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 Post subject: Is US performance dance still a viable economic sector?
PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:49 am 
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While the biggies with strong endowments will continue, what future for the medium and small-sized dance companies in the US, following the closure of two significant companies in the past three months?

Here is the link to our topic on Oakland Ballet, the most recent fatality:

http://www.ballet-dance.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=25768

A few thoughts:

- Whereas the major European economies have generally been in the doldrums for the past few years, the US has been powering ahead.

- Gross domestic product (adjusted for buying power) in the US has advanced to $42,000 per head of population, whereas the major Euro economies are less than $30,000.

- Real growth in the US was over 4% in 2004 and over 3% in 2005

- And yet, for a range of reasons, a number of ballet and modern dance companies are currently in a financial danger zone, where one extra negative factor ie closure of a venue, can tip them into bankruptcy.

- The past three months have seen two important medium-sized companies go out of business - Oakland follows Indianapolis Internationale Ballet which closed its doors in November 2005

- If companies are going bust in the good times, what is going to happen to the financially marginal dance companies when the next economic downturn in the US comes around?

- What implications does this have for current and student dancers in the US. Noel Coward's "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington," comes to mind.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:55 am 
There is no growth in the US physical economy.

There is, however, a great deal of Creative Accountancy, Creative Statistics, and Massaging the Media.

Hence the myth that the US is "powering ahead".

It is not.

Public transport, health, infrastructure, State schools, are all in a condition that compare, most unfavourably, with Croatia, and most unfavourably with Iraq before 1990 (remember then?).

The only jobs being created are in hamburger-flipping and related services.

"Real, tangible" growth in the USA lies in the area of consumption of certain hitherto-unlawful substances, and obesity.

That's where the problem with funding for arts comes from. The physical economy is about to go out of existence.

Tulip bubble, or no tulip bubble.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 3:04 am 
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Thanks for your thoughts, Katherine.

Whatever the reasons behind the growth, those GDP per head figures should give an impression of how the economy "feels" for a lot of people in the US, always given that income disparity is much higher there compared with Europe.

So, I stick with my contention that for a lot of Americans these are "feel good" times. And still there are major problems for dance companies. Individaul and corporate donors in the US play a crucial role, in contrast to Europe, where the public sector tends to smooth out the economic cycle. Again, we face the implication that this looks very bad for the US dance sector in the next economic downturn.

Galbraith wrote about "private affluence, public squalor" in the US. I guess the public sector includes dance companies.

Of course, I'm an outsider and may well be missing the point. Looking forward to perspectives from those on the front line.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 7:11 am 
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Has it ever occured to anyone that the problem may not be so much a funding issue but more of a management issue? Throughout my own career as a dancer I have watched some of the most celebrated dance organizations in the USA go down the tubes due to nothing other than poor management. Granted this is not always 100% the reason for a dance company going under, but many many times it is a significant contributing factor here in the USA.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 8:13 am 
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Quote:
Has it ever occured to anyone that the problem may not be so much a funding issue but more of a management issue?


Oh, yeah.

I was on a grants panel once for a program designed to bring professional arts into underserved areas of the county (the theory being that neophytes might attend dance or theatre events in their own neighborhoods and then, when they discovered they liked them, be willing to go downtown to attend other performances). One of the applicants was a ballet company -- well-respected nationally -- who was asking for a great deal of money to fund concerts by their orchestra. Not dance performances, orchestra concerts.

Why? because they'd gotten into a situation in which they were contractually obligated to provide two more performances for the musicians than they were for the dancers. My feeling, which I stated strongly, was that they were a dance company -- their artistic mission was to provide dance performances, not musical concerts. This project had no chance of drawing audiences into the city to attend the ballet, and for the amount they were asking, we could fund at least 5 other projects. The fact that they were in an awkward labor situation was the result of bad management; no one forced them to sign such a contract, and it wasn't our responsibility -- and certainly wasn't the responsibility of the other companies applying for funding -- to bail them out of it.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 6:19 pm 
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At various times in their lives, companies and not-for-profits will suffer from poor management decisions that erode cash-flow. Those with strong financial foundations will usually weather the storms and hopefully come out the other side.

For many dance companies in the US, I have the impression that there is no fat, no safety net and if things go wrong whether it be one bad "Nutcracker" season, a venue closing, a bitter dispute or any other of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the company is quickly in a perilous position.

Sure, poor management doesn't help, but I suspect that the underlying financial weakness and uncertainty of the sector is the primary problem. Further, if you're a business that might go bust, it's unlikely that you will attract the best managers.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 7:36 pm 
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Stuart Sweeney wrote:
At various times in their lives, companies and not-for-profits will suffer from poor management decisions that erode cash-flow.

