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In Arts Management, the gift isn't simple
Arts Management is deeply entangled with the cultivation, care, and consequence of giving and of gifts.
NOTE: American University classes start next week, so it’s crazy time for me. I’m re-sharing a “greatest hits” post, originally published on March 7, 2023.
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now?
William Stafford, from “You Reading This, Be Ready”
All arts endeavors are fueled by gifts – whether the gifts of insight and impulse flowing through the artists, or the gifts of time, talent, and treasure that nurture that work into the living world. Arts Management, therefore, is deeply entangled with the cultivation, care, and consequence of giving and of gifts. That turns out to be one of the greatest joys and most durable challenges of a professional life in the arts.
As Lewis Hyde details in The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, artistic expression lives at a complex intersection:
…works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies,” a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.
In any nonprofit arts organization, these two economies are encoded in the operating budget. One category of income is recorded as “earned” – generated through exchange of goods or services. The other category of income is recorded as “contributed” – received as gifts or grants from individuals, foundations, corporations, or governments.
Of course, neither the earned nor the contributed income is purely “market” or “gift.” The impulse for ticket or entry fee purchase is often infused with generosity, joy, and community spirit. As Hyde puts it:
Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price.
And, many (most?) forms of gift or grant income arrive with expectations for positive return – if not in money, then in social, civic, or status outcomes. Any seasoned development professional will tell you that wealth wants things in return for its gift (not always, but often). And our effort to center the donors in creative work, rather than the creative community, gets us in all sorts of trouble.
I often joke that graduate study in Arts Management is equal parts MBA and Master of Divinity. The practice demands a deep understanding of markets and money, of course, but also a durable commitment to the generous, communal, and spiritual core of what we do.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Gifts & Grants
Gifts & Grants involve attracting, securing, aligning, and retaining contributed resources (also called fundraising or development).
Framework of the Week: Connection Concern Capacity
This donor analysis framework from Kay Sprinkel Grace encourages us to look beyond material wealth (capacity) among current and prospective donors to clarify and cultivate their emotional resonance (connection) and their thoughtful attention (concern) to our work.
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