Casting Your Long Range Plan
The cast of characters for Arts Planning has nine different and inter-related individuals or groups in it. Each of the nine plays a part of high or low intensity at various points during the process; but each individual or group must be committed to planning well. I like to think of the nine individuals/groups as a triangle or pyramid (as in the display at the end of this article), because this format shows both pinnacle (ultimate responsibility) and breadth (the broadest involvement in the planning universe).
Here are the nine parts of the cast:
1. CEO(s). This person or pair of persons (executive director or executive and artistic director) is/are ultimately responsible for the creation of the plan and for its realization. As Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here." There must be a person or pair of persons who are in charge of the plan because they are in charge of the organization. They answer for it.
2. STAFF. Working directly with the CEO(s) and forming a kind of "kitchen cabinet" in the planning process should be a few key staff members. On the artistic side, perhaps an associate artistic director (who may be a link between Artistic Director and all the artists of the institution), and perhaps a Technical Director or Chief Designer who can represent space/facility concerns. On the administrative side, at least two people who concentrate on the institution's relationship with the outside world (Director of Public Relations or Marketing and Director of Development) are essential planning participants. Another might be the General Manager, because he or she concentrates on paying for what the institution does and may want to do in the future.
3. ARTISTS. In an artistic organization, these are the people who do the work that expresses the purpose: and so they must be included in the planning process. Perhaps half a dozen musicians of a symphony orchestra, or the same number of actors or dancers, or artists represented in a museum's collection, or faculty members of an arts academy. The few artists on the planning team should be chosen by perhaps all the artists of the organization to represent and speak for all the artists in the institution.
5. STEERING COMMITTEE. A committee of the Board of Directors, established by the Board to work closely with CEO(s) and staff and consultant in managing the planning process. These people represent the Board in the process and the institution to the world beyond. It should be a small committee -- no more than five or six people; and it could be the Executive Committee of the Board. But there are advantages to a Board putting together a committee specifically for planning and not limited to Executive Committee people. There might also be advantages in including on the committee a couple non-Board people: individuals from beyond the immediate family of the institution who have special relationships and strengths in the community.
6. BOARD. The full Board of Directors, who after all have the ultimate civic responsibility for the institution, must be involved in the planning process. They should be making the final decisions of the plan, and they should be speaking up in public in its defense. But they need not be constantly or even heavily involved; after all, they are represented in the process by the Steering Committee.
The individuals/groups listed so far are all people within the operating structure of the institution: its own people. The next two are groups outside this structure but essential to it:
8. ORGANIZATIONAL ALLIES AND POTENTIAL PARTNERS. These are other comparable groups that represent possible alliances for the institution. In good planning, it is very important to consider how the actions of your institution might affect others, and how others' plans might affect yours. This group might involve half a dozen or 8-12 others. If you're a major Boston institution (like the Boston Symphony), then probably the groups should include other majors like the Boston Ballet and Boston Lyric Opera and Museum of Art, plus other music presenters like Handel/Haydn. If you're the Actors Theatre of Louisville, then this group should probably include the Kentucky Center for the Arts and its constituents like Kentucky Opera. If you're the Brooklyn Museum of Art, then probably the #8 group should include the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Brooklyn Historical
Society (other major institutions in the borough), plus the Metropolitan Museum and MoMA and Whitney and Guggenheim museums (your primary competition in Manhattan). You might also want to include in your #8 group a range of organizations outside the arts but very important in the eleemosynary community, like colleges/universities/libraries/hospitals. The point behind the #8 group is to have on your side other institutions of the community who are aware of your plans and who know how your future might affect theirs.
9. CONSUMERS. This is the biggest group: your audience. You do not want these people determining your plan! But you do want them to be involved in the process, through surveying them and finding out whether you are meeting their needs and how you might better serve them. Probably a questionnaire sent to subscribers or members and/or given to other attenders is the best way to reach your audience; and there might also be a few focus groups or roundtables at which people who've answered the questionnaire are further involved.
It will be noted that #4 and #7 were left out - because these two are a person (#4) and group (#7) that are outside the confines of the institution but may be essential to the planning process.
4. CONSULTANT. Is one needed? Naturally, as a person who has helped many arts institutions in planning their futures, I believe people should use a consultant; but some organizations decide they can do without one. The advantage of using a consultant is that he or she brings a perspective from beyond: experience with how other institutions have planned, and awareness of what the core questions might be. The longer I work as a consultant, the more I realize that answers are easy - it's the questions that are tough! A good consultant helps in defining the questions to be answered, and then helps the institution discover the correct answers for itself.
In planning, a consultant should be engaged by the Board to work with the CEO(s) and Steering Committee. He/she should propose a structure and schedule for planning - and should be present on a regular basis for set periods of time. If the consultant is an "out-of-towner," then he/she might be better able to bring to the task a different and neutral perspective, which should be an advantage.
Key assignments for a consultant are: to facilitate board and staff retreats; to create the questionnaire for audience and analyze its data; to lead audience focus groups; to join with the CEO(s) in meetings with Organizational Allies and Potential Partners; to draft the final plan and revise it after meeting with Steering Committee and/or Board. The consultant and CEO(s) are partners in the work.
7. FUNDERS. A key part of planning is to relate what the future will be to those sources that pay for it; and that makes Funders essential to the process. You need ways to talk to those who provide unearned income (corporations, foundations, local/state/federal agencies, even individual givers). For the biggest arts institutions with many corporate and foundation sponsors, a printed questionnaire prepared by the consultant may be useful; but even then, face-to-face meetings are no doubt best: people like talking to the person who uses their money (i.e. the CEO).
The planning process begins with an agreement between the CEO(s) and the Board to undertake it. The Board appoints the Steering Committee and hopefully engages the consultant, who works with the CEO(s) to organize the necessary research. In a small institution with limited resources and limited time, planning might proceed with only #1-3 and #6 (no Consultant or Steering Committee). For larger institutions with greater resources and more time (at least a year, and maybe fifteen to eighteen months), all nine parts are important.
There is no official set calendar for Arts Planning, no exact schedule of what to do when. The CEO(s) and Consultant should be involved throughout the process, as is the Steering Committee on behalf of the Board. The Board gets regular reports from the Steering Committee, and might be involved in a retreat part way through to look at findings and decide on further steps; and the Board should be final determiners of what the plan will be (before the writer drafts it). Staff and Artists are best involved early on, in the "definitional" first third of time. Consumers/audience should probably be involved from the end of the first third through the second; and Funders and Organizational Allies and Potential Partners at end of second and beginning of third. By half-way through the final third of time, conclusions should be reached (in a second board retreat), so that the last third's second half can be used by the writer to draft and finalize the plan.
It is probably best to finish with a major public meeting, at which the CEO(s) and Consultant present the plan. Very prominent and visible at this meeting should be the Steering Committee, and as many Board as possible, plus representatives of all other constituencies that have been involved in the process. Organizational Allies and Potential Partners are key here, too: the more of them present, the better for public relations.
The essence of good planning is good talking. It is surprisingly simple: an extended conversation among the constituencies of an institution. When the right people are asking the right questions, and those people are finding their own answers (not the consultant's), then the institution is planning well.
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