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division of authority - diminishing a director's discretion

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#1 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 08:13 AM

okay, so i'll try to make sense here. keeping a general picture in mind, (though you may draw what parallels you like, i won't be specific.) certain cfos or ceos may genuinely think they are bringing a brand new world to arts administration by managing to have themselves given authority in a circle that in many cases was previously an artistic director's domain entirely. they may have it in their heads that since many companies run deficits, the only way to avoid those deficits is to adopt an entirely corporate or business-based model for an organization that may, in their minds, have previously been run entirely on the basis of whim (although in my opinion most directors are much more responsible than such people realize, cost-wise).

i suspect an idea like that might be easy to sell to a board that's a little scared about where their money is going, and that of their friends. but in my opinion, and i would love to hear from others, what it generally results in is the same problem pointed in another direction. away from art, your organization may seem more organized, but art sells the tickets, brings in the audience, brings in the patrons, and you could end up being a very well organized group that doesn't sell and thereby organizes itself out of existence.

in an atmosphere organized around this trend, for instance, a dancer like nureyev could not survive anymore, genius or not, because a pool of corporate decisionmakers would decide that artistic temperament was not profitable to deal with, and would make an example out of such a one, at the same time avoiding having responsibility for that being laid on the shoulders of one person by making it a decision by committee that most probably includes non-artists. and i think that a good artistic director has to have a foot in both places, both business and art, even if someone else is balancing the books; a responsible artistic director knows what the budget is and works hard to keep within it, and a lot of them do well.

however, you cannot legislate all uncertainties and you cannot entirely eliminate risk, and risk is not the sole provenance of artists. corporate re-organization cannot sell tickets the public doesn't want to buy. the public's perception is just as important as any other factor in a company's success, even though it might be difficult for an organization with such a mind-set to deal with, because it cannot be controlled. and in the end, a company succeeds or doesn't succeed on the strength of that public, and not on whether or not its administration is run on a typical corporate business model. i don't think most such administrations think of art and business as partners, but of art as a stepchild of sorts, that if it works, serves to justify their existence, instead of as a symbiotic type of relationship. i don't think it's going to work finally; in the end, i think these groups will either cease to exist or have to radically reorganize yet again. (aren't you glad you didn't ask what i thought?)

[This message has been edited by Mme. Hermine (edited March 22, 2001).]

#2 cargill


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Posted 22 March 2001 - 09:37 AM

I think Nurevey could probably survive in the new corporate environment, as long as he brought in the audiences. But what probably wouldn't happen is any exciting, interesting choreography being created for him, just more of the whatever will sell or , as of now, attract the "new, hip, audience." Arts administration is a very fine line, I think. Clearly, the artistic director (who is usually I believe a choreographer or sorts), can't cavalierly spend other people's money, but arts administrators can't really believe that the arts can be run exactly like businesses. (Though I do think we are being sold "New Coke" a lot of times.) The most successful model, it seems to me, other than Diaghilev the great exception, has been the European royal court, and clearly the choreographer was not solely in charge. He had to answer to the taste of the audience, but he also didn't have to worry so much about the administrative details. To some extent, I think, this model was followed in the Kirstein/Balanchine era. If you have people of genius, judgement and good taste (with some family money!), you will probably get good art. And if there aren't many good choreographers around, you will get solid revivals of good work to serve as a model/inspiration for the future. If not, no matter what corporate model you follow, you will get derrivative shlock. I am sure there were plenty of dukes with bad taste who put on bad ballets, but they haven't survived.

#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 12:26 PM

i might also add that i don't believe a ballet company can be run successfully by committee, even if that committee were to consist of ten great artists.

#4 mbjerk


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Posted 22 March 2001 - 01:32 PM

If you look at businesses such as General Electric, there is an artistic director of sorts (Jack Welch)whose inspiration builds new and exciting products (dances) and trains employees (dancers) in his style.

Most successfull businesses began as someone's passion to build a better mousetrap (or make a better dance). In earlier times (much government/private dance funding)the pressure to succeed from a financial standpoint was greater in business than dance earlier. This is changing as the arts lose funding sources and find revivals keep the seats full.

Our loss is that dance makers no longer have the opportunity to create and create. Today there is often a one shot mentality - if it works, change the wrapper and make more. If it does not, then bring back something that did.

Here we can learn from businesses. They bring new products (ballets) using the funds from older reliable products (Nuts). They must grow audiences or lose out to the competition. In dance we often overlook this aspect due to the use of such funds to operate versus create. Or at least sometimes fail to see how new work and better marketing can increase audience.

Sorry to ramble....

