Magazine article American Theatre

THE BIG ASK: Artistic Directors Are Increasingly Involved in Fundraising. Is That Now Officially Part of the Job Description?

Magazine article American Theatre

THE BIG ASK: Artistic Directors Are Increasingly Involved in Fundraising. Is That Now Officially Part of the Job Description?

Article excerpt

in RECENT YEARS, THE FISCAL REALITIES of keeping a nonprofit theatre company operating "in the black" have required artistic directors to play a more active role in fundraising. Inevitably, this reduces the amount of time A.D.s have for such fundamental artistic duties as fulfilling the organization's mission, planning the season, and so on. This has been exacerbated in part by the growing reliance on contributions from individual donors, as corporate, foundation, and government funding has been dwindling.

Stephen J. Albert, a veteran consulting and search-firm executive with Albert Hall & Associates (who died in late December, after we spoke), remembered a time when "an organization could operate on just a few large national grants." But changes in the funding environment mean that organizations have had to focus on individuals, who by nature are responsive to in-person cultivation, requiring prolonged relationship-building in preparation for requests for support. Institutional donors may also respond to the personal touch, but most rely more heavily on written proposals and financial statements prepared by development and business office staff. With individual donors, the development officer is not the person they want to meet--it's the artistic director.

"The artistic director is often 'the face of the theatre,' and because of that, she is the person most people want to meet," said Emily Mann, artistic leader of Princeton, N.J.'s McCarter Theatre Center for the past 26 years. "I think the artistic director's time should be used judiciously. But it is part of the artistic director's job to represent the theatre, not only with major donors but with all members of the community. The idea is to grow single-ticket buyers into donors and subscribers, igniting interest and excitement in being a member at her particular institution."

Albert agreed, saying, "Artistic directors are our stars. What has changed is that they also need to be civic leaders. This is a new profile for the next generation. We have moved away from the period where it was enough to do great work which would ensure funding. The artistic director is the personality who personifies the mission and makes it feel vibrant to the community."

Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles for the past 12 years (following his leadership tenure at Massachusetts's Williamstown Theatre Festival), puts the situation more urgently.

"Everyone in our building is ostensibly a fundraiser," he said. "That's the new reality for nonprofit theatres. We are all more dependent than ever on the success of our fundraising efforts. Fundraising is no longer optional for an artistic director; it's an imperative."

In an August 2017 American Theatre online article reporting on artistic leadership succession, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher suggested a reason for the new urgency: the global economic crisis of a decade ago. "Any artistic director who gets hired today will also be expected to go out and raise an awful lot of money," said Schumacher, who spent five years on staff at the Mark Taper Forum. "That's just different."

Current job descriptions are candid about this decidedly unartistic job responsibility. For example, last fall's posting for the soon-to-be-vacant job of artistic director at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company clearly stated, "The artistic director will have an important role in cultivation and solicitation of major donors and foundations." The same posting, prepared by Management Consultants for the Arts, noted that candidates should have "a clear comfort level, if not actual experience, in interacting with donors and potential donors, especially individuals and foundations; the ability to express artistic intention in written grant proposals and elsewhere is desirable."

I'VE WORKED IN DEVELOPMENT FOR A NUMBER OF NON-profit arts organizations, and over the years some have asked how I came to be a good fundraiser. …

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