Mission Above All Else. No Excuses.
Your mission statement, either your personal one or the one used by your organization, should be the guiding force behind all your decision making.
It’s usually when I make a grand and sweeping statement like this when my clients start to get their tail feathers ruffled. You might think we where shooting a toilet paper commercial because of the parade of “buts” that follow. For example, in this case, I might hear something along the lines of “But if times are constantly changing, then shouldn’t we bend our mission from time to time?” or my favorite, “But my budget won’t allow me/us to do the work of our stated mission?”
Simmer down folks and listen up. It’s time we had a heart to heart about what mission statements are and how they are intended to be used. Mission statements are supposed to be your North Star when it comes to decision making in your career or for your organization. Here are a few helpful thoughts to consider when examining your mission statement:
1.) Listen to the buts. If you find yourself constantly trying to reason your way around your organizational or personal stated mission– then maybe you need to re-examine the mission itself. In order to do take a second look at your mission statement and successfully determine whether or not your mission is effective, you will need to ask some important questions.
2.) What is the work we/I do? This is where you’ll need to get serious and specific. For this program, or specific organization– what exactly is the artistic work you are doing? Spell it out. You might feel that you are limiting yourself, but I’d like for you to reframe your specificity as a way of focusing your efforts and putting the odds for success more in your favor.
3.) Determine who are your real stakeholders. That means not just the people you think you are working with such as audience members and your performers. I mean EVERYBODY. Vendors, audience members by different types, local businesses associated with you, people in your outreach/engagement work, coworkers, friends, spouses and family— create a brainstorm map with you at the center and everyone else your work is connected to radiating from it. You’ll be surprised to discover that your artistic work may affect many more people than you had originally considered.
4.) Make sure the nuts and bolts are all there. Your mission statement is not like Ikea furniture, and thus it should be made for the long term and not the short term. Your mission statement should include your unchanging values about the work you are doing, as well as a clearly defined purpose for your organization’s existence. (Or more simply, why do you do the work you do?). Here’s a hint– don’t be vague or ambiguous. If you can’t articulate how the artistic work you do fills a specific need, no one else will be able to guess it for you. You might also want to include a brief statement about the vision you have for how your work will impact the need you have outlined over the course of the future. This helps others to imagine the logical progression of the work you are doing.
5. Lastly, stick to the plan. Your refined mission statement can now act as a litmus test for all your other decisions. Consider your mission and ask yourself, “If I choose A, does this serve my stakeholders? Is it directly related to the work we do? Is this decision in line with my values?” Sticking to your mission helps you to make strong and decisive answers to the questions you will face in your path, even when the right answer may be uncomfortable.
So remember folks, your mission is what it’s all about.
Change Begins in You.
As I teach my arts administration course this fall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, you’ll be able to follow the journey along with my students right here on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog. Prior to each class, I hope to write a post that will give insight and depth to the issues we are going to cover. However, before we begin this sojourn of understanding what makes a successful arts organization in the 21st Century, I wanted to first explore the changes that must happen within ourselves before we can begin to change the world around us.
Change begins in you.
That’s the first major realization that is necessary for you to find success in any entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a new chamber ensemble, re-envision an existing orchestra, start a rock band, or even a non-music business– your project will reflect your personal views, both conscious and subconscious. You must truly believe in the change you are willing to implement.
Let’s be honest, it is much, much easier to comply with the status quo than to lead change. It takes far less energy, less critical thinking and less time. But I believe when one identifies both a need for improvement AND a solid plan that would help that improvement’s realization, then we are obligated to bring the issue to the surface and argue for the change. In so many ways, this notion of identifying issues, planning out how to fix them, and taking responsibility for their realization is at the heart of what we call progress.
You have to believe that your plan to bring about change will work. Right now, many artists, musicians, and teachers see “music or arts entrepreneurship” as a buzz word. They often think that if they can find a use for this buzz word then they’ve done their due diligence– one more box can be checked off of the resume or todo list. This isn’t what entrepreneurship is about. The drive to break to go out on a limb, to differ from mainstream opinion, to prove something for yourself has to come from within you. No amount of in-class strategizing or note taking can replace that.
