"We need what we always needed and what every artistic leader needs in a country that doesn’t provide sufficient subsidy or have a genuine respect for culture: stamina to persist; capacity for a deep interiority on one hand and a practical manipulativeness on the other; concentration to hear one’s own voice and courage to listen to it in the midst of a cacophony of other voices; toughness in the service of something that is tender, while you try to remain tender yourself; imagination, taste, risk tolerance, a nose for the audience’s subconscious hopes and fears; colleagues who can share your despair and also lift you out of it—again and again and again, because it’s a long and winding road—and reassure you, as you do them, that what you are trying to do is good and life-affirming and the one who gives up last wins."
—Zelda Fichandler, 2001
From “cost disease,” to Subscribe Now! to The Art of the Turnaround, diagnoses and proposed remedies for the inherent challenges of the nonprofit theatre business model are numerous and impassioned. Even in the context of one of the longest economic expansions in U.S. history, the refrain that our model is “broken” regularly echoes about the industry. But can the model be broken if it operates exactly as designed? If the contemporary nonprofit theatre field is intended to function as a cultural standard bearer and provocateur, in service to its current and potential audience members, shouldn’t its success be measured by the public benefit it generates, rather than the strength of its revenue structure? In an era when more theatres are aspiring to elevate their artistic risk-taking, deepen their community engagement work, and better support the artists and administrators they employ, can nonprofit theatre leaders innovate around the classic architecture of our business, updating it to coincide effectively with their mission, vision, and values? Or is it time to reconsider the way we do business entirely?
At the 2019 Fall Forum on Governance: A New Playbook, we got serious about our traditional model and its impact on our day-to-day operations, fundraising practices, organizational culture, and artistic programming processes. We approached this Fall Forum in a three-part structure, featuring conversations on how to improve, rethink, and enhance our organizations’ resources (including income streams and capital structure); our program and organizational structures (including staff infrastructure, board governance, analyses of programs and services, artistic planning, and more); and our impact (how we measure our success, and how we communicate our charitable value). Generative discussion and peer-to-peer learning was woven into two days of breakout sessions, affinity group conversations, and inspiring speakers from within and beyond the nonprofit arts sector. From November 8-10 in New York City, leaders and trustees from TCG Member theatres addressed the issue that keeps so many of us up at night: how to keep our organizations financially healthy while continuing to produce powerful theatre that contributes to the cultural vibrancy of our communities.
If you have any questions about the Fall Forum, please contact Anne Ciarlone at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TCG is grateful to the following supporters of our 2019 Fall Forum. If you are interested in joining TCG as a sponsor, please contact Kevin Bitterman, director of Institutional Advancement & Partnerships.