At least eight of the Valley’s largest cultural non-profits, including the Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Opera and Arizona Theatre Company, have hired or are looking to hire new artistic or business directors.
Those leaders will face tremendous challenges navigating rocky financial waters and exploring ways to make traditional art forms relevant to the next generation.
I’ve always said that cultural arts are important to Scottsdale and to Arizona, as Lengel says,
In a report earlier this year, the Arizona Cultural Data Project — which collects financial and audience information on 219 arts and cultural organizations — found that its participating groups spend more than $225 million a year, while their audiences inject $356 million into the economy.
And community leaders in both the arts and business agree that thriving cultural institutions are vital to drawing new business to the state.
As regards the economic impact numbers, however, I have also been critical of such studies. In particular, they often count money that patrons would otherwise spend at other venues, in which case it doesn’t represent real impact so much as a shuffling of spending.
I and others have similarly criticized the use of such ‘studies’ to rationalize taxpayer funding of venues for privately owned sports teams. Those studies exist to help the team owners and their entourages siphon money from the public treasury, and to provide elected officials cover for their decisions…the ‘impact’ of which won’t be felt until long after they are gone.
In the case of the Scottsdale Cultural Council even the attendance numbers are so vague–I’ll go so far as to say, “phoney”–that they are meaningless. Clearly any economic impact projects that are based on their attendance numbers are one step beyond phoney.
Lengel includes some sage advice for our cultural arts non-profits:
“The big challenge is to transform the way arts organizations do their business and create cultures that are more adaptive, more flexible, more responsive to the wants and the tastes of prospective audiences,” said Herb Paine, a management consultant at UpYourNonprofit.com, who assists in reorganizations during mergers and financial crises.
“They have to demonstrate how they make a difference in our communities and our lives.”
I love this quote from Paine’s website:
All organizations are dysfunctional. What differentiates them is only a matter of degree. The dysfunction of the nonprofit is exacerbated by deficiencies that are inherent in its business model.
In the case of the Cultural Council, the $4 million annual taxpayer-funded subsidy they receive every year virtually guarantees dysfunction. Thanks to Scottsdale mayor Jim Lane and the Council majority (including former Cultural Council board chair Linda Milhaven) SCC doesn’t have to be relevant—ironically—to the taxpayers!