Go Big or Go Home?
Michael Kaiser has yet another great blog from his “Arts in Crisis” tour. Two of Kaiser’s basic premises are to be creative in programming in ways that directly connect to the community and to plan far into the future. They are both things that I philosophically agree with, but often for small organizations, they’re so busy trying to make sure that the current projects are fully funded and all the fires are put out that getting ahead of the game becomes tough. He often talks about making sure that the programming is marketed well, but one of the things that Kaiser has not addressed is how you go about figuring out the right programming for your city. It’s in some ways easy to say that an arts organization should be unique and creative for the city. (Something I think that Kaiser is 100% correct on). You cannot program in New York for the New York Philharmonic and be unique for that organization in the same way you program for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and be unique for that organization. I truly believe that you can program a lot of the same repertoire for each, but you handle them and build to them in different ways because the communities are different.
This is one reason the Artistic Director must get to know the community and must figure out how they are going to be unique and interesting in ways that appeal to the community. The easy sell is to simply do more pops concerts and turn into an easy listening organization, but I cannot truly believe that this meets the mission of most arts organizations. We can’t turn this into a race to the bottom. If we do, we lose the social good we bring to our cities. Now before people start bashing me for being ant-pops and anti-fun, I have to say I LOVE pops concerts. I like a variety of music. I just think that we can’t lose sight of the “art music” we do simply to make ends meet through doing more easy listening stuff.
Again, this puts a lot of the burden on the Artistic Director/Artistic Planner for the organization, which I think as an artistic director/conductor-type is a good thing. The farther ahead of the game you can program, the easier it is to build the infrastructure necessary for a big project. For Opera Vista, we are finally at the point of being able to do a big project. (Mark October 15, 2010 in your calendars – seriously, we have a live elephant).
It’s taken four years of building infrastructure in the organization for us to be able to take this huge artistic (and financial – as my board is wont to remind me) risk. We’ve reached the point as an organization that it’s almost necessary for us to shed the cocoon and fly. Because of next season’s out of the box programming, we’ve won the trust of a wonderful PR company that is helping us with our branding. Luckily by programming an opera that is so unique and exciting (did I mention the elephant and the Bollywood-esque dancers), we’ve picked up our first major corporate sponsor. Stay tuned. All this information will be on the website soon! (And the website will be entirely new!) So, Mr. Kaiser, you’re 100% right – it’s not just for the large organizations!