Entrepreneurship is about taking charge of your life, your art, or your organization and going it alone because you know deep down that you can do it better. It’s a deep kind of knowing oneself, knowing that you are capable of making your mark. Like in music performance, it’s very similar to the kind of craftsmanship that goes into crafting a beautiful solo, it becomes distinctly your own creation. Your voice shines through.
As we explore what it takes to create new kinds of programs, organizations, and experiences– we will take some time to get to know ourselves as well. What do you value? What problems have you identified in the arts for which you now have ideas how to fix them? From what kind of artistic work do you derive the greatest satisfaction? How far are you willing to go to see your idea all the way from a fleeting thought in your mind to real people, taking action in real time, doing real work, in the real world.
To see an entrepreneurial project all the way through is a long process. There are very few shortcuts, and I promise that I’ll share with you the ones that I know. But as I write this post, I doubt that the challenge is too much for you. You would never have become a performing artist, or ever worked in the performing arts industry if you didn’t already understand that in our area of expertise, adversity is to be expected.
I’ll also wager that because you’ve made it this far, to my blog, that your are already toying about with the idea of going solo and breaking off from the herd to do things your way. While I’ve previously mentioned that the work involved in entrepreneurship is nothing to take lightly, I am also obligated to say that the freedom to do what you want is incomparable to anything else. For me, that’s where my true creativity lives.
I’ve found that the brightest creative impulses I’ve have had coincide with my personal freedom and my disregard for the confines of the establishment. Over the next few months we will explore how our beliefs manifest themselves in our personal and artistic missions, in the effectiveness of our organization and in our ability to make a positive impact– and you’ll have the freedom to do it your way.
So let’s begin. Listen to yourself. Listen to the silent alarms that go off around you, the ones you sense and feel. Believe, even for an instant, that nothing is set in stone, that the world is play-dough you could mold with your bare hands— for indeed, it can be. Let that thought wash over you for just a moment. Make no mistake. You can change the world with your vision, your art, and yes, even with your bare hands.
What “Reaching Out” Really Means
Have you ever stopped to think about what the term “reaching out” really means? We talk about reaching out to our audiences, to new communities, to new patrons and to new donors all the time– but I think it is time that the arts community take a fresh look at what reaching is and is not.
Full disclosure: I dislike the terms “community outreach” and “reaching out”. I don’t like what they imply, that somehow our audiences or the community needs us to graciously step down from our dais of cultural superiority and (shudder) mingle amongst them.
These terms are elitist. Thank goodness that in recent years the arts world has begun to shift in lingo, now giving these same kinds of programs names like “community or audience engagement initiatives”.
But I’d like to argue that a name change isn’t enough. There has to be a sense of authenticity in the way arts organizations interact with and develop relevancy to fellow citizens of their communities.
So how can you do this? How can an organization ensure that its community engagement initiatives are really connecting with people in the community? How do you provide real value to others through your art? The following are some basic guidelines for community programs that are actually– well, engaging.
Be mission driven.
The first step is to compare your community program with your overall organizational mission. Community programs should simultaneously provide benefit for others as well as raise an awareness of the artistic work of your organization. Don’t send a mixed message with your programs. For example, an orchestra who runs a program in the public schools that teaches an introduction to all the performing arts is overreaching. Protect your mission and your budget by sticking to programs that promote your brand of artistic work.
Help your organization personify the values of a model citizen.
Did you know that for-profit corporations have the same legal rights as a real person? I was shocked to discover this and it got me thinking, what if non-profit organizations behaved like a person? What would their habits be? Thinking in terms of human characteristics can help us guide our arts organizations to be model citizens in our community. Do we help out in times of need? Do we donate time and services to people in crisis? Are we active in city government regarding arts issues that would impact our community? Is our organization a pessimist or an optimist? Are we an activist or a pacifist? These questions help us to create a new lens through which we can view the work that we do and how it is perceived by our community.
Showcase artists as community members.
If you were able to answer yes to some of all of the questions in the previous section, then chances are you have members of your organization who are active citizens at the individual level as well. Showcase them! Get the word out to the public about the great work these dedicated artists are doing. It’s a win-win situation. Your artists and/or employees will feel their work is being appreciated and the community will have an increased awareness about the work these great people do in your community programs. The community will begin to see the people behind your programs and can develop meaningful relationships with them.
Identify a need and consider how your art can address it.
