Looking Forward. A Good Read.

I hope you are all doing well and are adapting to a new reality that is still unfolding. It looks like my statement last month that the COVID-19 outbreak would have a “significant impact on arts and cultural organizations” was an epic understatement. I have lost track of how many emails I have had from arts organizations about canceled or postponed performances or exhibits. The next few months are going to give us a clearer picture of the toll of this pandemic; however, the prognosis, at this point, does not look good for the arts and culture sector.

As I pondered what to post this month, I thought it might be helpful to look ahead at what can be done to help arts organizations adapt to what will no doubt be an altered arts ecosystem. I also thought you might want to consider reading a fascinating book about an arts organization’s rise and fall and the artists, managers, and leaders who were front and center in its operation.

Looking Forward

The short article “Remake the Model” appeared in Inside Philanthropy recently, and offered seven ideas and talking points on what arts organizations can do as they go forward. Several different perspectives were offered about possible opportunities that might come out of this crisis. For example, the financial fragility of arts organizations, especially those highly dependent on ticket sales or admissions revenue, cannot be addressed without shifting funder and donor priorities and expectations. However, it is not clear what pathways exist to engage in a serious conversation about altering the current funding model for the arts in America. The push to quickly get back to the business of being in business may crowd out a serious reassessment of what could actually change.

Good Read About the NYC Opera

I have been enjoying reading Heid Waleson’s 2018 book Mad Scenes and Exit Arias – The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America. It is not often that we have a chance to read about a cultural organization’s story arc over 70 years. There are countless details about artistic decisions, production snafus, union conflicts, budget crisis’, and fundraising miracles that anyone interested in arts management will find engaging and enlightening. And while the NYC Opera has made a comeback, it has had to make substantial changes to the scope of its operations. Waleson offers recommendations about the business of opera as she asks other “existential questions” about its future in America and around the world.

That’s it for this month. Stay safe and thanks for subscribing to these updates.

Bill Byrnes


“Remake the Model.” Philanthropy and the Arts After Coronavirus

By Mike Scutari – insidephilanthropy.com – March 27, 2020

As arts funders navigate the opening stages of what will be a prolonged effort to stem the impact of COVID-19, many are already looking beyond the pandemic.

As A Blade of Grass Executive Director Deborah Fisher told me, “In the long term, I think that there are much bigger questions about how arts economies function and how they are valued. This is something that philanthropy and arts institutions can and should meaningfully address together.”

What should this conversation look like?

Link to article: https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2020/3/27/remake-the-model-philanthropy-and-the-arts-after-coronavirus


Mad Scenes and Exit Arias – The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America.

(2018) Heidi Waleson, NY, NY. Metropolitan Books.

From the book jacket:

In October 2013, the arts world was rocked by the news that the New York City Opera—“the people’s opera”—had finally succumbed to financial hardship after 70 years in operation. The company had been a fixture on the national opera scene—as the populist antithesis of the grand Metropolitan Opera, a nurturing home for young American talent, and a place where new, lively ideas shook up a venerable art form. But NYCO’s demise represented more than the loss of a cherished organization: it was a harbinger of massive upheaval in the performing arts—and a warning about how cultural institutions would need to change in order to survive.

Ordering information:

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Macmillian Publishers