Demand for More Arts Organizations is Internally – not Externally – Driven

I believe from my own experience in working in the arts in BC that there is truth in this article right here at home. Indeed many arts organizations are not formed based on any perceived actual demand or need from the community.  One of the basic tenants of Barry’s argument I think is by no means limited to just arts organizations; that need for all of us to have some control of our own destiny in terms of our spiritual, work and artistic lives.

Many organizations, not just arts organizations unfortunately create environments where the individual artists or in the non-arts corporate world “employees” become frustrated and leave a workplace because the top-down traditional management style does not seem to value their opinions, their beliefs, or their work. Yes many new artistic endeavours are formed by artists simply seeking employment; or on a larger level sometimes pre-existing organizations find what seems to be an opportunity to extend their mandate perhaps beyond where it realistically should be and wind up confusing their traditional support base in the process. But this happens in the traditional business world everyday as well.  I have been struck time and time again how here in the “wild west” sometimes artists form new concert series, ensembles, and yes even music and arts training and performance organizations are created more out of some perceived personal or organizational need, rather than a good simple analysis of the forces of supply and demand within the communities that they exist. Only Barry’s third point seems to take external forces into account (see below).  At the end of the day however, the Darwinian notion of “survival of the fittest” still seems to apply, as even with the best of intentions, not all of us will succeed. Welcome to the free marketplace!

The rest of this post is a quotation from “Barry’s Blog” – Sunday May 6th, 2012

The question though is why do so many (of our) people apparently feel the need to start new organizations rather than find a platform for what they want to do within the existing infrastructure? What are the needs that are not being met that gives rise to this kind of unbridled growth – given that the public demand is, at best, constant? We don’t seem to have any reliable hard data that would give us some handle on the motivations of all of those that feel compelled to go outside what exists and start a new structure to do what it is they want to do. So we don’t have any real discussions about whether or not there are factors at play that we might be able to impact so as to give those seemingly dissatisfied or unhappy with the existent structures available to them more opportunity to stay within the infrastructure as an alternative to going outside of it with yet another new enterprise. It would be enormously valuable to have some reliable data as to the reasoning behind this trend.

I wonder if we might be able to address some of the major issues that are at the heart of the dissatisfaction? First, of course, we need to figure out how to identify what those major issues are. The simple explanation is the understandable and common yearning in many leaders to have their own “shop” as it were. Arts people are entrepreneurial and many want to do it their “way”. But I think that factors behind that yearning may be broken into several broad categories:

  1.  Decision making: I suspect that many of those that decide they want to start their own organization, do so because they have come to the conclusion that existing options simply don’t allow them enough (or any?) role in the decision making process – either because of the legacy of the structural system in which they find themselves wherein things are done a certain way because they have always been done that way, or because they feel marginalized or ignored. This situation may be particularly acute in artist / founder driven organizations, and those where the board is insular and protective of the legacy of the organization within the community. Some of those that want to start a new organization may rebel against the hierarchy of leadership; others may feel that the philosophical differences between them and the senior leadership and / or board are too great; still others see limited career advancement opportunities resulting from their being excluded from the decision making process and so they opt to strike out on their own. 
  2. Artistic Differences: Certainly, many new organizations are born out of the frustration of artistic differences wherein there is no room for any shared vision for the future. 
  3. Geographic: Logically, a portion of the newly formed organizations are created to fill a void in certain geographical venues, or because the entrepreneur relocates. 
  4. Generational: As alluded to above, a percentage of new organizations are created because there seems little to no room for upcoming generations to transfer into senior leadership positions.

The problems for the sector is that this growth in the number of organizations is not on any parallel track with a rise in funding available over the sector. Smaller pie, more people who want a piece. And each new organization, for the most part, duplicates certain overhead costs ranging from personnel to accounting, to marketing, to rent to advertising. More jobs perhaps, but not necessarily better pay or more career advancement routes. More competition, and perhaps more confusion in the public mindset. I suspect this works in a backhanded way to the benefit of the more established cultural organizations with a more recognizable brand in the marketplace. Yet, many of the major cultural institutions have felt the pain of a diluted support base in the past five years.

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