What's the Same about the Arts & State Government?

As I was leaving my health club last week, I happened to hear the end of an interview on one of the early morning financial shows with the Governor of Delaware, Jack Markell. And what I heard made me think that the situation in state government is in many ways similar to the arts, but the narrative is very different.

Markell said that he was proud of the fact that during his administration he had reduced the size of Delaware’s government by about 1,000 workers, out of a total of 15,000. He admitted that that that number didn’t sound very impressive, but the fact is that when the economy goes south, people’s need for goverment goes up, so it’s hard to cut staff in times like these.

In the arts and pretty much any live events, similarly, it’s hard to cut costs and still do what you do. You can’t do a Mahler symphony with 35 musicians, and you can’t do “Twelve Angry Men” with a cast of five. So we, just like goverment, know that no matter how bad the economy is, there aren’t easy ways to cut costs.

Markell then went on to say “that’s why we are going to wring out all the inefficiencies we can out of our system.”  In essence he’s saying that if government systems and operations can be made more efficient, that’s the same as increasing your budget. That was pretty much his whole pitch — the only place to improve is in the area of efficiency.

The truth is we’re in the efficiency business ourselves, since efficiency is one of the key benefits of our new PatronManager CRM. It’s technology that enables naturally occuring collaboration, so staff can work faster and smarter and waste less time.

So, as I left the health club, I began to wonder, why isn’t efficiency a major topic at every arts conference?  Why don’t we discuss this with as much gusto as we talk about audience development? Maybe, in addition to artistic and innovation awards, should there be awards for executive directors who can build their organizations and increase efficiency at the same time?

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