Huffpost Arts
Michael Kaiser Headshot

Why Do We Do This?

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This is the most difficult time to be an arts manager in my 26 years in the profession.

The development of new technology has given our audience members new forms of entertainment and new ways to spend their discretionary time and money. This has made it far more difficult to sell tickets at prices that cover most, if not all, of the cost of production. People now entertain themselves with iPads, iPods, iPhones and numerous other electronic devices. They are entertained for so little money that high-priced performance tickets lose their appeal.

This is happening, of course, at a time of financial instability. This has made our audiences more price-sensitive and our donors less likely to make major contributions.

Of course, with more competition for entertainment dollars, we have to produce even more exciting and important art -- and this often costs more money.

But with earned and unearned income difficult to come by, risk-taking seems death defying rather than simply scary.

And our boards are pressuring for less risk and less expenditure of funds in this cash-constrained climate.

But risk-taking is necessary to attract new audiences who are not habitual arts consumers. Yet the reduction in coverage of the arts in the media makes communicating with these new audience members far more difficult.

And our audiences of the future -- young people, many of whom have had virtually no arts education -- have little or no exposure to the arts at all. As budgets get cut at every level of government, it seems education is the first area to be cut, especially arts education. (Even as politicians say that we must eradicate deficits to protect our children and grandchildren!)

But if we do not invest in our children's arts education, who will be our audience members, board members, donors and volunteers of the future? Are we working in a dying field?

It all seems like one large Catch-22 that is overwhelming and terrifying.

In the hundreds of conversation I have had with arts managers over the past year, the sense of fear is palpable. We all believe that the arts should play an increasingly important role in our world, that is not in question, but we simply do not know how to achieve greatness and stability in this changing environment.

Arts managers are working in new territory. We are pressured on many sides. It isn't easy. And it often isn't fun.

But then...

The curtain goes up on a simply beautiful production; audience members can't wait even to leave the theater to tweet about their remarkable experience; a busload of children exits the theater bubbling with excitement; you leave a meeting with astonishing, creative minds who challenge and excite you; members of the public stop you in the street to tell you how much they appreciated a recent festival.

Suddenly, the fears simply feel like challenges to overcome and going back to work each morning seems like a privilege rather than a sentence.