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Planning Ahead

02.08.11 | 6 Comments


CATEGORIES conversation starter, development, funding and support, ideas, the process

Currently the South Florida Theatre League is participating in a program called Capacity Building Miami. My board president, myself, and the board presidents, artistic directors and managing directors of about fifty Miami based arts organizations have signed on for a two year mentorship program with the Kennedy Center. I’ve been gushing about this program to everyone I meet from fellow arts administrators to ministers to my knitting group.

In January, we had a morning breakfast session with Michael Kaiser and yesterday we had an online chat with Brett Egan.

One of the largest points made so far is that organizations need to plan ahead.

Not six months ahead. Not to next season. But to have a flexible five year plan.

When this was first brought up in January, there was a bit of a “really? That far ahead?” reaction. Miami arts groups, as a rule, are pretty terrible at this. My own organization included. There’s a sort of unspoken expectation that if you announce something a month in advance that should be good enough.

The idea of a five year plan though opens up the possibility for more risk taking. We can’t have a conference on the state of theatre as a part of our South Florida Theatre Festival right now because we don’t have the resources for that. But if I start planning the idea now, in five years time, we can have the sort of programming that I want to have for the Festival. It gives me the time needed to find the funding, the board support, and the community support. If you’re a theatre company that wants to do an experimental work that your audience is unfamiliar with; if you plan it far enough in advance, it gives you time to educate your audience to appreciate it. It also gives you time to find the funding necessary to do it.

This is a fairly basic concept, but often arts organizations exist in survival mode. We just do what we can do so that we can have a next show. Dreaming too big seems risky in this environment. The point that Kaiser and Egan make is that you lose audiences when you stop dreaming. You lose funding and support. Planning and dreaming ahead is a huge part of how you can get funders excited about what you’re doing. Producing safe theatre is very unsafe. Taking risks is how your organization grows.

Joe Adler of GableStage, which produces work that was recently seen off-Broadway, mentioned that the season he would schedule for five years from now hasn’t been written yet. But Kaiser started the following exchange:

“Who is your favorite playwright?”

“David Mamet.”

“Have you ever considered commissioning him?”

While Adler initially scoffed, Kaiser went on to say that Mamet wouldn’t work with him now, but in five years, that could be a possibility. At that moment, the room seemed full of possibilities.

All of your planning should directly relate back to the mission, but think of the potential there. And how freeing is it that you have the luxury of time to put into place the programming that you want, instead of scrambling. I think every arts organization, from the very large to very small benefits from long range planning. Particularly small organizations. When you’re the marketing person, the director, the props person, etc — you need that time. Because if you are wearing most of the hats, something will give if you’re rushing everything at the last minute, even if that thing is your own personal sanity.

It’s been lovely to spend time dreaming with my board chair, instead of simply plodding along.  We’re about ready to revise our bylaws and our dreaming will soon be incorporated into that. I hope that planning ahead will soon become a part of the DNA of the South Florida Theatre League. I think it will be easier for me to engage the community if we’re not rushing everything at the last minute.

I’ve been sold on the idea that planning ahead is essential to growing the South Florida Theatre League and would be helpful to any arts organization. Dreaming, wild dreaming, is why we all got into this business to begin with. Giving ourselves the luxury of time by planning ahead and not thinking “I must do everything RIGHT NOW” we can allow ourselves and our organizations the ability to stretch and grow.

Andie Arthur

Andie Arthur is a playwright and theatre administrator in Miami. She is the executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, the co-founder of Lost Girls Theatre, and the Florida Regional Rep of the Dramatists Guild.

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  • Interesting counterpoint to this whole strain of thought in today’s You’ve Cott Mail:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/theatre/torontos-soulpepper-theatre-embraces-new-business-model/article1894676/

  • Anonymous

    The last time I sat on a grant panel, I really felt I was the only one in the room who appreciated the value of good planning. In one particular example, the panel was enamored with the cost-cutting measures of this one company that stopped buying cookies for concessions, and started baking cookies instead. So then, we handed a grant to a company that is paying an effective hourly wage of $20+ to bake cookies.

  • Nicole

    If this became common practice, how exciting it would be. For some time I’ve been keeping a wish list of sorts of plays I’d like to direct, but to take it more seriously and place the list within the context of a five year plan is a powerful way to work towards making wishes come true! Perhaps more artists/companies are doing this already, though, and simply not disclosing it for fear of someone beating them to the punch.

  • One resource, one quip.

    Resource: A free book about planning for arts organizations from the DeVos institute at the Kennedy Center: http://artsmanagerfba.artsmanager.org/KCDocument/ArtsManagerDocuments/Strategic%20Planning%20in%20the%20Arts-%20A%20Practical%20Guide.pdf

    Quip: Best thing about having a plan is that then you have something from which to deviate.

  • As a theatre board chair I find it absolutely vital to ‘dream’ with the exec team at least once a year as part of the company’s strategic planning process. We take a day out for this purpose. It works.


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