Innovating Through Artistry

The Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative

In Current Events, Interesting Articles on February 5, 2009 at 12:14 am

This article appeared in Arts Journal Feb 4, 2009 written by Andrew Taylor
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced their Arts in Crisis initiative this week (covered here in the Washington Post), designed to provide emergency planning assistance to cultural organizations in trouble during tough economic times. Through the system, any nonprofit arts organization can request advice and counsel — both from the leadership and staff of the Kennedy Center, and from a growing list of mentors who can sign up through the web site.

It’s a wonderful example of an established and well-resourced cultural institution embracing its position and its privilege as a platform to help their smaller peers. And it’s great to see such quick and proactive response from an organization who could easily have claimed it was not their job.

But while I applaud and honor the effort, I hope it also comes with a willingness to embrace a larger truth: The Kennedy Center is part of a network of networks, part of an ecology of resources focused on the task. Their impact will be exponentially more profound if they do not assume they are going it alone.

The crisis in the arts, or any other industry, is an ecological one. Any crisis can certainly benefit from unilateral and independent action. But a more resilient and encompassing response would also include recognition and interconnection of the entire ecosystem that provides coaching, counseling, mentorship, and responsive strategy support to organizations and leaders at the edge of collapse.

National service organizations in the arts, state and local arts councils, national nonprofit support organizations like CompassPoint or the Nonprofit Finance Fund, regional endeavors like Springboard for the Arts, and academic centers of research and service in nonprofit cultural management have been doing this work for decades, and may have some best practices and systemic knowledge that could promote both the capacity and the success of the Arts in Crisis mission. Simple initial efforts such as staff awareness of the many players in the game, and effective referral efforts for incoming requests would help. Lists and links to regional and local resources for advice and counsel would help as well (even the Small Business Development Centers across the country have extraordinary and productive insights to share).

Clearly, quick action is needed. And blissfully, the Kennedy Center and Michael Kaiser have stepped up as they have so often in the past. But neither the Kennedy Center nor Mr. Kaiser has the capacity (or full range of insight) required to engage the tidal wave of cultural leaders who need help.

Only by recognizing the full network of resources in the system, and engaging in a way that both aligns individual energy and builds the capacity of the network, will we effectively navigate this current cycle and emerge more strongly on the other side.

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