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Does Size Matter in the Arts?

Most arts organizations must really only influence 100-200 selected people in their communities to have a life-changing effect.
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One of the frustrating responses I receive to my "Arts in Crisis" presentations is that my recipe for success only works for large organizations in big cities.

I could not disagree more. I believe that planning far in advance is more important for smaller organizations than larger ones. Smaller organizations have a harder time developing the large transformational projects than larger organizations. That is why they tend to remain small. If they take the time to plan large, exciting programs four or five years in advance, they would be far more likely to find the resources they require to mount these programs. This would allow them to build visibility in the community, attract stronger board members, and increase their ability to generate resources. Planning should not be left to the larger groups.

And institutional marketing is also more important for smaller groups since they tend to be less well known, their programmatic marketing campaigns are smaller, and their projects tend to be of smaller scale.

The challenge is to determine which assets the organization possesses that can help build reputation. Is it a major production planned for the future? Access to important artists or politicians who might participate in events? A rich history that deserves a museum or library exhibition? An invitation to perform at an important festival? An opportunity to participate in a highly visible special event? A major announcement of a new program or grant? A special anniversary that can be celebrated?

The list of possibilities is endless.

It is up to the creative manager to use these assets to create a visibility campaign for the organization. No single special event or announcement will build institutional image enough to make a difference. All good marketing requires repeated 'hits' with a given message. A small or mid-size organization should be making news at least once a quarter; larger organizations need many more exposures a year.

The small organization may not get on a national television show, but the number of people it must influence is fewer than for a big organization. In fact, most arts organizations must really only influence 100-200 selected people in their communities to have a life-changing effect on the organization. Making a list of these individuals and working aggressively to influence them is more important than appearing on late night television!

There are many smaller, regional organizations that have created great art and visibility and give testimony to the power of programming planning and institutional marketing in smaller markets.

Perhaps my favorite example is Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, New York that produces very well-regarded opera performances in an opera house built in a town of fewer than 3,000 residents. People travel from far and wide to attend performances at Glimmerglass. The organization does not shy away from difficult operas or unusual interpretations.

If Glimmerglass Opera can build an international reputation for excellence, your organization can too, no matter where it is or the size of its budget. Begin to plan your art farther in advance and take time to find the resources needed for projects that will energize your audience and donor base. And initiate an institutional marketing effort that encourages new people to enter your organizational family.

Size doesn't matter in the arts.

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