Associate Member, Tom Varghese, on what boards can learn from Canterbury DHB's implosion.
In the latest JBWere NZ Cause Report nearly 40% of the arts sector’s overall income was lost through the cancellation of shows. But despite this, Anne Rodda who works across several arts and education companies says creativity has been thriving in the last year with the sector seeing a vast output of masterpieces including new paintings, novels and symphonies.
“Artists were hard done by, but at the same time found lockdown gave them the quiet to think and create,” she says.
Currently arts boards are grappling with the same matters as other NFP and commercial boards with vaccine certificates front of mind. On top of this are ongoing issues around income stream reliability and the resilience of workforce and operations.
Right now, Rodda believes it is the perfect time to wipe the slate clean. She says with entrenched practices exposed and income diversification more urgent than it was before Covid, the loss of event-related earned income illustrates the need to look with fresh eyes at the business of the arts.
She cites the music and book publishing industries as examples of where industries have transformed their commercial models. And while arts boards could leap to the conclusion that digital is the way forward, especially in the context of digital audience growth, Rodda warns that short term gains do not automatically equate to long-term success and stability.
In 2020 many companies and performers published and streamed online ‘to keep the show on the road’ with a proliferation of digital content emerging from the sector. But Rodda says long-term impacts and opportunities to monetize were not factored into the process. And although digital is here to stay, Rodda says it cannot replace the live human experience.
“As we saw in New Zealand last year - and this year offshore - audiences turned to screens out of necessity. But it is a saturated market now and we know that people return in droves to theatres to sate a craving for live arts experiences.”
Rodda suggests boards have an opportunity to address areas that need to shift.
“Arts boards at this time can afford to look differently at how their assets can be converted to income and should be asking questions such as: What do we have of value such as our IP and a highly-talented and disciplined workforce with the skills the World Economic Forum says are priorities for the economy that can be reframed differently? Who would find value in what we have? And what would we need to do to trigger a payment for access to it?”
She also says considerations should include whether the board and its members have a forward-looking, cognitive-agility mindset, imagination and the energy to see and enable a dynamic organisational rebirth.
“Board members should look at themselves more closely because serving on an NFP board right now requires heavy lifting, is time-intensive, and there is no room for dilettantes or self-serving agendas.”
Rodda adds that arts boards are also unique in that they have a responsibility to their art form and the history associated with it.
“Honouring and developing it, whilst creating space for reinterpretation and using art to express the human experience of a global pandemic alongside a thrilling societal recalibration of #MeToo, BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour) and climate change movements, is a profound obligation.”
But an on-going challenge for the industry relates to how people perceive the arts and it’s place in society. Rodda believes the sector needs to take greater responsibility to change it.
“I think we have to do a better job of knocking down ivory towers and changing the broader perception that the arts are very much a part of everyone’s daily life. Most people are engaged in the arts without being aware of it, whether it’s reading, sketching new ideas for their backyards, or singing hymns and waiata.”
Covid has been a jolt and a catalyst to the arts sector, but Rodda suggests boards need to ask themselves the following questions:
Anne Rodda is a highly-respected Not-for-Profit leader. She has headed several of Aotearoa New Zealand’s high-profile cultural institutions and iconic events, consulted to local government, business and charities; lectured in arts industry management and served on granting committees, government and NFP boards.