One of the great things about musicians is that we can use our art to influence positive change in the community. Consider important issues in your community and use your musical gifts to help raise awareness of an issue. Get your hands dirty and show the community through action what issues your organization supports.
Let’s consider for a moment that your organization has an engagement program that is very costly, but seems to be underperforming. Many organizations are afraid that if they cut the underperforming program they will be seen as in crisis or as taking away valuable services from the community. Perhaps it isn’t as black and white as that. There is an alternative, which is to cut the poorly performing program and break apart that program’s budget to support a wide range of one-time issue based events.
If hunger is an issue for your commmunity, you could use the funding to help sponsor a food drive by providing a concert for the kick off event. Another portion of the former program’s budget could be to help send small chamber groups (made by members of your orchestra) into veteran’s centers, retirement communities, or public schools to bring music to audiences outside of the concert hall. Suddenly, a program that was formerly a budget black hole has now been transformed into a variety of one-time projects that tackle important community issues. Your organization becomes a civic activist while simultaneously improving its image. It’s another win-win.
Consider the impact your organization’s art will have on other arts in your community.
When designing community engagement initiatives, this can be a difficult consideration to assess. Especially in large urban and cultural centers, it is both a challenge and a necessity to project how your plans will impact other cultural organizations. However we must remember that at the most basic level, if you are a non-profit then your mission trumps your bottom line.
I know that I’m going out on a limb by saying that, but I do believe it. David Handler, co-founder of la Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, said to me in an interview last year that concerning arts organizations “…there is room at the table for everyone…” Don’t make your aim to provide the same program better than another organization. Don’t focus on competition as much as providing service. Those who provide real service will be the ones who are ultimately recognized as outstanding.
Lastly, drop the pretense and be genuine.
As a final note, I urge all arts organizations, administrators, and artists to be humble. Try to forget notions of position, class, influence. As artists, we are all cultural stewards. We are servants to our art and the people who experience it. Don’t ever forget that, no matter how successful or challenged your organization may be. Never be afraid to get your hands dirty. But most importantly, never belittle anyone– ANYONE, in your organization or your community. We are servants. Realizing this is the only way to begin to serve our communities in ways that truly matter.
Hey Arts Orgs, Don’t Make the Weather Then Cry That It’s Raining.
Today is the final installment in this series of posts relating to positive organizational change in arts and cultural organizations. This all began with a simple question “Do you believe in your organization’s artistic work?” In my experience, I find that after my clients have done an in-depth analysis of their organization, they often realize that it is not their organization’s artistic work which they don’t believe in— they don’t believe in the way it’s done. In most cases, the mission of an arts organization is honorable. If you are like me, you are working in the performing arts with a sense of duty to the arts. Whether you are a performer, administrator, scholar, or student—you work in an arts organization because you can identify with the mission itself. What you might have discovered is that the mission of your organization might be blocked or obstructed by things in the organization. If you have done an complete analysis like I suggested, you will have strong ideas about what must change in order to cut down the red-tape that holds up the artistic work in an organization.
At the beginning of this journey, I asked you how you felt because I wanted you to know. I wanted you to identify that you did in fact have a desire to see things done differently and that you were ready to go against the status quo in order to get back to the true mission and artistic work of your organization. In this last installment, I’m going to give you permission to lead a revolution in the performing arts. Here’s how you are going to do it.
1. “Don’t Make the weather then cry that it’s raining.”
It’s an old Southern expression, but it holds true for performing arts organization who need and want to facilitate change. You have the power to change your circumstances. You must be the one who leads by example. You don’t have to be normal; you don’t have to be what is expected. You can be so much more than that! Abandon all the rules you impose on yourself. If you are the lowliest of interns, don’t feel bad about pitching a great idea to someone in the organization who has the power to make it happen. If your organization’s administration has typically been divided from the artists and performers, creating a divisive atmosphere; don’t wait for the Executive Director to change his/her stance on interactions with the artists. You go to rehearsals, you be friendly to the artists. You don’t need permission to do the right thing by another person. So often, it is the smallest of changes in the right direction that can re-route an entire river.
