“The problem isn’t a lack of funds – the lack of funds is a symptom of the problem.” ~ Graeme Page (former NetGain Consultant)

In this guest post, Christine MacLean (freelance arts manager for the likes of Syrinx Concerts Toronto, Academy Concert Series, World Music Project and Toronto Classical Singers) shares her perspective as a participant in last week’s “Growing from the Bottom Up” workshop presented by NetGain Partners. It was so valuable to have the experience of consultants working with large organizations applying their insights to smaller and independent arts organizations. Let us know if any of the topics covered strike a chord with you!

The title of this workshop might have led you to think you were about to attend a new age fitness class, and you’d be partly right. The workshop was all about getting your arts organizations into shape, whether by identifying and knowing your audience, defining the structure of your organization or knowing how to allocate limited resources.

Genevieve Tran from NetGain Partners approached the subject from a pragmatic and educational perspective. NetGain Partners managing director Doug Simpson not only “made coffee,” but also played devil’s advocate when addressing the hard questions: Matching skills and resources to desire.

The attendees were an eclectic mix, ranging from visual artists to a new music entrepreneur to self-produced performers to an arts administrator. The commonality was that they all were small organizations eager to find out how to develop or expand; to become sustainable in their own right.

Genevieve tackled a variety of difficult subjects many small music/arts organizations are often afraid to ask about or don’t know where to find the answer. Topics raised from the floor included paying the artists, ticket pricing, advance planning, social contribution, administrative support, shared services, and marketing and promotion, to name but a few.

The three stages of organizational growth charted by Genevieve isn’t presented as the panacea for arts organizations. In fact, there are many steps to be developed beforehand, such as articulating a value proposition and having a financial plan.

Organizational_Growth_NetGain_PartnersFounders and directors of small arts organizations tend to undervalue their role and contribution. The first thing to go in their budget lines is administration and marketing, even though both are critical foundations to future success. All arts organizations, no matter the size, must know their core audience and continue to develop and study their audience as they grow. That is the backbone to any performing group. The “build it and they will come” attitude is no longer viable under the large umbrella labelled “the arts.” You must be able to understand your audience, articulate your mandate/programming and promote. The intrinsic knowledge of who you are and what you offer, what makes you special and different, is vital to acquiring and developing an interested audience who attend concerts.

Much of the discussion focused on the benefits of not-for-profit/charitable status vs. a collective for young and early-stage organizations, who primarily see it as acquiring the ability to offer a tax receipt for sponsors and donors to receive that much-needed funding. Doug pointed out that a change from seeking out sponsors and providing them something of value can negate the need for an organization to issue tax receipts while still keeping on track to raise funds.

The idea that NetGain wanted to impart was captured nicely by a quote from Graeme Page, a former NetGain consultant who has chaired a variety of capital campaigns for large arts organizations in the city. “The problem isn’t a lack of funds – the lack of funds is a symptom of the problem.” A poignant reminder that the challenges faced by new and established organizations need to be tackled with new solutions.

This was a second in a series of free workshops programmed by BeMused Network for creative people in the arts. The first-hand presentation by consultants at NetGain Partners is often reserved for the larger, well-financed arts organizations, and presented the kind of knowledge and insight you can only glean from experts in the field. Check out the upcoming workshops; it’s a wonderful way to meet others in the creative community. For anyone working in the arts this is a master class by experts working in the field today.

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