Every June I make the same recommendation to my students: use the summer months to plan for the future of your organizations but also, and vitally, to replenish yourselves for the year ahead.
During the height of the season, it is difficult, if not impossible, for many arts executives to do comprehensive, thoughtful long-term planning. Leaders of smaller arts organizations especially have trouble finding enough time to clear their minds and schedules of day-to-day challenges and to think more creatively and openly about the future of their organizations. Without this planning time, however, arts organizations are in danger of doing similar things every year, failing to solve central challenges and looking boring to audiences and donors. It is the surprising project that builds institutional image, not the routine.
The summer months, when most arts organizations are doing a minimum of producing (or the winter months for summer festivals), provide the perfect time for reflection. Just how good is our programming and how do we make it better? What kinds of projects do we dream of producing? How can we make this happen? How can we create the resources required and when might we find these resources? How can I build the image for excellence this organization needs to attract strong new board members, motivate those board members we have, and increase audience size at a reasonable cost? What sources of funding have we failed to energize and how can we do so in the future? What worked especially well this past season? What could have been substantially better? Why?
These questions and many others demand thoughtful analysis and creative thinking. The answers cannot be rushed and neither conventional wisdom nor superficial responses are helpful. The summer months, when things are less hectic, are the perfect time to reflect, respond and begin implementation.
But the summer months are also the time when we must replenish our souls. We need to get enough sleep, for sure, but sleep is not really the central answer for the tired arts executive. We need to also divert our attentions to non-work activities. A true vacation is not necessarily a trip to Paris or a week at the beach. A vacation is anything that allows your mind to refocus on other interests and endeavors.
For some of us this can mean learning a new language, reading important books or spending relaxed time with friends and family. Taking time away from obsessing about our work is essential if we are to return in the Fall with renewed vigor and energy and excitement.
All arts leaders have been through a terribly difficult two-year period. But our roles demand that we not let our fatigue affect the way we lead. If we cannot return in September filled with excitement for the year ahead and optimism that our plans will help bring our organizations to a new level, we have no hope that our boards, staffs, artists and donors will approach the new season with anything but ennui.
Ignore this prescription for summer at your own peril!