BRIGHT SPOTS

“Too much in the media was about what wasn’t working [in the nonprofit cultural sector]…we wanted to shine a light on what was.”

- Sue M. Coliton, Paul G. Allen Foundation Vice-President

INTRODUCTION

The operating environment for nonprofit cultural organizations today is daunting. Demographic shifts, changing participation patterns, evolving technology, increased competition for consumer attention, rising costs of doing business, shifts in the philanthropic sector and public funding, and the lingering recession form a stew of change and uncertainty. Every cultural organization is experiencing a combination of these shifts, each in its own way. Yet, while some organizations are struggling in this changing context, others are managing to stay healthy and dynamic while operating under the same conditions as their peers. These groups are observable exceptions, recognized by their peers as achieving success outside the norm in their artistic program, their engagement of community, and/or their financial stability. These are the “bright spots” of the cultural sector. In partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we set out to learn:

Who are they?
What are they doing differently?
What can we learn by studying their behavior?

The operating environment for nonprofit cultural organizations today is daunting. Demographic shifts, changing participation patterns, evolving technology, increased competition for consumer attention, rising costs of doing business, shifts in the philanthropic sector and public funding, and the lingering recession form a stew of change and uncertainty. Every cultural organization is experiencing a combination of these shifts, each in its own way. Yet, while some organizations are struggling in this changing context, others are managing to stay healthy and dynamic while operating under the same conditions as their peers. These groups are observable exceptions, recognized by their peers as achieving success outside the norm in their artistic program, their engagement of community, and/or their financial stability. These are the “bright spots” of the cultural sector. In partnership with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we set out to learn:

Who are they?
What are they doing differently?
What can we learn by studying their behavior?

  • Clients

  • PROJECT

  • WHAT WE DID

The Work

They have a clear purpose and a compelling vision, delivered through distinctive, relevant, high quality programs that excite people. Bright spots know they must have a compelling reason to exist at this particular moment in time.

Bright Spots operate in and of their communities, and they possess a deep understanding of their role as civic leaders. Their civic engagement is not motivated just by a desire to build audiences, but rather by a concern for the health and vitality of their community and  their desire to be good citizens.

They are sponges for information and are brutally realistic in assessing their circumstances. As a result, they see possibilities where others don’t.They use multiple perspectives and types of data to help them formulate the right questions, generate possibilities and shape and adjust strategy.

Bright spots are nimble and flexible about how they realize their mission, and very little about the organizational form is too precious to change. They are so clear about their core purpose and why it matters that they can be flexible and unsentimental about how they do it.

The leaders of bright spot cultural organizations distribute authority and responsibility across the organization and practice transparent decision-making.  They encourage leadership in all parts of the organization, cultivate younger staff members and have a strong vision that inspires others to rally around it. 

They have a clear purpose and a compelling vision, delivered through distinctive, relevant, high quality programs that excite people. Bright spots know they must have a compelling reason to exist at this particular moment in time.

Bright Spots operate in and of their communities, and they possess a deep understanding of their role as civic leaders. Their civic engagement is not motivated just by a desire to build audiences, but rather by a concern for the health and vitality of their community and  their desire to be good citizens.

They are sponges for information and are brutally realistic in assessing their circumstances. As a result, they see possibilities where others don’t.They use multiple perspectives and types of data to help them formulate the right questions, generate possibilities and shape and adjust strategy.

Bright spots are nimble and flexible about how they realize their mission, and very little about the organizational form is too precious to change. They are so clear about their core purpose and why it matters that they can be flexible and unsentimental about how they do it.

The leaders of bright spot cultural organizations distribute authority and responsibility across the organization and practice transparent decision-making.  They encourage leadership in all parts of the organization, cultivate younger staff members and have a strong vision that inspires others to rally around it. 

Conclusion

There is much talk these days about “innovation,” “breaking the mold,” “getting out of the box,” and discovering new approaches to management in the arts and cultural sector. Bright spots are certainly good improvisers and they demonstrate a lot of creativity in responding to their individual challenges, but our research suggests that bright spots are first and foremost adept in the fundamentals.