2008/09 Cultural Confidence In Review

There is little doubt that the 2008/09 season will be remembered as a time dominated by uncertainty over cash flow, revenue streams, and artistic activity. Based on a year’s worth of tracking, it is clear that this uncertainly had an adverse impact on economic confidence levels throughout a variety of performing arts institutions. Nonetheless, it is crucial to note that institutions governed by wise leaders will resist temptations to embrace sweeping, institutional decisions that will have prolonged negative ramifications on future activity without first waiting for the economy to stabilize…

2008/09 Cultural Confidence: Grim

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Poll average for combined current assessment and future outlook - click to enlarge

Throughout the poll, respondents were asked to indicate their levels of confidence by one of four values (most negative to most positive): poor, only fair, good, and excellent. Combined response averages indicate an overwhelming negative sentiment, with only 20 percent of respondents indicating some degree of positive outlook and the majority of those sentiments were “good.” Conversely, negative responses were divided almost evenly between “poor” and “only fair,” as illustrated in the pie chart to your right.

Presumably, as the season’s end approached, any gap between current assessment and future outlook would close. Sure enough, that seems to be exactly the case as any gap between closed to within negligible tolerances by the final polling cycle. The following charts illustrate the changes in confidence levels throughout the 2008/09 season polling cycle:

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Conclusions

Although the predominant responses tend to be negative, one encouraging sign is the sharp drop off of respondents that indicated “poor” (the most negative option) in both poll questions. If nothing else, this indicates that some of the responses from earlier poll cycles might have been fueled more by panic than reason, which is illustrated in the following charts.

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Ideally, this might indicate that groups are beginning to get their head above water and realize that reason and patience are preferred qualities to successfully endure financial distress. In the meantime, focusing on revenue streams, strengthening cash management practices, and keeping the board motivated are the tasks at hand.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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