Arts Leadership & Management

By Jenny Clarke

Executive Directors in the non-profit arts sector can affirm that running an arts organization is never plain sailing. Gail force winds and crashing waves blindside arts leadership on a fairly regular basis in the form of lost funding and donors, artistic disappointments, staffing meltdowns, lackluster audiences, facility failures and the constant struggle to make ends meet.

But COVID-19 is a blizzard of all blizzards that has dumped crushing amounts of snow on the entire field and everyone around it – with no thaw in sight.

Analogies aside, surviving the challenges the pandemic has brought is going to require resilience deeper than any Executive Director has ever needed to solve every day dilemmas. And in the way that no two arts organizations are alike, the pathway to survival will look different for each entity.

Executive Directors and their staff members are experts at deflecting bad news in the normal way. When disaster strikes in one area, they are adept at pulling attention towards something that’s going well. A production opening is delayed but the arts education work in the schools is thriving. A big multi-year grant was not renewed but the gala was better than ever.

When the whole operation has been struck into silence and numerous income streams have dried up overnight, it instantly becomes harder to quickly find the “good news.” Messaging in survival mode rather than artistic or institutional growth mode is a lot less “sexy” and might not lift the organization from the crowd of bad news inundating everyone’s e-mail accounts.

So how do we start to build a more positive view and message? The answer, as always, is to make a plan. Figure out what you can do, who can help, what resources are needed, when you can implement each step and how you can communicate your forward-thinking perspectives.

The following is a list of points to consider – some will work for you and others might not. But they may just help you move from a sense of loss and dread to a point of planning for the future – one that may not look the same as the past but perhaps has new possibilities.

  1. Don’t go it alone – find a knowledgeable critical friend to talk to about where things are and how to get through, or create a small group to brainstorm solutions.
  2. Engage your board and look for constructive ways they can help you. Make sure they have the tools to help you raise funds. Keeping the lights on may not incentivize the board member or their donor friends. Focusing on the programs a board member values most and talking about how s/he can help you continue to offer them in the new reality will be more effective.
  3. Take one more look to make sure you’ve maximized all your potential income to date, including: insurance claims; special COVID-19-related grants; other outstanding grants that require reports to receive final payments; outstanding donor pledges and outstanding fees for contracted services.
  4. Dig deep into your organization’s creative minds. Move beyond what you can’t do, even though it’s the main focus of your mission, such as your performance season.

What can you and your staff and artists do to plan for the future? What action can you take now to:

  • Demonstrate your ingenuity and resilience to your board, donors, constituents, community, staff and artists
  • Contribute deeply to your future artistic work

The list of possibilities is endless – here are a few to get you started

  • Continue to explore video, podcasts and radio as a way to share artistic work, such as an artist spotlights, artist demonstrations, choreographer or writer conversations, short masterclasses or demonstrations, and performances
  • Continue to find ways to move education programs online and create a plan for maintaining relationship with schools and communities so that programs can be reinstalled when the time comes
  • Create online “events” or a series of events, which you can promote to your community and beyond on social media and that you can invite donors to support
  • If you are already commissioning, work on your next project – and if you’re not a commissioning organization, look at ways to start. Supporting creative artists at this time is crucial and likely to garner support from your donors
  • Start a new blog series on an aspect of your work and utilize it in social media and in your community to show you are still active. Invite others to contribute to your blog
  • Look beyond your walls and reach out to your local or artistic community to see how you can engage in new ways, through collaboration, sharing resources or planning future projects
  • Explore your archives and see what resources you have which you can utilize to enrich your content while live performance is not possible
  • Create an archive if you don’t already have one

5. Stay in touch with your constituents and donors

  • Don’t be shy about asking for support and contacting your constituents frequently with news about what you are up to
  • Engage your board in raising funds based on your mission and programs and what you are doing to move forward
  • Make contact with your stakeholders as personal as possible

The arts are a truly unique place and the people who lead arts organizations and institutions and those who choose the arts as a career are truly exceptional. Tough as the times are, we will find a way through because for most of us, the arts are what we have to do and in whatever form, we will keep doing it.

