Fresh thinking about management structures in the arts is shaping business practice. Clare Cooper and Roanne Dods explain how the Mission, Models, Money programme is supporting arts organisations attempting to change.
Governed by an 18th Century board structure borrowed from universities and zoological societies, guided by a 1950s concept of corporate practice, and tugged by a broadening array of revenue streams and constituents, arts administrators have made a craft of contortion, and have made contortion a craft. Alongside the creative and technical professionals, arts administrators have fostered an astounding industry by adapting tools that never quite fit the job, and leveraging resources that never quite fit the need. (Andrew Taylor, Director of the Bolz Centre for Arts Administration.) The Mission, Models, Money (MMM) Programme emerged from a recognition of this reality. The programmes core purpose resonates strongly with what Andrew Taylor goes on to say that it is high time the sector stopped contorting itself to fit the suit (and instead) change the suit to fit our needs. Now in its third phase, MMM is actively exploring the scope for, and challenges of introducing new methods of operation for the arts: business models, infrastructure and ways of funding that are more relevant to our ever changing contemporary environment and better suited to developing the connection between culture and the public we all want to see.
By challenging ingrained assumptions and traditional mindsets, and exploring, developing and promoting new approaches and new solutions, MMM aims to develop greater financial and organisational sustainability among arts and cultural organisations across the UK. There are seven principal issues for arts organisations to consider as a first step (listed in AP 126 and at www.missionmodelsmoney.org.uk). These are issues related to changes in the wider environment, public engagement, strategic alliances, governance, key competencies, financial capacity, and new operating and business models. It will be the evidence-based answers to these questions which will form the basis of MMMs proposed blueprint for a more sustainable arts and cultural ecology, one which has the potential to deliver an ever more healthy, vibrant cultural community.
We are now beginning to map a range of practical barriers and systemic challenges that are blocking the development of organisationally and financially sustainable cultural organisations. Some solutions lie within easy reach. For example, many participants at our road shows have freely admitted that, by and large, the sector is financially illiterate particularly at a strategic level. There is a range of self-assessment and capacity-building tools and pathways that any organisation can take to enhance its financial management, especially at trustee and senior executive level, and the MMM website is building up a set of new materials and links to some of the best of these. Other solutions, for example those tackling issues of governance and corporate structure, need more work. While some organisations are already actively addressing governance development, in general, governance behaviours have not and are not changing to reflect new operating contexts. The level of frustration with boards and the desire for new mindsets around governance appears significant. Given that the existence of a volunteer, non-executive board is so structurally fundamental to most arts organisations, this is sobering. Governance needs to be developed and improved in recognition that the challenges are of a different order to those in the past. These are not just technical challenges, which can be solved by applying managerial expertise and operating procedures more effectively: they are adaptive challenges, where the solution lies outside existing knowledge and which therefore requires new learning1. A series of road shows is now addressing some of the priorities in the contemporary operating environment. The governance challenges faced by each of MMMs exemplar projects (see below) will help develop deeper understanding of the issues faced.
The next model
It is important to note however, that there are many who are now questioning the appropriateness of the one-size-fits-all charity model for all arts organisations. Indeed, in the USA there is a growing impetus behind the suggestion that the not-for-profit model is preventing the development of the adaptive flexible behaviours demanded by the changing world we operate in. Douglas McLennan, editor of ArtsJournal.com, has argued that nonprofits are suffering from a persistent low-grade flu in the form of eroding audiences, sharply rising expenses, and increased competition that may mask more serious structural problems. It may be time to wonder: Has the nonprofit business model... outlived its usefulness?2
Charlie Leadbeater has also proposed in his essay for ACEs 21st Century Programme, that arts organisations should be encouraged to re-consider their corporate structures and explore a widening array of models that mix being open and closed, collaborative and competitive, public and private, large and small, and that funders should encourage the development of this exploration by agreeing to fund different business models3. The development and implementation of new corporate structures is a major issue with massive change implications and more work needs to be done on both problem analysis and solutions.
Another complex issue faced by arts and cultural organisations is the development of the management talent pool. Recent research in the workplace suggests that 60% of positions require a range of multiple intelligences that only 30% of the population possess. Whilst a significant injection of energy and resource is going in to the development of the next generation of leaders, with initiatives such as the Clore Leadership Programme, many of the barriers cultural organisations face in adapting to the changing external environment lie at the top end of management and at trustee level where leadership is trapped in old ways of thinking, rooted in the past not the future. All seven strands of MMMs programme are directed at trustees and senior executives in the arts and in funding organisations.
But how are organisations on the front line of change tackling these and other challenges? Significant financial input from HM Treasurys Invest to Save Budget, together with a major commitment from Accenture, the global technology and management consultancy, involving extensive senior personnel time and £100,000 in cash, has enabled delivery of MMMs Exemplar Projects. Seven organisations varying in scale, approach and geography, were selected, each on the point of making major step changes in working practices in areas congruent with MMMs seven principal issues. Five of the seven have received a financial investment and all seven are benefiting from a unique evaluation methodology, devised in partnership with Accenture and the International Futures Forum, which will lead to the creation of effective case study accounts. The learning that emerges from this process will contribute to the development of a simple sustainability toolkit which will be shared with the wider sector. Below and overleaf, three of these exemplar projects describe some of the practical barriers and deep systemic challenges that they are facing and share their learning to date.
MMMs exemplar projects are Aegis Trust/Holocaust Centre, LIFT, Manchester Camerata, MLA Yorkshire, South East Dance, Thirst/Audiences Yorkshire, Watershed. Full descriptions of each project plus more information on MMM can be found at
1 Governance as Jazz: meeting the adaptive challenge Paul Skidmore, Kirsten Bound, Demos 2005
3 www.artscouncil.org.uk/documents/projects/ artsorganisations21c_phpiupWdN.doc