Squaring Off on New Models in the Arts

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Guest Post By: Kim Cook, Manager at Nonprofit Finance Fund

In a recent Huffington Post exchange, Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Adam Huttler, Executive Director of Fractured Atlas squared off on the topic of new business models in the arts.  As a colleague (and I hope friend) of both, I thought I might navigate the “both are true” spaces between their arguments.  While Adam is careful to say that he does agree on some points with Michael, they diverge when it comes to thinking about institutions.  Put simply:

In his first post, Michael Kaiser questions whether artists will be creating individual projects and then disbanding and thus losing the benefits that accrue from organizational support systems. Adam Huttler counters that building and maintaining organizations can cause us to lose sight of the fact that institutions are delivery systems for art rather than entities that deserve preservation.

In my observation after a decade of working on projects with artists and arts organizations  that range from building projects from the ground up (under $30,000 and using a fiscal sponsor) to an orchestra struggling to communicate public value in order to meet high fixed costs – we need the tools that come from either end of the spectrum.  For example: The large institutions need to be more nimble, more market responsive, and generally more aware of the barriers to access that people may feel about their art and small scale artists and projects need more tools and systems to create and maintain audiences and donors.  I would like to see a world where there is a greater possibility of referent resources between the two poles of individual artists and institutions.  While Adam talks about the possible uses of social media, he overlooks that artists are increasingly assuming administrative functions with less and less support.  And while Michael may challenge the idea of artists creating projects and having to re-invent support systems with each new project he may be neglecting to understand the frequently collaborative nature of projects that occur within a creative community which may have more continuity than it appears.

What I see in terms of what is referred to as new business models is often not so new: cost offsets in the form of sweat equity, donated goods, and reduced rents, push from funders for mergers and collaborations, and joint marketing projects.  But I also see some newer opportunities that include virtual accounting services, job sharing to run a collective creative effort, and technology based platforms for fundraising.

In round two of their exchange Kaiser argues for better board management and training. Huttler complains about bloated budgets and big fundraising staffs while opining that board management won’t be a solution for most because few are as talented at it as is Kaiser.  In this arena I must state that I agree we desperately need more skills in board management and more staff devoted to fundraising.  So often I see organizations investing only in program and in operations, and not enough in the teams who will raise the private dollars the sector so desperately needs.  And artists without the support of an organization often rely on multiple jobs to make their world go round – if only they did have fundraising teams and active boards!  Adam references the need for hefty capital investment; something with which I completely concur, and who will be making the case for investment if not a team with the tools and skills to support artists on the administrative side?

I am not in favor of artists being pampered while everyone else runs out to find the money to take care of them. I am not in favor of bulky institutions.  I am not in favor of elite systems that exclude larger audiences.  I am enamored of the newer forms of content delivery and communication.  I am a fan of using technology to reduce costs.  Ultimately I believe in using the best intelligence we have, new and old, to insure that people have access to creative and cultural experiences.


  1. What strategies do you use to fund your work?
  2. Do you see a need for larger institutions that support and deliver art?
  3. Is the cost of maintaining organizations becoming too high and actually burdening the art and artists?
  4. Are audiences eroding in your community?
  5. Are you using technology to access audiences? Donors?
  6. Is your staff/team putting in more time for less pay?
  7. Are you collaborating with other artists or institutions to produce your work?
  8. What do you see that you would consider a “new model”?

About Kim Cook

Kim Cook joined the Los Angeles/California team of the Nonprofit Finance Fund in 2012 after four years of managing NFF’s arts and culture initiatives for the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States. Her work at NFF has included conducting sector research projects, leading trainings and workshops, re-granting, writing for the NFF national blog, and delivering custom engagements to help clients craft strategy grounded in financial analysis. She came to NFF after six years of free lance consulting and special projects including launching a creative economies project in collaboration with the City of San Jose and the Silicon Valley Arts Council culminating in a new festival of art and technology “ZeroOne”. Kim also spent three years serving as director and dramaturg for a theater project on migrant culture and diaspora with poet Shailja Patel leading to tours in Vienna (2006) and Kenya (2007) and a book, “Migritude” published by Kaya Press in 2010. Kim is an avid learner with expertise areas in strategic management, marketing communications, social enterprise, and the use of electronic media/virtual space. Ms. Cook’s work in the cultural sector encompasses the roles of community convener, artistic director, strategist, and producer. She has a BA in the Performing Arts from California State University and MA in Arts and Consciousness from JFK University. She is a 2004-05 Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; DeVos Institute Fellow. Subsequent to completing her college degrees Kim undertook advanced studies in Economics, Financial Accounting, Strategic Management, United Nations Policy and Politics of the Global Economy. Check out Kim’s posts on the NFF Blog.

Join The Discussion!

  • Tune in on Friday, August 17 at 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Eastern (6:00 p.m. GMT) to participate in the tenth round of #artsmgtchat.
  • Follow @artsmgtchat for questions. You can use TweetChat to follow the discussion. Make sure you use the hashtag #artsmgtchat to be included in the discussion.
  • If you are new to our Twitter chat, please check out our Twitter Chat 101 guide.
  • Bring a colleague to this Friday’s #artsmgtchat.
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3 thoughts on “Squaring Off on New Models in the Arts

  1. Hi Kim!

    What a fantastic topic and set of questions. Institutional bloat, elitism vs outreach, etc etc, so many “old” questions that have fresh perspectives in our new media age.

    I’m looking forward to your TweetChat and the list of questions you proposed.

    And, Hi Ally!
    I love, love, love what you’re doing here at ArtsMgtChat! What a great project, and WOW, week after week, such amazing guest moderators with such compelling topics!

    kk, here’s MY little, hmm, “frustration” or “curiosity” with new media conversation facilitation:

    Kim has written a powerful intro and posted a compelling list of questions. I actually think TweetChat does a “decent” job as a platform to discuss this, but it feels like TweetChat, while better than Facebook status updates, still has a lot of noise for the amount of signal it’s able to carry.

    I’m really curious how you both feel about this medium and if there’s a way to make the conversation by so many smart and informed peeps richer – or if the “problem” lies in my own perception?

    I’ve written a short post on the little conundrum, and would love to hear your thoughts:

    Thanks for all the wonderful work Kim & Ally!

  2. Pingback: Kaiser’s Debate: New Models or Better Management in the Arts? | Mezzaphonically Speaking

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