Friday, April 12, 2013

Partnership is the New Black

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years (I just saw that show at Signature Theatre with the amazing James Gardiner, go see it), you are aware that financial times are tough in most parts of the world.  Indeed, these trying times have affected the arts to no small degree.  Going on strike seems to be contagious among major orchestras, performance companies are folding, and public funding for the arts has declined.

People say that adversity breeds creativity, and this is especially true in the arts.  Besides taking the obvious steps to cut unnecessary expenses, renegotiate artist fees and innovate programming, many surviving organizations have turned to each other for help.  Partnership is the new black in a sea of red balance sheets.

So what defines a partnership? It varies. My organization, WPAS, was managing the box office for a smaller performing arts org here in DC for a while because they didn't have the existing infrastructure or capital to invest in it.

No Rules Theatre Company, a small but growing group, recently partnered with  Signature Theatre, who you read about above, to use their space and present new and dynamic themes to the Signature audience.

A few years ago, the Washington National Opera was in a deep struggle, so they teamed up (i.e. were acquired by) with the Kennedy Center.  It turned into a great partnership - Opera stayed alive, singers stayed employed, and the Kennedy Center can now present and help curate major operatic works.  Win-win.

A unique partnership seems to be emerging in DC at the moment.  The Corcoran Gallery of Art, who has been running deficits of about $7 million yearly, is in talks to join forces with - no not another gallery - the University of Maryland.  In addition to being an art gallery, the Corcoran is a fine arts school.  This intriguing partnership gives UMD the ability to expand its artistic offerings, and create deeper connections between the arts and some of its academic strengths like architecture, engineering and journalism, and have a physical presence right next to the White House. The Corcoran gets access to UMD donors, sharing of some operational costs, and may help enhance its own curriculum.  This partnership literally saved the Corcoran, one of America's oldest art institutions, which was very close to simply shutting down and moving to a cheaper spot outside of DC.  That would have been a huge loss.

So what we have, in DC and all over the country, is a bunch of arts organizations working together, sharing ideas, audiences, resources and creating new art together.  Can someone tell me why it took a financial crisis to make this happen?  Whatever the impetus, I'm glad to see it!

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with the value of partnerships. However, there must be some mention of mutually beneficial outcomes for any partnership. You've described some in your article, but I wonder what each organization had to give up in order for the partnership to work.

    Artists who have survived for so long autonomously will need to learn a new way of working with others. It's rather an organizational personality awareness. When we truly know our organizational behavioral tendencies, we enter into partnerships with clearer expectations and better outcomes.