Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nonprofit Arts Sustainability Today

The more connected I become to the creative economy, the more questions I ask myself about the future of the nonprofit arts. Having spent over 25 years in nonprofit arts administration, I moved into this creative economy work filled with optimism that it represented a new portal for demonstrating the value and contribution of our nonprofit arts throughout our communities. And then, in January 2011, when we rolled out our Creativity Works: Milwaukee Regional Creative Industries Project , I realized I wasn't really surprised that many in the nonprofit arts community were hesitant to accept the research protocol, believed that we were selling out to business once again, and demonstrated the entitlement that they believed they deserved support just because of their contribution to community life.

Now, almost a year later, this myopic attitude is still prevalent notwithstanding the increasing difficulty of balancing budgets, continually reducing contributed income monies, and shrinking subscriptions. Much of the nonprofit arts community is living in a world that doesn't exist anymore. They are an endangered species - the bigger they are, the more potential for extinction. At least smaller groups can be more nimble and collaborative if they want to.

And so, I was thrilled to come across Wolf Brown's newest Sounding Board posting Is Sustainability Sustainable? I encourage you to read Joanna Woronkowicz's article. It is extremely well written, with some terrific reflections. She suggests that sustainability has to include Community Relevance, Artistic Vibrancy, and Capitalization.

I particularly like her point about community relevance. So many organizations are looking in their rear view mirror when it comes to their interaction with the community. They are looking at THEIR needs first, rather than the COMMUNITY's needs first. I love how Joanna concludes this section of her article: Arts organizations that embed themselves in a larger dialogue about the challenges, hopes and aspirations of their community will be seen as indispensable. Those who do not will grow increasingly irrelevant and unsustainable.

If you care about the future of nonprofit arts, I urge you to read this article from beginning to end. It provides an excellent lens with which to see what is really happening and what needs to happen for the survival of our nonprofit arts community.

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