Our focus at IVY during the month of September is Leadership. We are asking our community to reflect on what our passions are, where we can make the most significant contribution, and then taking action to realize our potential impact.
For me, as a former dancer, I see leadership as the combination of vision and action. In my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the greatest leaders in the arts – creative artists and performers, dedicated philanthropists and Board members, passionate volunteers and administrators – and have seen many different incarnations of this definition of leadership. What they all had in common though, was believing in something and then taking actions to making that happen.
Many of us have a passion for the arts, but what does it actually mean to be a leader in the arts – and how can you be one?
Bring a Friend
Every quarter I receive a group email from a friend of mine who sends us dates and information about upcoming performances he is attending. He buys one or two extra tickets to each performance, and we sign up for the performances that we want to go to with him. What I love is that his circle includes people who would probably not have heard about the show or probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. These newcomers always leave with a new sense of curiosity and have the best time. I love this example of leadership, because it’s something small we can all do if something in the arts speaks to us – simply showing up with a friend.
The National Endowment of the Arts did a study a few years ago that cites four barriers to arts engagement. Basically, if you have a friend who has never been to an opera, or doesn’t understand modern art or jazz, one or more of these barriers have been in their life that have prevented them from engaging:
- Time: It takes time and effort to research and develop a sense of what you like.
- Cost: Who’s going to spend several hundred dollars on something they know nothing about?
- Access: Most people don’t grow up in towns with a major opera house.
- No One To Go With: All your friends are at a party on Saturday night, you’d really rather go to the opera alone?
That last one is especially challenging both for busy mid-career professionals, but also for folks who just getting into the arts. By being proactive and seeing the art and performances you want to see – and bringing someone with you – is a great first step. Buy a ticket to a local performance (maybe something out of your comfort zone)! Visit a museum in your backyard. Volunteer. Buy a painting from a local artist. Make music.
The next level of leadership in the arts involves a bit more commitment – getting involved philanthropically. Besides the tax deduction, making a financial contribution to an arts organization and encouraging others to do the same can have an even larger ripple effect. Not only can it greatly impact the health and longevity of an arts organization, making a gift can often include other community benefits that will improve your personal wellbeing, deepen your knowledge, and widen your social network.
Be a Supporter
I’m always breathlessly in awe of the great places of art I visit: The spiraling Guggenheim unwinding on the corner of Central Park, the majesty of the San Francisco War Memorial House, the Perez Art Museum of Miami swaying in the bay breeze, LA’s shimmering Walt Disney Concert Hall.
We’d like to think of the great museums and performing arts centers as being permanent fixtures of our communities. Season after season, our families and friends gather with us to be entertained, educated, and inspired. But that’s a very dangerous assumption for the field. In recent years, we have seen the shuddering of beloved arts organizations nationwide that were widely assumed to be constant parts of the ecosystem. Looking to how an arts organization actually operates, some clues begin to emerge as to why the arts ecosystem may not be as sustainable as we would like to think it is.
Whether a museum or an opera company, arts organizations tend to be non-profit organizations (notable exceptions of for-profit arts producers include Broadway and Beyonce). This means that their revenue comes a combination of ticket sales, government and private grants, and the support of individual patrons. In return for their momentary contributions, individual donors are granted tax write-offs, special access to artists, and the chance to network with other similarly-affluent people as yourself who are also creatively-minded.
While arts organizations use all of the marketing resources at their disposal and churns out as many grant proposals as they can, there is always the challenge of finding new patrons to support the arts. With the biggest threat to donor attrition being death, arts organizations must constantly reinvent how, where, and when they are cultivating mid-career professionals to get involved.
Sarah Arison, the Chairman of the National YoungArts Foundation and President of the Arison Art Foundation started as an arts fan, but through her experiences getting more involved with young patron groups, discovered her true passion for the arts.
“When I moved to NYC ten years ago, the first thing I did was join the Young Patrons of American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Being new to NYC I thought it would be a great way to meet like-minded people. Ten years later, I’m on the board of ABT and chair the Education Committee. The friends I met through ABT a decade ago are still some of my closest friends in the city! Most of the people I spend time with and work with, I’ve met through the board of the National YoungArts Foundation, MoMA, MoMA PS1 or ABT. We travel together, we go to museums and shows together, and are constantly inspiring each other and introducing each other to new things! There is no end to the benefits of involvement with a not-for-profit… Not only are you making the world a better place, but you also will meet the most interesting people with similar passions and interests and have access to wonderful programming.”
Many of the major visual and performing arts institutions have young patron groups which support the mission of their respective organizations. These are a great way to meet other like-minded supporters while getting access to some of the best artists today. Another avenue is finding a smaller organization with a more niche mission, like an organization that specializes in LGBTQ theater, Lantinx dance, arts for veterans, arts for students, arts for seniors, etc. Often, a small gift for a larger institution might make a huge difference if given to a smaller institution, so think about where and how you want to make an impact that fits in with your larger vision.
Now comes the action: We here at IVY want to make it easy to identify an organization that fits your interests, and find an outlet for support at your price-point. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to help you navigate all of the many ways you could potentially get involved with an arts organization in your community. We can also help connect you with other IVY members who are already members of arts groups and Boards you might be interested in getting involved with to help make the right choice for you.