I started writing this post a couple of days ago about adding an ownership incentive to arts organizations:
When I teach my arts entrepreneurship students about different business forms that are available for artists and arts organizations, I explain a fundamental difference between for-profit and nonprofit corporations: the former have owners and the latter do not. We can talk about both the stockholders and shareholders of a for-profit corporation but the nonprofit has only stakeholders. Theoretically, given the nonprofit tax status of the institution, every taxpayer is a stakeholder. But do they feel that they are? Public support for nonprofit arts institutions might be stronger if all taxpayers truly saw themselves as stakeholders in the arts community but their contribution via tax expenditure is so attenuated and so small that the general populous doesn’t even have “nonprofit arts sector” on its radar. What if we could make these stakeholders into stockholders to help motivate them to be more involved in the nonprofit arts institutions in their communities? Huh??!! There is a hugely successful model for doing just that, an organization that has been around since 1919: The Green Bay Packers.
But then I read this by Warren Buffet’s son Peter about keeping “the existing structure of inequality in place,” about how micro-lending and financial literacy is really about integration “into our system of debt and repayment with interest.” If I followed my original thread about symbolic ownership interest in nonprofit arts orgs, then I would be “feeding the beast,” as Buffet puts it, perpetuating the crisis of imagination that has led both to worldwide inequality and insufficient arts infrastructure. As he says, “we need a new story.”
It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.