2. Be vocal.
If you are not vocal about your beliefs, your feelings, and your intuition, then you do both an injustice to yourself and to performing arts world. As long as you stay positive, you must always voice your opinion. Do your research and always be able to support your ideas. It shouldn’t be too hard, you’ve been asking WHY? to everything all along. If you are an Executive Director, then be vocal about positive change. Don’t waste a single opportunity to reinforce the organization’s mission with every patron, constituent and employee you meet. If you are a staff member, use every interaction you have with other employees to create a positive work atmosphere. Be positive with others, and lead by example. You don’t need written permission from the Board of Governors to plant new ideas, or change office culture by your example.
Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you—not just for reading this blog, but also for the willingness to be the change in the arts world. It takes courage and innovation. It takes research and knowledge. But I promise you, that feeling of apathy you had when I first asked you if you believed in your organization’s artistic work, if you are the change you wish to see then you’ll never have to feel that apathy ever again.
Three Principles to Dig Arts Organizations Out of a Rut.
I’m glad you are back with me today. If you are just joining this blog series today, we will start with a quick recap. We started by posing the question “Do I believe in my organization’s artistic work?” If you don’t or you have reservations about saying that you do believe in the artistic work of your organization—then I asked you to bundle together all those negative thought and focus them into a sense of intuition to evaluate which things you think that your organization can do differently. It doesn’t matter whether you are the Executive Director, the intern, or somewhere in between as far as your job title goes. You can change the course of your organization by being the change you want to see. By constant evaluation of the work you do and by constantly asking yourself how the work you do serves the people that your organization aims to serve, you can bring about positive change.
In the last post, we talked about how we should ask WHY? to everything we do. Everything in an organization should be able to justify its purpose and how its purpose serves the organizational mission. If you have been reading this series, you’ll remember that I last asked you to use WHY? to gather as much information about your organization’s environment and to avoid passing judgment on your findings. Today, I would like to help you make sense of the data you’ve found by following three basic principles. Here they are:
1. Human-to-human interactions are at the core of all that your organization does. You must consider how your data is related to people and how changes can affect them. The most important people for you to consider is your audience. They must be the primary concern. In the arts, especially, we must be ambassadors of goodwill and maintain a positive place in the lives of our constituents. We rely on the artists themselves to perform for the people whom we serve. As administrators, your relationship to the artists must be in good standing so that you can help to guide the creativity and skills of the artist in a way that will ultimately touch your audience. There is no place for negative interactions, and conflict between people can quickly detract from the organization’s mission. There are ways to work around the conflict. You have to dig deep and find them.
2. Priority of action is given to that which will simultaneously do the following: 1) Strengthen or reaffirm the mission, 2) Change the environment of the organization in a positive way by setting examples. After gathering so much data, one can easily feel overwhelmed. You might find it difficult to determine what actions to take first. Some issues might seem easy to resolve—and indeed perhaps they are. Streamlining the way the daily mail is dispersed could easily be fixed by organizing a schedule to do it— but this is totally unrelated to the mission of the organization. Therefore, this issue would be much further down the list than say—organizing a new social media campaign strategy that would help reduce the amount of snail mail campaigns your organization produces. The second issue is more complex to solve, but when completed, it would increase access and social relevance to your patron base, present them with more artistic content from the organization, and reduce the number of employee hours that formerly went into snail mail campaigns. As you can see, the second issue would have priority over the first.
3. Lastly, it is important to comb through your data to identify any superfluous item that detracts from the organization’s mission. Are you occupying a space that is actually too big for your needs? Could you move somewhere else that is slightly smaller but equally as well equipped? You could use the saved money to provide more for your constituency. Is your office a disaster? Do you spend time searching for items that are out of order? Could you be more effective with your work if you had your workspace streamlined? Do you have unnecessary redundancies in workflows or jobs? —–BUT WAIT—– Finding a redundancy doesn’t have to mean firing someone like it does in the corporate world. It could mean recouping valuable human resources to be used toward another area of the organization’s mission driven work that has been understaffed (without hiring someone new). Does your organization’s administration use an antiquated schedule of 9am-5pm? How does this impact the human-to-human connection you have with your staff, and subsequently from your staff to your patrons? These are all examples of how junk can slow you down and hold your artistic work hostage.
You can see how ridding your organization of excess, focusing on human interactions, and prioritizing your plan of action will set you up for success as you want to change your organization and the way it works. If you are force of positive energy, creative spirit, and a good compromiser, then you will inspire others to take up positive change. In the next post, we’ll discuss how you can influence others with your positive change, and encourage others to see things the way you do.