Title: The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations
Author: Michael M. Kaiser
Publisher: Brandeis University Press
Publication Date: September 2008
Hardcover: 204 pages
The overwhelmingly positive and inspiring message of Michael Kaiser’s new book, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations, might best be summarized in his statement from the penultimate chapter: “…when you do good art and market it well, you will have the funds to support your art…”
Currently president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mr. Kaiser has earned the sobriquet “the turnaround king” for his success at taking troubled arts organizations from the edge of collapse to new illustrious heights. After success in the business world, he accepted his first appointment as an arts manager with the Kansas City Ballet. He has gone on to manage the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the American Ballet Theater, London’s Royal Opera House, and, since 2001, the Kennedy Center. As president of the Kennedy Center his innovations have led to surpluses in every year of his tenure.
I took an unusually long amount of time reading this book. On every page I lingered over some thought-provoking sentence about arts management or the need for institutional marketing. My copy of the book, less than two months old, is dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted. Probably to the annoyance of my colleagues, I found myself reading passages aloud to anyone who would listen.
For everyone who cares about the arts, and especially those of us who seek a deeper understanding of how to manage truly successful arts organizations, this book is required reading.
A meaningful review could be written simply by reciting some of the quotes I underlined:
… threatening bankruptcy is not the way to create fiscal health.
In only the rarest instance is excessive spending the true root of the problems of an arts organization.
The truth is that the usual culprit is the absence of a dynamic marketing program that conveys the excitement of a thriving artistic program.
The world is littered with companies who were sick and raised extraordinary funds to pay off the debt but did not solve the problems that created the debt and fell back into the hole.
… it is easier to raise funds for a visible organization…
Arts organizations must seriously address the lack of arts education in the public schools.
… too many arts organizations were cutting back on programming just at the time they needed to expand.
In his introduction, Mr. Kaiser lays out ten rules for a turnaround. They are all relevant to the message that symphonic musicians and ICSOM has been articulating. Some of these rules are:
- You cannot save your way to health
- Focus on Today and Tomorrow, not yesterday
- Extend your programming planning calendar
- Marketing is more than brochures and advertisements
Every manager, and especially every serious board member, should read this book.
I noticed that upon the release of this book, some press accounts focused on some negative letters Mr. Kaiser received while in London. I found that coverage to be sensationalistic. In reality, the reference is but a brief passage in this book, and not even a momentary distraction from the message.
Mr. Kaiser appeared at the 2003 ICSOM Conference and delivered a brilliant speech which can be found in the October 2003 issue of Senza Sordino (available online at www.icsom.org). His ICSOM speech touched upon many of the subjects that he explores in depth throughout this book. Two statements in his speech seem even more relevant today:
While the economy is challenging, many arts organizations are thriving. Those organizations are well managed. Most of the others are not.
By knee-jerk reacting to short-term fiscal problems by drastically cutting artistic programming and marketing, one virtually assures additional reduction of revenue in the future.
As we once again face a period of economic difficulties, the message of Mr. Kaiser’s book is perfectly timed. At the 2003 ICSOM Conference, Mr. Kaiser implored that musicians need to better understand “arts management issues” and must “understand balance sheets and income statements and be able to pressure management and boards when they see a developing problem.” He added that “[b]y the time the orchestra is in Chapter 11, it is often too late to act.”
I can think of no better place for musicians to gain a deeper understanding than through this book. I encourage you all to read it, and I hope you’ll be inspired enough to give copies to your manager and board chair.