Friday, March 8, 2013

Stick to Your Guns

I have been in conversations recently about the relationship between development and programming. From what I can tell, there seem to be two opposing perspectives and a middle ground betwixt.

The idealist perspective is that all programming should be determined by the organization / staff, and then fundraisers should be sought out to fund those specific programs. This ensures that the mission of your org is central to all programming, and makes sure the wealthy people don't start using arts orgs as their personal gig service.

The Mr. Burns perspective is that arts orgs should approach potential funders with the question "what kind of work do you want to support?" and then implement that work. This ensures that an organization can stay financially healthy, and meet the needs of its biggest supporters.

Neither model is perfect. One is lofty, the other is fiscally practical. As with many things, my preference exists in the middle. I'm a believer that arts orgs should stick to their mission. If they have a clear mission statement and target audience, then programming must address both of those things.

It's important also for arts orgs to listen to their audience. After all, should art not reflect society? I have to remind myself that our donors are also our audience. Just because they write a check doesn't mean we should listen to them any less than we would a general admission audience member.

If a board member or major donor has a new idea for a work, listen! These are people who spend their free time and money in the arts, so they likely have a good perspective. If that new idea indeed meets your mission, is able to reach your target audience, and has funding, it's a great candidate for new programming. That's not to say that the major donors will drive your programming - remember it is your mission that drives programming - but they can be great assets in educating your org and audience, in addition to writing a check.

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