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.
Whether you support new practices in the performing arts, whether you encourage entrepreneurial practices amongst performing artists—we can all agree that for better or worse, the performing arts world is changing. It’s changing fast.
I think we are all conscious of how the changes in global culture, society, and technology have “some sort of” impact on our art. But part of the problem is that many are unwilling to analyze how change and growth in these areas can directly impact your artistic work. There is a reluctance with many performing artists to study these challenges and find ways to adapt to them.
Think of Brad Pitt’s line in World War Z when he says “Movement is life”. Of course, he’s talking about getting away from millions of newly converted flesh-eating zombies. However, that statement has a powerful corollary to the responsibility musician’s and artists have when trying to keep our art forms alive in the 21st Century. Similar to the world World War Z, our world has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous twenty, thirty, or 40 years before that. Everyday there is a new app or social platform that can change your life. Moreover, we interact with technology in a deeply more personal and distinct way. Technology has literally become an extension of the human mind. All these changes have come so fast that if you are standing still, you will simply be overcome by the hungry mob.
Evolution, flexibility and adaptation are the factors that will now insulate us against decline. In order not to be fatally bitten by the onslaught of social media, tweets, glutted market of free high-quality media, incredibly low cost of entertainment, etc.— we have to be able to adapt and change to each and every circumstance we encounter while staying true to our artistic mission.
My question to you is this: in what specific ways are you trying to adapt your art to the changes in culture? How are you evolving and changing to stay culturally relevant to your audiences? If you haven’t been asking yourself these kinds of questions, it’s never too late to start.
You can’t help but smile a little when you see the tell-tale signs of Spring. More daylight is to be enjoyed, the trees are heavy with buds just waiting to blossom, and you can see the little shoots of green pushing right out of the mud. Spring is a time of renewal and also for contemplation of the future. There is a sense of inevitable possibility and imminent change that fills the air every time you walk outside your door. Maybe it is time for us to lend a feeling of possibility to our careers in the performing arts as well?
It is time to look forward and not on the past. We must innovate and move into uncharted territory– both as individuas and as performing arts organizations. But rather than letting apprehension get in our way, let’s embrace a spirit of discovery and exploration. Let’s challenge each other to be more innovative than any other artist in our respective disciplines. Let’s focus on being problem solvers and strive to always present at least three possible solutions to situations encountered with which we disagree.
This spring, I encourage you to invest yourself in your performance and in your audience. Set aside time to read and research new methods of performance. Think big and set large goals for yourself in the upcoming performing season. Make lists like crazy, collaborate with friends, arrange to meet new colleagues; do whatever you need to do to get your creative wheelhouse turning.
Most importantly this spring, I urge you to think about what you can do in your upcoming performances to make strong connections with your audience. There is no one way to go about strengthening the relationship with your audiences and you should feel free to experiment with all kinds of audience engagement ideas. Brainstorm on this by yourself and with your friends and colleagues. Imagine how you can make stronger connections and then put those plans into action on you performances in the coming months.