Balancing Act

People may get tired of me constantly saying, Don’t make boring art! I don’t mean to imply their work is boring, though sometimes it may be. What I am trying to convey is the importance of managing the balancing act between safe and risky creativity.

Its safer to settle for predictability. Being different is easier to market and sell, it sells itself, there is more to talk about and create a marketing campaign around. Different is rarely safe, it usually carries some risk with it.

A part of the balancing act is creating an artistic program that contains something new, a bit different, with something the audience is familiar with.

CEO’s and administrators by nature would prefer safety over risk. This is understandable. They have a legal obligation to ensure the organisation continues to operate in a viable manner.

Playing safe doesn’t keep your organisation safe. Playing safe means you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Eventually your family of supporters run out of reasons to continue their support.

The challenge for the management side of your organisation is that big and risky costs more than steady safe. They worry about where the money will come from to put on the event. This is where The Cycle comes into play. As a part of The Cycle we recommend long term artistic planning – out as far as five year or more.

With a five year artistic plan the new, different, big and risky are scheduled for years 3-5. This provides time to plan, prepare, market and produce. Planning this far ahead doesn’t preclude taking advantage of opportunities as they become available. Planning ahead provides you with the flexibility to reschedule where needed. It also provides you with time to attract the talent you really want – to enable you to produce something outstanding.

Let’s get back to the money! Where does it come from for these big, different, risky projects. The same place as it comes from for small, safe and predictable projects – your family of supporters. The difference being, you have planned ahead, given yourself plenty of time – to start conversations, create interest and anticipation, interest funders and donors and to market your product.

Short term artistic planning – slots – leads to reactive funding and panicked decisions. In this scenario we go back time after time to the same donors and supports, we keep dipping into a diminishing source of support.

Going big, different and risky is not a carte blanch for the artistic department. The role of administration, supported by the artistic director is to ensure project cost stay within budget. Again forward planning provides time to keep track of costs and implement different strategies as needed.

Those in the administration side of your organisation must understand that a creative program that balances risk with safe is essential for the survival and viability of the business; while those in the artistic side must understand that managers have a legal obligation to maintain a viable organisation.

A successful arts organisation not only balances risky art with safe art, it also balances perspectives and understanding between parts of the organisation. I understand for some arts organisations it may be a challenge to plan their artistic program out as fare as five years – but at least start the process. If you currently plan three years ahead, stretch it to four years and in a couple of years, stretch it to five years.

Imagine how exciting the conversations will be with your family of supporters when you can go to them and say, look in four years we want to hold a big event and were going to start planning now as we look for the best talent. Their next question will be, how can I help?

John Coxon is founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to remain viable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organisations. For advice and guidance reach out to John

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