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Organizational Resource Conservation

There was a severe drought this past summer covering over 60% of the country, which made it one of the driest on record. Since the economic crisis in 2008, arts and culture groups have also experienced continued desiccation of the earned and contributed resources needed to cover their expenses. As industry leaders come to realize that the drying up of resources-especially from corporate, foundation and government sources-may reflect a “new normal,” more are beginning to reconsider their instinctive aversion to organizational collaborations. Recent examples of innovative collaborations include:

  • The Alliance of Resident Theatres (A.R.T./New York) has received a two-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund to develop Collective Insourcing, a new initiative in which administrative functions (e.g. finance, legal, IT, HR, purchasing, facility management, etc.) are delivered through a shared agency owned by a group of non-profit theatres, resulting in “more available resources for their art and artists and their increased professional capacity.”
  • CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia is a new non-profit organization created by local entrepreneurs to provide “affordable shared management resources to arts and heritage organizations and creative professionals.” Their services include outsourced management services for small to mid-size groups and coworking space rentals for individuals who work in the creative sector.
  • Following more than two years of planning, the Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera, and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra merged into a new, single non-profit entity called the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. The new organization will be led by one CEO and governed by one board, with separate program offerings and Artistic Directors. The Dayton Alliance was able to overcome some of the barriers faced by other groups that have attempted to merge by not saddling the new entity with existing liabilities and avoiding any artistic or administrative work force reductions.

In each of these cases, the motivations for consolidating were not so much the concomitant expense reductions, but the desire to demonstrate to funders that the organizations are operating as efficiently as possible, and collaborating, rather than competing, for philanthropic support. In addition, it appears that the initiative for the collaborations came from within the organizations, rather than from outside funders. Perhaps most critically, the board and staff leaders were able to suspend their narrow self-interests in maintaining power and control in favor of the broader public interests their institutional missions serve. Or, maybe, they are just old enough to have remembered the conservation advice of the 1960′s Mad Magazine line drawing captioned “Save Water: Shower with Your Steady.”

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