funding and Response Readiness Kit, and Theatre Communications Group, providing professional development and advocating to strengthen federal support for performing arts organizations with our new President-elect. In Illinois we have the Arts Alliance, providing state-wide arts advocacy, and the Arts and Business Council of Chicago, creating forums like the one on January 27th in response to the economy. There are many other resources and resource providers available, and as always the League stands ready to assist in any way we can.