True, but in my experience the bigger issue with poor management goes far beyond just cash flow, in particular, affecting the very structure of a not-for-profit, the board of directors. Board retention, solicitation, and positive activity make up the very foundation of our not-for-profit dance companies here in the USA. If a board of directors are working together, managing and caring about their organization in a collective and productive sense then the organization stands a good chance to flourish artistically, depending who is at the reigns of course :wink: . Poor management decisions from an executive or artistic sense can throw a monkey wrench into this extremely delicate balance. Once you throw the balance of your board of directors off with poor management you stand the chance of loosing board support which is a much larger issue than just cash flow. If poor management decisions effect cash flow, then your organization cannot operate, or atleast to which it became accostumed to prior to the cash flow problem. In an unfortunate situation like this you would have to either hope for some very generous person(s) to remidy the problem with a check book 8) , or, cease operations to some degree and figure out how to raise more capital to get back on your feet :( , either of these scenario's is where your board of directors' support is crucial :D . If poor management decisions cause those cash flow problems, and it happens all the time, serious consequences can and do occur. In this instance what should be done is for the board to make the decision to get rid of whoever is making poor management decisions :evil: , right? however, what if that person happens to be the founder of the organization? or artistic director? or maybe even a powerful person on the board's relative? Many times this can be the case and the problem caused by whoever made the poor management decision is solved but by not getting rid of that person or limiting their decision authority eventually the problem can happen again, and again, and maybe worse than the first. What will eventually happen is board members as well as members of the community begin to loose interest in trying to help the organization because it doesn't seem fit to operate properly. There is only a finite amount of times you can go to a board of directors and say, hey, a bad decision was made and we need help out of it. Eventually the members will resign from the board or even worse, begin bad mouthing the organization in the local or artistic community. Finally, when there is not enough board support to dig out of a financial hole that was made by ongoing poor management the organization stands a strong chance of closing.

Stuart Sweeney wrote:
Sure, poor management doesn't help, but I suspect that the underlying financial weakness and uncertainty of the sector is the primary problem.

For me, I would say that financial weakness is a direct result of poor management. As for uncertainty, I don't think anything in the entertainment industry is certain, coming into it with that notion is admirable but naive.

Stuart Sweeney wrote:
Further, if you're a business that might go bust, it's unlikely that you will attract the best managers.

Great quote Stuart, and nothing could be farther from the truth. An associate once said something to me that has stuck in my head ever since, "You know why there is such a shortage of good management in the dance industry? Because all the smart people have good jobs". Not that I believe that 100% but it is interesting to think about when you read some of the papers, especially the recent ones.


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 Post subject: Bait and Switch?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2006 10:34 am 
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Please help me understand why the discussion of Oakland Ballet closing its doors has become a subject for the Issues page? Is it because individuals' speculations reflect different points of view? Is it because an imminent lockdown is anticipated were it to remain where it was? Moving it dissolves the discussion from the particular into the general. Now it looks like a genuine effort to understand the process leading to Oakland's unfortunate demise has been abandoned for a debate on bad managers vs. bad economics and cities with "good" dance audiences vs. cities with less good dance audiences. I find the former to be presumptious and the latter, in the case of Oakland, to be courting racist notions of what makes for a "good" fundworthy ballet audience. Eagerness to mold a discussion that has barely had a chance to take its own shape is to say the least, disheartening. At least cite a precedent for this. There was no precedent in the discussion of Diablo Ballet's financial troubles, San Jose Silicon Valley's fits and starts, DTH's similar M.O. or the Forsythe saga. What is gained from preselecting the "talking points"? :?


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 Post subject: Re: Bait and Switch?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2006 10:44 am 
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Quote:
Please help me understand why the discussion of Oakland Ballet closing its doors has become a subject for the Issues page?


Because we have moved on to a discussion of the viability of dance companies in America.

The discussion of Oakland's specific woes continues in Ballet in the Americas.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2006 11:54 am 
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I see. I hope that others do.

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 Post subject: Re: Bait and Switch?
PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2006 4:06 am 
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Toba Singer wrote:
Now it looks like a genuine effort to understand the process leading to Oakland's unfortunate demise has been abandoned for a debate on bad managers vs. bad economics and cities with "good" dance audiences vs. cities with less good dance audiences. I find the former to be presumptious and the latter, in the case of Oakland, to be courting racist notions of what makes for a "good" fundworthy ballet audience.


:?: :?: :shock: :shock: :shock: :?: :?:
Pardon me here but, Whuuuuuuaaaaaaatttttttttttt???


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2006 4:49 am 
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Toba, mea culpa!

While reading aboput the Oakland Ballet tragedy, it occurred to me that while companies going bankrupt in tough financial times is to be expected, the Sword of Damocles coming down during a realtively good time in the US economy was very worrying. And with Ballet International and Oakland we had two recent examples.

I started to raise these points in a post in the Oakland topic and then realised that I might take attention away from their sad situation. Therefore I started this new topic in parallel with the Oakland one and also took the opportunity to link to the original to try to get some more posters there.

Please feel free to continue the specific Oakland discussion.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 6:34 pm 
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The Oakland discussion NATURALLY leads to a general discussion of the difficulties faced by small and mid-sized ballet companies in America.

I agree with Osiris. Completely. Sure the economy and a lack of funding is a major factor in the difficulty of running a successful dance company in America, but what keeps a company going in lean times is GOOD MANAGEMENT, which Oakland Ballet didn't have. And a GOOD BOARD OF DIRECTORS, which it would seem Oakland Ballet also didn't have. How do you get a good board? Good recruiting by other board members AND...the good management of the company. Lack of funding is a convenient excuse.

I don't want to kick Oakland Ballet while they're down, but they really did everything all wrong. Karen Brown had vision, but I'm not convinced she had foresight. I also am not convinced that her ego didn't get in the way of effective fund-raising and staff retention. I'm also not convinced there ISN'T another suitable venue in Oakland for ballet performances.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 1:40 pm 
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I just posted an article in the Oakland Ballet thread in the Ballet in America forum that cite's some of the issues we've been discussing here.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 1:50 pm 
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How many dance companies are failing? It seems like the news is all bad for small to medium sized companies here in the US.

I thought ironic that our current President participated in a celebration for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a company showing distinct signs of dying.

But the Washington Ballet crisis shows that not all the failures are due to purely financial reasons, although it does demonstrate the management component of failure.


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