In previous articles I have talked about the benefits of planning your artistic program as far in advance as possible. Notice I used the word possible rather than practical. That is because it is always practical to plan in advance. It becomes possible when you change old habits. The further ahead you plan your program the greater the opportunities for raising funds, attracting the best artists, marketing that event and pre selling tickets. This is the cycle – great art when marketed well to a growing base of supporters leads to increased revenue and even more great art. These are the foundations of a sustainable arts organisation.
Artistic planning is never cast in concrete. The further ahead you plan the more opportunities you have for flexibility, and being able to slot in that opportunity that you just cannot pass by. Artistic planning is a pencil and paper exercise. Year one and two are literally locked into place, however year three has room for change and years four and five may evolve with changing circumstances.
Arguably the greatest benefit gained when you plan your program 4-5 years in advance is that you create a conversation that goes on for a long time. You are building your own marketing channels. When you plan your artistic program well in advance you get a lot of people talking, artists, directors, marketing people, sponsors, donors, volunteers and importantly board members. You create excitement. You enable your audience to plan to attend ahead of anything else. When you plan your program in advance you are giving your artistic team, artists, makeup, lighting, set makers and costume designers permission to dream, to come up with ideas and create something special.
In planning ahead you move from being reactive to proactive. You change the way people within your arts organisation think. Instead of looking at what is working for others and trying to emulate them, you begin to look at what your audience wants to see or hear. You avoid falling into the trap of creating boring art by putting on the same style and shape year after year. A bored family of supporters will take their time, energy and money elsewhere.
When your plan your program well in advance you create opportunities for building upon the main event. You have time to develop ideas for the support act, maybe school or community visits, a visiting lecture program, a unique one-off evening at a higher price. All these and many more add to the audience experience. Short term planning creates stress and panic and prevents you from thinking big, leading to a well-intentioned but second rate event.
In practice you are planning your program to ensure you build and maintain a sustainable arts organisation. Those arts organisations on four year funding cycles should be planning for years five and six from the day their funding was announced. What better message to send to the Australia Council, or State Government and every other donor and sponsor, not to mention your family of supporters. WE WILL CREATE A PROGRAM SO GREAT YOU WILL WANT TO SUPPORT US FOREVER!
I’m John Coxon, founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations in Australia to remain viable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organisations. I can be reached by email.