The price of fun. First-time managers. Small theater company survival.

For this update, I found three recent stories that can be used for discussions on economics, leadership, and organizations adapting, or not to changing environments.  

Ticket Pricing

The short article and graphic from The Economist magazine 1843 show ticket price comparisons you don’t normally come across. As the author points out, “The price of fun is far higher in America than elsewhere,” which makes sense given the different public and private funding structures for the arts in the U.S. If nothing else, this story can prompt a discussion about what prices are being charged for arts events in your respective communities. However, if you want to take a deeper dive into ticketing pricing, I suggest you consider Michael Ruston’s book Strategic Pricing for the Arts. It was published in 2015 after the 5th edition of Management and the Arts came out, and so there is no mention of it in chapter 10, “Economics and Financial Management.” Rushton takes the reader through a comprehensive and methodical approach to pricing that can be applied to all kinds of arts and cultural organizations. I would strongly urge using Ruston’s book when you are working on chapter 10 with your students.

First-Time Manager?

There are no new ground-breaking insights in the article on first-time managers, but in a way, that’s the point of including it in this month’s update. These seven first-time manager areas of concern keep coming back regularly because of their universality. Whether you work in a small nonprofit arts organization or a big business, you are likely to encounter these situations. Many of my former students have shared with me their stories of grappling with getting respect when they moved to a management capacity, or I heard about their struggles with setting boundaries with their former co-workers. I think including this topic in discussions connected to chapter 8, “Leadership in the Arts,” would be a good idea. It is always useful to stress the need for future arts managers and leaders to develop their social skills if they want to be effective wherever they work.

Financial Pressures on Small Theater Organizations

The article about the struggle to sustain small to medium-sized theater companies in the Houston area can be a good discussion starter about the arts ecology of a community. The issues of audience development, finding and cultivating a donor base, and the impact of changing economic environments in a city can be explored at multiple levels.

The theater company featured in this article is shutting down (Horse Head – “committed to producing Houston, regional and world premieres”) over revenue shortfalls. It appears they have been doing interesting work, but they haven’t been able to secure grants or fundraise enough to keep the doors open. I looked at the Horse Head website, and I was frankly underwhelmed. I thought they would have had a more robust site after ten years. The “Support” link lists several whimsically titled donor levels and a modest list of Sponsors. Clearly, some people found Horse Head worthy of their support. What I didn’t find was a way to make a gift. I then checked their profile on GuideStar, and there was very little useful information to be found about the company. However, what I did find was this notice:

This organization’s exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS on October 15, 2018 for failure to file a Form 990/990EZ/990N/990PF for 3 consecutive years. While this organization may still appear on the Publication 78 and/or IRS BMF, further investigation and due diligence is warranted.

This bit of information shines a new light on the plight of the Horse Head Theater Company. Now I see why they might not have a donation link on their website. Maybe some of their problems extended beyond fundraising? Having your exempt status revoked would not instill my confidence in the management of the organization if I were a prospective donor. Clearly there is more going on with this theater company’s finances than the reporter of this story is bringing the reader’s attention.

For a fuller picture of the arts ecology of the Houston area, I suggest you go to the Houston Arts Alliance website and then follow the “What We Do” link. The most recent report (FY17) provides evidence of an extensive list of organizations and individual artists who were funded (see pages 16 to 22) by HAA. You and your students can reach your own conclusions about how robust the arts funding system is in Houston. On paper, it seems to look pretty strong.

Thanks again for reading this blog and best wishes.

Bill Byrnes


The Price of Fun

James Tozer | Feb./Mar. 2019 | The Economist 1843 Magazine

If the best things in life are supposed to be free, the best days out rarely are. A trip to the “happiest place on Earth” (or Disneyland’s resort in California, as the grown-ups who have to fork out usually call it) will cost a family of four about $500 (£390) in tickets. And that’s before you’ve shelled out for hotdogs and sugary delights, snapshots of your loved ones riding a flying Dumbo, and a hotel with fairy-tale turrets. Don’t expect those thrills to get any cheaper, either. The entry fee to Disney’s American theme parks has risen by nearly 40% in the last decade – even after adjusting for inflation – and has quadrupled since the 1970s.

For the rest of the short article and a graph of the event costs go to:


What I Wish I’d Known as a First-Time Manager

Advice from 10 people on stepping into a brand-new leadership role

Anna Goldfarb, Medium, February 7, 2019

Your first management position will probably come with some growing pains. Sure, it’s exciting to land a larger office, new title, and pay bump, but all those things come with new expectations. You’re held to a different standard now: In addition to doing your job, you’re also supposed to be a leader, coach, and mentor to your subordinates — and you probably shouldn’t be letting off steam with them in the break room or participating in office gossip sessions.

The transition can be especially tricky if your employees don’t respect you, if there’s any kind of personality clash, or if you don’t have adequate support. It can feel overwhelming to navigate. It can be lonely.

To read the responses go to:


Small theaters face closure as affordable space heads for the exits

Wei-Huan Chen, Feb. 26, 2019 | Updated: Feb. 28, 2019 11:04 p.m. | Houston Chronicle

For its last performance, Horse Head Theatre Co. decided to go morbid. In early February, the group staged “We’re Gonna Die,” the title not only a reference to humanity’s fate but also an acknowledgment that, after a decade of surviving as an organization, it now must shut down.

Horse Head Theatre, considered one of Houston’s more daring professional theater companies, was hit last year with a dismal financial reality: the lack of public grants and insufficient individual donations.

“There’s no money, so there’s not going to be art,” said Jacey Little, the company’s artistic director. “It’s really depressing. But that’s the reality.”

For the rest of the story go to: