Birkun Productions - Blogs
Dancing - How to Choose the Right Partner to Share the Stage
Visual artists expend long hours considering potential partners for planned exhibits and possible gallery venues. Likewise, Actors, Dancers, Directors and Choreographers carefully examine many variables when searching for just the right counterpart to balance and enhance their presence. If you have ever had the opportunity to observe a casting session, then you know what I mean.
This ritual will determine, in large part, the ultimate success of the venture. There are so many elements to consider that the process has been described in broad, colorful terms from: "it's a crapshoot" to "s/he worked his/her special voodoo on that one!" Usually this process of selection is a bit of both, and much more.
Ask twelve directors to describe how they initiate each new project and how they select the right components, and you might get three-dozen responses. Posing the same question to a dozen performers may only generate two-dozen responses but that is because they are only slightly more focused. A performer's concern is how the other components are going to accommodate or accentuate their energies.
What works for the stage can work for the board table
Regardless, it is obvious that at all levels, successful artists take great pains to ensure their 'on stage' partners reflect the look, feel, intensity and vision that they themselves wish to project. If we agree then, that careful selection of the working components is required for artistic success, it is a small jump towards accepting that selection is a critical component in creating an Arts Organization.
You might wonder what it is that I'm going on about here, after all this is pretty much an issue of common sense, right? No artist would knowingly place themselves or their reputations in jeopardy by choosing to share the stage with a partner that was ill prepared to accompany them. And if this is so elementary, why then devote the time and space here restating the obvious? Because this series is focused on substructure development for your organization, the precepts utilized in presenting your art should and do translate to the group's foundation.
Observe = Paying Attention to Everything!
Too many artists adjust and tweak each selection for their work but then invest half that attention on choosing the partners they will depend upon to build, protect, fund, and market the organization. This may be idiosyncratic to the art world. Very few artists are 'type A' personalities, on the contrary I think that most of us would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) had that been a buzz word in the halls of academia years ago.
By the way, an interesting notion is that this is a complete misnomer! ADD may be better described as Full Awareness Syndrome Theory (FAST). Artists are created when their capacity for observation and awareness is nurtured as a primary personality attribute thereby somewhat limiting the ability to focus on the inanimate, static elements around them. After all, those things (such as Math and Science books?) will always be there. Conversely, the creation of the moment exists for only that - the moment. If we fail to shift our focus it is missed which may result in a myriad of changes to the 'what might have beens' in our respective futures. I digressed momentarily, but only to further illustrate a problem artists may encounter when first creating their own operating base.
Making it work
The members of your Board of Directors are your partners. They will lessen your load. They will work with you to achieve success you and they desire. Your Board will be your greatest asset, or quite literally your worst nightmare. Knowing this, I am sure you will agree that their selection is worthy of as much attention as the selection of a stage partner, or the composition of the corps.
I am a realist. I understand that preaching the ills of poor board recruitment will have little effect. Most of you will be inclined to stay with this part of the process only until such time as there are warm bodies in the seats around the table. I can see some of you now, weighing one in each hand: recruiting board members in your right, teaching class and creating a new piece in your left. For most, this is no contest, administrative tasks will loose out, but what if they too could be approached as an art form? Most instructors are comfortably familiar with the notion of creating mental images for your students. With that in mind, I would like to create one now for you guaranteed to get you over this hump with a minimum of angst.
From the 5 Rings
OK, are you ready? Close your eyes (after you read this, that is, or you'll miss the important stuff) and concentrate on a series of rings -- much like those on any archery target.
The center ring represents the driving artistic force, the dream that is embodied in the Artistic Director (AD). This is the source of the company's wisdom & direction.
The second ring is made up from those closest to the essence of the project, who best understand the force and buy into the focus without reservation.
The third ring is made up of supporters and well-wishers who though may be involved with various other projects, feel they have a good grasp of the AD's message and energies.
The fourth ring, well, that is filled with many people who appreciate the company's purpose and how they achieve it, but haven't a clue to how the magical notions become reality.
The last ring is the general public, the audience to whom the AD must be faithful, but who will only participate when opportunities and schedules are convenient.
Now that you have created and populated your rings, you are ready to begin the selection of your Board. Membership should be completely derived from within the first two rings -- these are the people who know you, know and believe in the project and are (if you've done your job correctly) the people you can trust with the stewardship of the company you are building.
Oftentimes, organizations fall prey to the notion that civic or political leaders of the community must be recruited to the board of directors. Unless they are intrinsically involved or have manifested some deep desire work with and for you, such an action will provide negative results. Your Board must fully understand you, your processes, and your ultimate direction. The AD must create an atmosphere that fully encompasses and involves the members of the board. A team is being constructed here. Choose elements for that team that are complementary and devoid of personal agenda.
Members of the third and fourth rings should and will provide non-voting committee members, fundraising and marketing assistance and leadership, volunteers, and more. I caution you to remember that it may be a fatal error to think that these could do so much more if they sat on the Board. Remember, the first and foremost qualification: complete and unequivocal understanding, support and acceptance of your leadership and the direction of the company.
The Board may then be defined by as few as four members (in addition to the AD) to as many as six or eight persons. This is an excellent working number. The twenty to thirty member boards are unmanageably heavy. They are examples of organizations with too many chiefs, who seldom can/will agree on much of anything even at the Annual Meeting which, incidentally, may be the only meeting they all manage to attend. Your purpose is to set in place a support structure that safeguards your vision. The Board will always benefit from the AD's leadership, but it should never be allowed to become an entity unto itself consuming the AD's time and energy. It is expected to provide a service, not require constant servicing.
Now, relax and concentrate. Establish your five circles as you see them within and around your new organization. From inside these you will derive your support structure. Train and empower them to provide their service to the organization, then leave them to what they do best, freeing you to narrow your focus (can artists do that?) to your company's mission and do what you do best -- create!