Arts in Crisis

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Posted: Sep 15, 2009

Michael Kaiser has a message for arts organizations—and to make sure it gets across, the president of the Kennedy Center has taken it on the road. As part of the Center’s Arts in Crisis initiative, the man who helped rescue groups such as New York City Opera and Dance Theatre of Harlem is hitting all 50 states, offering survival strategies to strapped arts organizations. Kaiser spoke to a capacity crowd at Benaroya Hall in Seattle Aug. 19 and Pyramid was there.

Arts organizations must resist the impulse to contract during these tough times, according to Kaiser, who has been providing free online counsel through the initiative since February. Fear about the future is natural, but a bunker mentality does little to build audiences or galvanize board members. And while organizations with shrunken programming may seem fiscally prudent, they look like poor competitors when vying for limited funding dollars. If groups keep cutting, says Kaiser, eventually there’s nothing left.

Instead, organizations can inspire loyalty and excitement about their work through more imaginative thinking—and by finding ways to do more for less. A few high points:

  • Develop long-term plans—not just for your organization, but also for artistic programming. You can make stronger art if you take more time, and you can raise money for it in advance.
  • Consider a cross-disciplinary joint venture with a peer organization in order to do something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Collaboration also presents cost-saving opportunities.
  • Rather than marketing every project in the same way, launch distinct campaigns for each show or event. And conduct institutional marketing in a way that gets people excited to be part of your organization.


 At Pyramid, we believe Kaiser’s philosophy extends beyond arts and culture to other areas of the nonprofit world. Now is the ideal time to innovate. Because innovations borne of hard times are bound to make us—and our society—more creative and more resilient in the long-term.

Next stops on Kaiser’s tour of nearly 100 cities can be found on the Arts in Crisis website.



Twitter: @ESGoetz
A creative problem solver, Emily’s contagious enthusiasm and ability to patiently listen help her identify the root of her clients' brand and campaign challenges. When she isn't managing the Portland office, Emily is likely soaking up the sun with her dog on Sauvie Island.