For assistance with COVID-19 planning or to discuss your ideas in confidentiality with a “critical friend,” contact Jennifer Clarke, Consulting Partner, Rumohr and Clarke –

By Jenny Clarke. Reposted from the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable blog, December 11, 2014

When the CulturCDP 2al Data Project (CDP) reporting process was rolled out some years ago, it seemed a great idea – arts organizations could complete one comprehensive online report that would work for a slew of grant makers. It didn’t take long for reality to set in. We would in fact be digging really deeply into all aspects of our organization to conduct a comprehensive survey AND the rest of the reporting work didn’t seem to go away. Then there were the scary e-mails from CDP outlining all the errors in our reports and worse than that were phone calls from extremely perky and helpful CDP staffers asking about the intricacies of long-forgotten calculations.

But CDP has been working diligently to turn what was perceived as a burden into a valuable resource. Becoming an independent organization a year ago, CDP is reinforcing its goal to be a “powerful online management tool designed to strengthen arts and cultural organizations.”

New tools have made the online system easier to use and expanded educational offerings help the field use data more effectively to tell the organization’s story.  In addition, CDP is now the holder of a vast collection of original data from the field, which is available for cultural research projects (by application).

CDP is promising more great things ahead, while “building critical information resources and skills that will advance the sector in the future.”  The field will eventually find that what was once a burdensome drain will actually help us tell our stories to funders, audiences, and stake-holders, and will enrich the field. And in any case, those of us who are in New York State now have Grants Gateway to deal with. One day, perhaps, we will appreciate having all our documents in an online vault and realize that it’s good for the sector.


By Jenny Clarke

Reposted from the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable blog, November 1, 2014

This morning, I was looking at images of last night’s Halloween parade in the Village, marveling at the creativity of costumes, puppets, banners, and art on display. It seems as if Halloween brings out our passion for creating an altered persona and world, weaving together creative imagination and a variety of repurposed materials.

These images led me to thinking about the greatest NYC resource in our field for repurposed materials of every conceivable kind, and that is Materials for the Arts (MFTA). If your organization is not registered and you haven’t engaged in MFTA programs or visited the warehouse in Queens, a review of programs and services is highly recommended.

The MThe-warehouseFTA warehouse is operated by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs with additional support from the City’s Departments of Sanitation and of Education. MFTA collects unneeded items from businesses and individuals, and makes these donations available for free to its recipients: nonprofit organizations with arts programming, government agencies, and public schools.

On any visit, you can expect to find stacks and stacks of useful supplies – bolts of fabric, every kind of paper and card, buckets full of buttons, boxes of feathers, paint, wood, furniture, equipment, and almost anything you can think of.


Friends of Materials for the Arts is the nonprofit partner that guides and supports educational programming, warehouse operations, programmatic initiatives and other goals of MFTA. Visit the Friends website to find out more about classes, p-credit courses, and useful resources such as sample lesson plans.

MTFA’s educational programming focuses on creative reuse: making art with readily available materials and the ever-changing MFTA warehouse inventory. The Center hosts programs in two studios, organizes exhibitions of recipient artwork at MFTA Gallery, and sends teaching artists into the community to share the art of reuse. Some examples of programs:

♦ Professional development for teachers workshops help educators learn engaging projects for lessons in all content areas.

♦ Field Trips:  Tour the MFTA warehouse.

♦ In-school residencies: Bring Materials for the Arts to your school or site to enhance and reinforce curricula in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

♦ Art booths and Family Engagement Nights: Creative reuse program or art booth designed for a large audience, or a series of in-class art workshops linked to your curriculum

♦ Public Programs: Exhibitions, open studio nights, and workshops open to the public

♦ Teambuilding Workshops: Volunteer and then work together to create large-scale collaborative art pieces such as quilts, sculptures, or mosaics

There is an application process and applicants need to meet eligibility requirements. Visitors need to make an appointment prior to shopping at the warehouse. Click herefor eligibility and application information.

Materials for the Arts is located at 33-00 Northern Boulevard, 3rd Floor, Long Island City, NY 11101. Click here for hours and directions

For teachers, teaching artists, schools and non-profit arts organizations, the MFTA warehouse is a treasure trove! Enjoy your visit!