I write frequently about the benefits of joint ventures between arts institutions. They can lower cost, improve the quality of work, allow for the development of larger projects and provide access to new artists and audiences.
One has to be careful with joint ventures; if they are not properly designed, one or both parties can end up feeling used or abused. A solid joint venture must benefit all parties. A clear and fair contract that anticipates all eventualities must be in place between the venture partners. Each party must also feel they are getting a fair share of the visibility for joint projects; when one partner hogs the limelight, the venture is sure to fail.
But when they work, joint ventures allow an arts organization to pursue projects it could not mount on its own. For example, when American Ballet Theatre was in serious financial trouble, we formed a joint venture with the San Francisco Ballet to produce Lar Lubovitch's Othello. This was a full-length ballet with a commissioned score (by Elliot G07oldenthal), costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and sets by George Tsypin. Creating Othello was one central element of my turnaround strategy for ABT; it convinced people we were not dead after all. It was a major production and we could not have managed it on our own. But the involvement of the San Francisco Ballet made it affordable.
A recent story in Backstage revealed a new venture in Los Angeles that is certain to benefit many theater companies there. Under the auspices of the LA Stage Alliance, a new storage facility is being developed that can hold props, costumes and set pieces for member theater companies. This will reduce the cost of storage for all of the member theater companies and eliminate the need for each to manage a storage facility, a drain on limited staff time and resources.
But reducing staff time and cost is only one of the benefits. The exciting innovation of this new venture is that all member theater companies will also be allowed to borrow the stored items of the other companies, as needed.
So rather than having to purchase, rent or build new costumes or props -- a major expense for member theaters -- they can simply look in this new warehouse and see if anything fits the bill for their productions. This should be a major cost, and time, saver.
The membership fee for joining this new venture is only $175 per month. The Stage Alliance believes that the ability to borrow items will, by itself, cover this cost for most companies.
At a time when smart cost reduction is essential (cost reduction that does not affect the quality or quantity of work) this is the type of venture we all need to be considering.
The Stage Alliance is looking to raise $25,000 to fit out the space and to cover staffing costs until enough theaters join to cover all running costs. I certainly hope they reach their target.