I recently participated in a very important discussion with my ten DeVos Institute Fellows. The subject was artistic planning. The Fellows had already heard me speak about the virtue of planning artistic ventures multiple years in advance: how it makes it easier to attract the artists with whom one wants to collaborate, how it assists fundraising and marketing, how it helps to secure touring engagements, and how it helps to ensure that the mission of the organization is truly reflected in its programming.
But this discussion was about something more important.
It was about how planning art years in advance allows artists and arts managers to think and delve and angst and study in an effort to create truly important and surprising art.
I find far too many arts organizations take the artistic planning process too lightly. They take only a few hours to pick repertory for the following season. They think about what has worked elsewhere and copy it. They sometimes even wait until the subscription brochure is about to go to the printer before making selections.
The leaders of these organizations forget that the selection of repertory is a crucial element in achieving mission, building inroads into the community and achieving fiscal stability. They are so involved in implementing the programming they (hastily) announced the previous year that they spend no time planning for future seasons. As a result, their offerings do not change very much from year to year. They have similar resources to spend every year (if they are lucky) and the performances or exhibitions are not dramatically different. Not surprisingly, over time, their donors and audiences grow bored.
Of course there are those rare geniuses who appear to announce a wonderful season every year with little thought. But these geniuses are really planning all the time. Their minds are constantly sifting through ideas, selecting those that are most enticing and discarding others. They simply are not sharing their thoughts with others until it is required.
Most of us can't do this. We need time to consider myriad ideas, big and small, ambitious and simple. We do this every day, always on the lookout for the next great idea. One never knows where or when a great idea will emerge, but we have to be open to it. We need to share ideas with others, get their feedback, re-think projects that seem too risky or not interesting enough on reflection. We also need to think through the many aspects of implementing each project so we can determine which are most likely to be successful. And we need to think about ways to make the project more exciting and important; which auxiliary elements can be added - lectures, demonstrations, special events, etc. - that will make the project especially substantial.
If we fail to do this, we are abdicating our vital role as leaders of taste. We will not bring the new and exciting and different to our audiences.
If we simply program to meet a sales budget, or to program what everyone else has found successful we are not really being arts managers.