#5 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 03:32 PM

yes, i see your point. however in most cases, for instance, such as in a large computer business, or any great manufacturer of a widely used product, the person who is at the head of the company is one who at one time used to be intimately involved with the making of the product, and that's not what i mean here. these are people, mostly men, with master's degrees in business, who are interfering badly with the production of something they don't know from the ground up. do i think a business person should advise an artistic director about what they know? sure! if the company's not selling tickets, then of course the company will have less money, depending on how much of their revenue comes from ticket sales. a company which sells fewer and fewer tickets will attract fewer and fewer donors. but i feel that the job, in that case, of the money manager is to bring this to the attention of the artistic director and confer with him/her about what might put those bodies back into the seats, and ask that person to see how that sort of thing fits into what they want to do. but not to dictate, not to emasculate, not to turn a ballet company into a model of a baseball team, where the general manager is george steinbrenner, the dancers are the yankees, and the artistic director is joe torre, who has to manage the players that someone else has chosen for him, without any real decision making power as to who they are. that's what i mean. with people like that making decisions, cargill is right, you'll get schlock. and even with someone making decisions who's "kind of" in a related business, who's been around and thinks that they know enough to make those decisions, you're running a great big risk. and this applies everywhere!! IMHO. of course. Posted Image

#6 Michael


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Posted 22 March 2001 - 08:06 PM

A major ballet company needs a strong, dominant personality in control, and that person must (I think) be ballet master or artistic director. It doesn't matter what you call it so long as they are choosing and training the dancers, running or at least overseeing company class, choosing the work and overseeing the stagings. If you have the right dominant personality, it works well.

Power abhors a vacuum. Someone must be in charge and, since it's ballet you are staging, it damn well better be someone who is steeped in that craft.

[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited March 22, 2001).]

#7 felursus


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Posted 22 March 2001 - 08:53 PM

I agree with Cargill that a Nureyev would survive under any type of management style - perhaps ESPECIALLY in a corporate-style environment because of the marketing value of a 'star'. If a corporation is flogging a star, who cares about the product? So a well-marketed "star" will sell tickets despite the quality of the medium (i.e. ballet in this case). I can give you an example: the RB had a ballet for Fonteyn and Nureyev which probably ranks as one of the world's worst, but it sold tickets because of their star draw-power. (I'm thinking of 'Paradise Lost'.)

The problem with a purely corporate structure in the arts is that BAR a major star like Nureyev (and there simply aren't any of those out there these days)they have to cater to public taste in order to sell tickets. Yes, a good arts organization should also be in the business of EDUCATING taste. That's why there are triple/quadruple bills. But the idea that you can line up dancers like battery hens and expect them to 'produce' on command, and to have an artistically un-educated corporate drone set artistic policy (even with help from those better educated than him/herself) will lead to a mediocre company producing mediocre works in a mediocre fashion. Great works of art have always been the result of a certain amount of "daring". You cannot run a great arts organization and refuse to take risk. Diaghlev took risks all the time. Of course it was his money and the money of his rich friends, but the results are there for all of us to see.

A corporate drone will not want to take any risk at all. His board, as Mme. Hermine has said will be fearful of losing their investments. After all why are the board members there: because they love ballet? because they like the prestige of being associated with an arts organization? a bit of both? Surely most if not all of them are interested in the prestige that is usually attached to such positions. But in order for it to BE prestigious, the general public needs to perceive it that way. So our corporately-structured arts organization has to CONVINCE the general public that the organization is a great thing. How?MARKETING!!! (And who was it on this board who was somewhat offended by slick marketing of the arts? If I tried I could write really slick copy for most full-length ballets, and I could work on the "abstract" ones, too. Hey, this could be a topic for another thread! Posted Image ) Creative advertising, and manipulation of the media could be used to convince the public that what is being offered is what they MUST see. In order for this approach to work, however, one needs to cater to the lowest common denominator - not something that is condusive to great art. Not something condusive to creating a great ballet company.

#8 Alexandra


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Posted 22 March 2001 - 09:52 PM

I think the point that ballet companies are being managed by people who do not know the product is perhaps the most important one, and I predict this won't last.

An analogy. About 15 years ago, many cities had two or three hometown department stores, usually family-owned. These were bought up by corporations, then sold, then sold again, as corporations sought to diversify and expand their holdings. Washington had two such stores; both are now gone. The fourth, or fifth, owners had no clue how to run department stores, and so they ran them into the ground, then bailed.

It will, of course, be blamed on ballet -- old-fashioned art form, only old people in the audience, an art form that became stale. This may be true, but the reasons will not be the ones given.

I fault the new managers. If someone came to me and asked me to be the CEO of a shoe factory, or a grocery store, I would have the decency to say no thank you. Wearing shoes and buying food might make me more qualified than some of these clowns, who have barely seen a ballet.

(Anyone interested in the long saga of what happens to a ballet company when taken over by the president of an amusement park and the undersecretary of defense is welcome to try my Bournonville in Hell pieces on the main site. They're in the Bournonville Archive, link on the home page.)

#9 Amy Reusch

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Posted 29 March 2001 - 01:02 AM

Originally posted by felursus:
I agree with Cargill that a Nureyev would survive under any type of management style - perhaps ESPECIALLY in a corporate-style environment because of the marketing value of a 'star'.

Anyone else enjoying the mental image of Nureyev in a committee meeting? I suppose he must have been in some when he directed the Paris Opera, but still his temperment seems like it would be the ultimate wildcard to make for electric committee meetings.

Speaking of reputations of strong temperment, does anyone have any buzz about why Lou Conte retired from Hubbard Street?

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