Do some arts organizations deserve to fail?
That provocative question comes from this controversial article that ran in The Wall Street Journal last month, sparking flame wars throughout the arts blogosphere. But once you get past the immediate, visceral response to the bluntness of the question, consider this punch line in the last paragraph: When it comes to arts organizations, I'd say that the ultimate test is knowing when an institution is suffering from a case of creative and administrative sclerosis that is about to become terminal, then doing something about it.
I’m glad that the article’s author, Terry Teachout, mentions administrative shortcomings as well as artistic ones, for this is every bit as critical a piece of this vexing puzzle. As we discovered yesterday in the article about the Cleveland Orchestra, innovations in programming and community engagement need to go hand-in-hand with sound management – a quality that is just as rare in the arts world as it is in business, our government, and pretty much everywhere else.
Alex Ross makes a similar point here about mismanagement & the struggles of many arts organizations.
So where does that leave us? When I outline the entrepreneurial process for students I group it into three large steps: Self Evaluation, Evaluating & Meeting Needs, and Executing with Excellence. These same steps can and should be applied by arts organizations (whether they are currently struggling or not). The first step is recognizing the nature of the challenges at hand. Secondly, as we discussed yesterday in the Cleveland article, organizations must recognize the needs of their communities and develop innovative ways for those needs to be met through the art. But the process doesn’t end there: no entrepreneurial venture has a hope of succeeding unless it is implemented with an unwavering commitment to excellence in every way – not just artistic excellence, but management and administrative excellence as well.