The Santa Fe Opera by Jonathan Caves

The Santa Fe Opera by Jonathan Caves

I was very fortunate (and honored) to serve on a panel for Michael Kaiser’s “Arts in Crisis” tour that visited Santa Fe this past Tuesday, April 13, 2010. There were about 175 people in attendance at the Santa Fe Opera’s Stieren Hall on a blustery New Mexico spring day.

The questions posed by the panelists were well thought out and far-ranging, as were the questions from the audience. Very impressive. Even more impressive was the voice of Michael Kaiser, the arts “turn-around” guy who’s brought many organizations that were on their knees and often bankrupt back to glorious life (ranging from Kansas City Ballet to Alvin Ailey to American Ballet Theater to the Royal Opera House in London – wow!).

Michael has written a book recently, aptly entitled, “The Art of the Turnaround – Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations” which outlines ten steps to vibrant arts organizations. While the book is good (very good), hearing Michael Kaiser speak in person about the depth and breadth of his experience is a whole different ball game.

Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom from Michael that I took away: Now is not the time for arts organizations to be conservative – “Don’t do safe art!” Re-focusing on mission is essential as is planning for exciting programming 3-5 years out. Stop focusing on money, budget shortfall panic, etc. and focus on mission, programming and audience (your public!). Do marketing on two levels: programmatic marketing to build constituencies and institutional marketing to build community. Kindle board passion by matching individuals with projects they want to get involved in as “godparents.” The smallest organizations benefit most from collaboration. Forget board retreats and get active. There’s more, so I’d suggest reading his book and also following the Arts in Crisis Tour as he continues through the summer. Being an arts and technology geek because of ArtSpark, I was also excited about Michael’s familiarity and optimism around technology, and he described one of my favorite projects that’s been happening in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called ArtPrize (check it out).

Finally, I was very heartened to hear Michael say that he sees great art everywhere he’s going and that the fiscal crisis that we were all expecting to hammer the arts (arts organizations folding, etc.) has been less dire – a testament to our resiliency.

Thank you Michael for your whistle stop in New Mexico!