With Friends Like These…

The 2/13/2011 edition of the Washington Post published an article by Peter Marks that does an excellent job of covering the explosive remarks by NEA chair Rocco Landesman made during a recent theater conference. At issue is his response to the question about the declining audience figures for the arts…

“There are too many theaters,” [Landesman] said. “Look,” he explained. “You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase. So it is time to think about decreasing supply.”

Is there too much art?

Marks’ article goes on to examine the comments in greater detail from a variety of views including those from Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser. But the article doesn’t have enough space to cover what should be bothering most people when they hear Landesman’s remarks (beyond the “demand is not going to increase” drivel): the egregious universal assessment of the entire arts business.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter if your arts organization is in Omaha, San Juan, or Montpelier. You might even be the very first arts group to set up shop in Bar Nunn, Wyoming but according to Landesman’s logic, you’re overgrown.

If this weren’t enough, Landesman’s comments come at a time when the NEA is forced to dodge the crosshairs of politically motivated budget cuts in the House of Representatives. Good luck justifying that budget Mr. Landesman, let us know how that works out for you.

Marks’ article concludes with another pearl of wisdom from Landesman.

“What I’m seeing is more and more organizations struggling to pay their bills,” the chairman said. “There’s a survival crisis, certainly in the theater and probably across the board. I don’t think the answer is to put your head in the sand.”

Of course, any good manager knows there is a big difference between managing debt during periods of extraordinary economic strife and institutional collapse. Regardless, all of this makes one wonder what would be going on if Michael Dorf got the NEA chairman nod instead of Landesman.

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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