Bill DeWalt, former (and founding) director of the Musical Instrument Museum, wrote an op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic that delineates the challenges faced by the new arts leaders coming in to replace not only him, but also the leaders of other large institutions in the state such as Arizona Theatre Company, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and Arizona Opera. “The principle issue for all organizations is lack of funding,” he writes, before explaining some of the reasons why arts funding is particularly challenging here. I urge you to read his full piece as it carefully explains why the unique philanthropic climate of Arizona is particularly challenging.
I want to focus on another point he makes, almost in passing, “Such rapid change in leadership of a city’s major cultural institutions may be unprecedented.” A couple of new leaders are already in place; searches are planned or underway for others. This is a tremendous opportunity not only for the individual organizations experiencing leadership change, but also for the culture of Arizona and, indeed, its funding climate. This unprecedented shift in leadership means that there will be an influx of new ideas, new talent, and new programming. Coincident with this upheaval in the cultural community comes the resignation of Phoenix city manager David Cavazos. There is – or should be – an opportunity here for the city of Phoenix (where all but one of these organizations is based) to re-envision and re-evaluate its commitment to arts and culture. There is – or should be – opportunities here for the many communities that make up the cultural fabric of the Valley of the Sun to participate in the next stage of development for these large organizations. And, “the next generation of cultural leaders” as DeWalt calls them, have unprecedented opportunity to work together to enrich the culture life of the region.
In my work, I generally engage with very small or brand new arts organizations or even individual artists. But, the fate of the larger arts institutions affects everyone in the arts and culture community and, I would argue, everyone in the city, whether they realize it or not. So, here are some thoughts for the “next generation:”
- Can the organizations work together in a consortium format on their fundraising efforts? This was tried on a small scale with some of the smaller arts organizations and didn’t get very far, but the target was small donors (in a kind of crowdsourcing effort, before we all were comfortable with that term). What if there was more cooperation and less competition for the philanthropic dollar among the big five as well?
- Can the large organizations work symbiotically with small organizations to help the latter develop both artistically and business-wise, thus diversifying not only the content but also the scale of cultural organizations?
- Can the organizations, under new leadership, provide more opportunities for authentic community engagement? (Not “outreach,” but true two-way engagement, even to the point of co-creation/co-curation)
- Can the large organizations diversify their revenue streams, perhaps even developing auxiliary enterprises, to better fund their day-to-day operations?
- And, lastly but not finally, could the fundraising consortium suggested in #1 be used to build a cash reserve for Phoenix Arts and Culture?
Opportunity is knocking. Let’s answer the door!
(image by Kristin Roberts, METRO for the Phoenix Arts and Culture Ride Guide)