08/02/2010 08:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Art of Celebration

One of the things arts managers very often forget to do is to celebrate success. It is easy in the current economic climate, when we are all struggling to make ends meet, to ignore this vital element of good leadership. But I would argue that this is the time we need to celebrate victory most of all.

All members of our organizational 'families' need the motivation and inspiration that come from celebrating the victories our organization enjoys. Mounting a great production, increasing enrollment in an education program, securing a major foundation gift, or simply surviving another fiscal year, all demand celebration.

We must take the time to gather our artists, educators, board members, volunteers and staff and celebrate those activities that went well and to thank the many participants who worked so hard to make the project possible.

At a time when so many board members are fearful and pessimistic, when staff members are exhausted from coping with two years of recession, and when artists question whether the institution has it priorities in place, and when there does not seem to be an end in sight to the fiscal challenges we face, it is essential to take time to acknowledge that we are still vibrant and important organizations making progress and contributions to our communities.

Celebrations can take the form of a simple email to all 'family' members, an informal gathering, picnic or trip to an amusement park or a more formal meeting or dinner where successes are detailed and appreciation expressed. The esprit de corps that is established at these events can help carry participants through the next set of challenges and crises. And the public recognition that good work has been accomplished can ease tensions that easily arise between board and staff and between executive and artistic staffs during difficult years.

Of course one must be careful. One does not want to over-hype minor successes nor does one want to leave the impression that the organization is unaware of larger challenges and problems it faces. Some will argue that when staff members are facing furloughs or salary freezes, or cuts are being made to artistic or educational programming, it is uncomfortable to have party or to celebrate a new grant.

But the key is to place the victory in context of the overall plan for the organization.

If the organization has devised a strategy to move it from its current position to a new, more secure place of higher achievement, celebrating successes along the way confirms that the strategy is working. This can encourage all participants, especially board members and donors, to continue their support.

Managing an arts organization successfully is, in large measure, a challenge in psychology. We ask so many things from so many people, many of whom are either not compensated or undercompensated for their participation.

Celebrating institutional successes in visible ways encourages every participant to continue to work to implement the strategic plan. This is an inexpensive, joyful way to encourage strategy implementation.