Across the country, arts organizations are besieged. The Minnesota Orchestra has been embroiled in a labor dispute and lockout. New York City Opera tried a last-ditch fundraising effort before filing for bankruptcy earlier this month. Changing lifestyles, economic pressures and technological change have made it more challenging for performing arts organizations such as orchestras to stay ahead.
To help address the situation, the William Penn Foundation recently awarded American University's Arts Management Program a three-year, $350,000 research grant to study the challenges facing performing arts institutions in Pennsylvania. AU, the William Penn Foundation, and AEA Consulting will partner to examine three leading Philadelphia arts organizations: the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Opera Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Ballet.
"All of the pieces that were part of the original health and success of the industry are now shifting," said Andrew Taylor, assistant professor of arts management at American University and principle investigator for the project. "Our goal is to observe and learn how these organizations try to cope."
In a sluggish economy, traditional funding sources are often scarce.
"Individual giving is still pretty good," Taylor said. "Although after the market crash in 2008, a lot of people just held their cash, for good reason. Corporate giving has dropped like a rock."
A Changing Landscape
The post-World War II economic boom in the United States greatly enhanced the performing arts. From the 1950s to the early 1990s, demographic growth and economic prosperity fostered a healthy arts community, Taylor says. And arts scenes flourished beyond established creative hubs such as New York City and Los Angeles. Now, new forms of entertainment are vying for the public's attention within a more fractured time frame.
Performing arts organizations frequently utilize large, professional infrastructures, built around strong legacy values. So adapting in a shifting environment is not easy, Taylor said. Increased responsibility from board members may help these organizations in the long run, he predicts.
While studying these Philadelphia-based groups, AU and its partners could discover valuable lessons in best practices for other institutions as well.
Making This Wonderful Thing Happen
Taylor is the previous president of the Association of Arts Administration Educators, and is a consulting editor for The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. He also writes his own blog on the business of arts and culture.
"This is sort of the physics of music. How do you bend reality to make this strange and wonderful thing happen?" he asks.
Taylor will work closely with AEA Consulting founder Adrian Ellis, former executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.
The research grant comes at a noteworthy time. In 2014, American University's Arts Management Program will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Sherburne Laughlin, director of the Arts Management Program, says this is the largest grant the program has received in recent memory. "This grant is important to the Arts Management Program because it will deepen and enrich our understanding of how durable change occurs," she says.
American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation's capital and around the world.
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