Many arts organizations are facing a difficult time of year when they are in the midst of their seasons, working hard to find the resources they need to pay all the bills, getting ready to announce their seasons for next year, creating subscription brochures and finishing (or starting) their budget for the next fiscal year.
For most arts organizations, any one of these activities is enough of a challenge: we are understaffed and underfunded. Just putting on stage a full complement of performances is enough to tax us. And mid-season is when we (should) acknowledge where we are falling short in terms of financial performance. Are ticket sales simply not as strong as we had expected? Is our fundraising operation not producing the level of revenue we had planned? Must we adjust our spending or implement emergency fundraising or marketing programs in response to shortfalls? (Those organizations that do not do adjust by this point in the season probably will not have an opportunity to do so and will suffer the year-end consequences.)
But the challenge to every arts manager is to balance these essential activities for this season with those that will make next year a success. Have we created a slate of programs for next season that are exciting, challenging and supportable? (Of course, those managers who follow my recommendation to begin programming years before the season have a substantial edge in creating important seasons without a last minute rush to finish.) Are we ready to announce this new season to our 'family members' - ticket buyers, donors, volunteers, board members - in a way that gets maximum attention? (In addition to mounting a press event for our seasons at the Kennedy Center, which includes a lunch where journalists can discuss the season with our programmers, we also host a reception at my home for major donors so they can learn about the season before it is announced.)
While all of this is going on, we must also be developing our subscription packages; this requires more than designing a pretty brochure. This is the moment for us to rethink our pricing strategies, our performance times, the benefits we offer subscribers and the way we approach special performances like opening nights and galas. Too many managers feel so stressed at this time of year they glide over these important decisions and lose the opportunity to press several important strategic levers.
And, of course, we must do all of this while completing the budget for next year. It is not appropriate to announce a season if the budget is not virtually completed. How do we know whether we can afford the art we are announcing? How can we develop appropriate ticket pricing schemes if we do not know the level of earned revenue we must attain? And how can we create appropriate special events if we are not aware of our fundraising targets?
So if your arts manager friends are looking particularly tired these days, give them a hug and a knowing smile. In a few months, their lives should return to their normal state of chaos.