Going Beyond The Archives

Let’s play a little word association, I’ll give you a phrase and you make a list of the first five things that come to mind. Here we go: arts org archives.

Adaptistration Guy Out The DoorHere’s what I came up with:

  1. Cardboard boxes.
  2. Lots of photos stuffed in filing cabinets waiting to be digitized.
  3. An office without any windows.
  4. “So which expense category does the archive go?”
  5. “Tell me again why the archivist isn’t included in the org chart…”

Although it is increasingly common for performing arts organizations to maintain a regular archive department staffed with any combination of volunteer, part time, and full time archivists there aren’t many examples where these individuals play an integral role in facilitating connections between the institution, stakeholders, and supporters. You know, marketing, communications, development, and education.


I can’t offer anything beyond anecdotal and observational information but a pair of articles from Joe Patti over at Butts In The Seats piqued my interest. Patti examines the intrinsic value of cultural experiences from a perspective that goes beyond the threshold of historical curiosity.

This idea that arts organizations really needed to be assembling a database of cultural experiences as sophisticated as that in a customer relationship management system shook me because really, those experiences are the true assets of our organizations and many arts organizations allow their connection with them to dwindle once they pass.

We cross reference giving and attendance history, know where people like to sit, how they like to be addressed and what their social and professional relationships are. Many arts organizations can pull that information up in moments and spit out a report or mail merged letter tailored to a person’s interest.

But our creative record is often contained in banker boxes and file cabinets that we have to sift through for hours in order to derive any value from it. How many people can pull up the program, images, video, interviews, notes by the creative team/curators and feedback from event attendees in a short period of time?

That should be enough to get you thinking and if you let yourself wander far enough down that path, you begin to see some things you missed the first time around. If nothing else, this is a good exercise, especially given that arts organizations are still wrestling with finding the right way to express why they matter to society.

Take the time to give both posts a thorough read, you’ll be glad you did.

We Need CRM Software To Manage Our Relationship With Our Own Creativity

What Responsibility to Inspire Society With Big Vision?

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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