Friday, February 4, 2011

Ask Not…


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Will Maitland Weiss

My last blog on advocacy: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for your elected officials. Ask what you can do for your funding source. Ask what you can do for your potential business partner. Ask what you can do for another theater company, other theater artists.

I’m not talking about inviting your subscribers (or your nonprofit board) to pick your 2011-2012 season or help with casting. I do think that the phenomenon of letting the audience choose the encore at concerts is cool and will grow. Everyone’s a critic/producer/curator/YouTube genius, and everyone wants the art they want when and where they want it. (Remember voting on the whodunit ending to Edwin Drood? A generation later, I’m pretty impressed with what Situation Marketing did with Next to Normal…  There are ARTISTS who can and do make better artistic decisions.

I am talking about developing relationships that bring you resources. The Arts & Business Council has respect from the business community because we try to help them with what THEY need. We don’t tell them that they have to give to the arts. That is not their mission. I happen to believe that artistic endeavor defines humanity, but that doesn’t entitle me, or any arts organization I’ve ever worked for, to one cent from any business. I get companies and business individuals to invest their time and money by asking them what THEY want. Employee engagement? Revitalization of neighborhoods? Reaching new markets? Branding with elegance/grace/high-net-worth/families/20-somethings/cutting edge (since ABC/NY represents hundreds of different arts organizations, I can go pretty broad here!)? Something more meaningful and fulfilling than what they do 9:00-to-5:00? A reconnection to the art they participated in as a kid or in college? Something! And when I find that something, now we can figure out a win/win partnership.

(By the way: sponsorships are NOT just for Lincoln Center or the Met Museum, not just about seven-figure gifts from Amex or Target or Time Warner. Every year, ABC/NY celebrates arts/business partnerships at its annual Encore Awards. Sometimes big names, sometimes hidden gems. Check out some of these stories. Nurturing these shared agendas is what we do all year long.)

Artists’ collaborations? When someone’s out to take advantage—disaster. When there is a shared goal, whether it’s co-producing a play you couldn’t otherwise afford or co-producing a marketing campaign you couldn’t otherwise afford—that’s worth getting together over a few beers to try and figure out.

The same is true with government. We have to find the intersection of our arts agenda and their agenda. Reaching loyal constituents with credibility? You’re already better at that than they are; is there a way to share your stage (literally or figuratively)?  Creating jobs, generating economic impact, serving children, helping at-risk or special needs populations? About what cause are they passionate? You do this! Tell them your success story, see if they want to be a part of it.

Invite them to experience what you are doing for your community, your city, your state, your country, your world. Invite them to share in your success. And then invite them again, and again, and again.

Thanks, NY Innovative Theatre Foundation, for allowing me to share points of view and experience with your community. Any of whom is welcome to agree/disagree and/or ask/answer me directly at wmweiss [at] artsandbusiness-ny [dot] org. And to every one of whom I wish a creative 2011.


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