Why My Peers Are Angry With Me

Many arts managers are angry with me. They do not appreciate my advice not to cut programming during this recession. I continue to say that creating large, important projects is central to creating fiscal health. Especially when there is less money for the arts (and there is less money for the arts today), arts organizations must compete harder. As donors decide which organizations to continue to support, the institutions that are doing vital, important work are the ones who will continue to be supported. Not only must the work be interesting but the marketing of that work and of the institution as a whole must be aggressive and creative.

One arts leader accused me publicly of living in a parallel universe. He was quite upset that his artistic director and his unionized artists threw my advice in his face when he felt he had to make programming cuts. He was dealing with a substantial budget shortfall and saw no other recourse than to cut programming. He was not amused that his artists kept saying, "Michael Kaiser says this, Michael Kaiser says that."

While they were involved in a labor dispute (since resolved), the musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra created a web site to state their case. One of the pages was titled, "What Michael Kaiser Would Not Do" and listed all the things I suggest in my writing that the musicians believed were being violated by management. I do not think I want to go back to Cleveland very soon!

I am completely sympathetic with the current plight of my fellow arts managers. It is incredibly scary to go to work not certain if there will be enough money to make payroll. Virtually every arts manager I know is dedicated to the field in which they work and wants to produce interesting and important art. They want large audiences. They want big donors. They want a supportive board. And they want their artists to feel cared for and respected.

For the record, I do believe there are times when programming and marketing must be sacrificed but I believe this should be a last resort, not a first resort. I prefer to cut every other cost imaginable, as my staff will tell you, and to continue to focus on new revenue that is generated from big projects and creative institutional marketing efforts.

There are ways to make programming more vital, even if money is scarce. One is to announce exciting projects for three or four years from now. This makes the organization appear to be thriving, energizes donors and the press and gives the organization years to find the necessary resources to do the project.

Another important tool is to form an artistic joint venture. Joint ventures allow arts organizations to mount larger projects, to consider projects that require skills or talents they do not possess, to extend their marketing and fundraising reach and to design the megaprojects that change the history of the organization.

I am truly sorry that I have caused problems for my peers. My goal has been simply to make their lives easier by suggesting ways to increase revenue. It seems that I have failed.