Reframing Success as Community
by Janet Bailey
Theater companies have never defined our success solely in terms of money. Just because a company is bigger or shows a larger budget surplus at the end of the year doesn’t mean it’s more successful — just that it’s bigger. On the other hand, there’s no particular nobility in starving and going out of business — we all want to be able to pay our people properly, have decent equipment, and be able to afford what we need to put on the best possible productions.
We’ve been talking a lot around here about the upcoming Conference, which has as its theme “reframing success.” The arts and cultural sector in Boston has been through a lot in the last weeks, months, and years, both emotional and economic. So this seems like as good a time as any to step back and think about what “success” might look like in the future.
Even if “success” and “money” aren’t the same thing, still a lot of newer or smaller organizations struggle to stay afloat.
— Sometimes it’s a question of money, which usually means not having enough paid staff to get the work done. The burden falls onto a small number of volunteers, often including the founder. If those people burn out, there is nobody to keep the organization going, and it folds.
— Sometimes it’s a question of space: performing, rehearsing, office. It’s hard to behave like a professional, grown-up organization when your “office” is someone’s dining room table.
— Sometimes it’s a question of expertise, as in cases where the artists who formed the organization don’t have administrative skills or training. Marketing, fundraising, or finance — exactly the skills needed to stabilize and sustain an institution — can be bewildering and scary if you don’t have the expertise to deal with them.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could find ways to help smaller organizations survive and prosper without necessarily getting bigger? I’m convinced that collective action could help: resource sharing, co-productions, joint marketing campaigns, shared office space, mentoring/buddy programs. If that’s true, how can StageSource act as a catalyst to make something happen? Interested to hear people’s thoughts.
Janet Bailey has an extensive career spanning both strategic consulting and direct line management in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. She serves on the board of StageSource.