Glorious Wichita–A Renaissance of Sorts?

This morning, as I often do on Mondays, I have read the latest post from Barry’s Blog.  In it, Barry provides news and advice for the Arts Administrator.  Barry’s Blog is a service of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) and that is the western version of our Mid-America Arts Alliance.  Below I post what Barry has to say this week about organizational maturity and where do we go from here?  As a former arts administrator for five different arts organizations both private nonprofit and public governmental agencies, I have certainly seen my fair share of emerging, growing and stagnant arts orgs.  This weekend, however, I experienced what might be called a renaissance of arts in the Wichita area.  Hear me out on this please.

Friday evening, Patricia McDonnell instituted the fourth or fifth in a series of Wichita Art Museum “Arts Chatter” events.  Using the popular international Pecha Kucha method of showing 20 slides of 20 seconds each 5-7 creative individuals share whatever they wish to share about themselves or their passions.  The quick, sometimes frustratingly so, presentation method has encouraged lively competition among its presenters and it seems that each one gets better than the last; startling since they have all be great.  Patricia was known for stirring up community enthusiasm at the Ulrich Museum during her tenure there.  I have already attended more events in exhibitions at WAM in the past year than I probably have attended in my whole life.  I want to be there and be part of the learning and collective experience, sharing my passion for the arts with others who love it too. I could of gone on to a yet another great Fisch Haus concert afterward and kept the experience going, but I have learned a have some limits.

Saturday brought additional magic.  After calling dear friends who are regular attendees at the Wichita Symphony, I managed to secure dinner plans and a drop-off at the door of Century II, as well as additional support getting to and from my seat (very much appreciated as well).  I wanted to support John Harrison’s solo efforts in the Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor for Violin, Op, 64 and hear other of my treasured friends play.  Wow.  It is hard to speak in mere words about the experience, but suffice it to say, there were numerous curtain calls and a solo encore by Mr. Harrison.  John has always been one of my favorite artists because of his risk-taking and creative channeling of technology with the arts.  Bravo to him and Maestro Dan Hege and the entire Wichita Symphony for a great evening also featuring magnificent renditions of Beethoven’s 2nd and a haunting piece by Thomas Canning.  The Symphony has created an aggressive and innovative marketing campaign this year full of social media contacts and clever illustrations emphasizing whimsical exercises we need to do in order to fully engage with the symphony.  It seems to be working, congratulations on that Don Reinhold, new executive director, and Arleigh Aldridge, new marketing director, as the house was enthusiastic and full.  Congratulations to all on an incredible artistic product.

I left there with my friends and went on to the nearby bar to hear fabulous local talent, the Haymakers.  This new band featuring Dustin Arbuckle, Tom Page, Mark Foley and Ted Farha has quickly become one of my go-to favorites on the local scene.  They create a sound featuring bluegrass traditional and original music with a folky bluesy edge.  Difficult to explain but not to be missed.

Sunday brought much more; the Barlett Arboretum, courtesy of Ms. Robin Macy and Kentucky (aka Ken) White, held a thank you event for their volunteers.  I had completed a portrait of them which I delivered to kind accolades.  The lively volunteers, the heavenly food concocted by Wichita Eagle staff writers Carrie Rengers, Joe Stumpe and company was out of this world.  The newly restored historic depot was alive with Brazilian Choro music courtesy of Kentucky and band and lively chatter by the dedicated volunteers.  Fall was ever glorious in the arboretum outside and from the window seat where I found myself perched I viewed beautiful grasses that were the most vibrant shade of sea foam green.


Finally, I was delighted to help host the Chamber Music at The Barn Friends and Lovers annual thank-you party at the Wichita Historical Museum.  It is a great space to meet after the symphony’s Sunday matinee and Hege, Harrison and symphony executive director Don Reinhold were kind enough to join us.  We were entertained by talented regional youth who have been active in our summer camps, making all of us realize the importance of moving forward.  Artistic Director Catherine Consiglio performed a delightful duet to close the entertainment portion.  Board members we there in full force, a delightful lot!!

I am truly thankful to be part of the Wichita creative community.  I realized about five years ago that the arts foundation I was always hoping to create if I ever won the lottery already had its beginnings in my ability to write grants and initiate creative programming.  Sometimes though, I have felt pretty much alone of the forefront of that initiative of creative programming and surrounded by a lot of status quo and potential stagnation.  That is changing or perhaps has changed.  Check out Barry’s blog notes below to understand where Wichita groups lie in creative organization development and remember, nothing EVER stays the same.  We have to change, adapt or we die.


Organizational Heavy Gravity Days

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on……………………..“Life itself is a cycle.  You’re born, you grow up from infancy to adolescence to middle age to old age, and you die.  Organizational theorists have posited that organizations too have natural cycles – and unavoidable stages of development from inception to maturity, to cessation of existence.

There are numerous models describing the stages.  In the private sector, “the Adizes model (named after Dr. Ichak Adizes) suggests organizations start in the courtship stage. In it, founders are dreaming up what they want to do.  Entrepreneurship is the dominant mental model resulting in the eventual founding of the company.

The infant stage follows, with an emphasis on production and time pressures dominating everyone’s attention.

Infancy is followed by the go-go stage. Organizations that have reached this stage have figured out how to deliver value into the social systems they serve and are rewarded with supportive customers. Rapid expansion, personalized leadership, some planning, and fast decision making are the hallmarks of organizations in this stage. The go-go years bring financial growth and expansion.

Adolescence is the next stage. It is in this stage that planning and coordination become important.  Administrative activities increase at the expense of both entrepreneurial endeavors and production. The mental models of stability and conservatism surface and start to dominate the way the organization conducts its business. Formalized rules and policies emerge.

The prime stage is next in the organizational lifecycle. In this stage the emphasis is on efficiency. Organizational boundaries are erected and the company starts to lose touch with its environment. Goals and aspirations remain stable but the desire to grow and change starts to disappear. Stability and predictability become the prevailing mental models.

The final stage is maturity. It is in this stage where organizations become paternalistic seeking a comfortable organizational climate. There is a low emphasis on production.  Relationships are formal and little innovation takes place.”

Speakman Management Consulting provides a nonprofit six stage framework (Adapted from: The 5 Life Stages of Nonprofits, Judith Sharken Simon, 2002 and The Conservation Company, 1997), which includes the following developmental stages (and which parallels pretty much the above model):

  • Grassroots invention
  • Start-up incubation
  • Adolescent growing
  • Mature sustainability
  • Stagnation and renewal
  • Decline and shut-down

In both models the problems come late in the game for those that succeeded in establishing themselves in their marketplaces – where the organization “loses sight of its market, focuses on program development primarily geared to fund-raising, has insufficient cash reserves, clings to rigidity in management, and becomes more reactive than proactive.” Continued existence becomes the goal.  Eventually, the negatives become insurmountable and the organization is simply no longer viable.

Sound familiar?

It should, because it accurately describes an increasingly common condition with our field; a condition now so prevalent that it has become a front burner issue for all our disciplines and sub-sectors.  Some argue that our financial problems are the cause of the other symptoms of older organizational age, and that these problems are really part of another cycle:  the ups and down of the economy. But, first, while the economy may have ups and downs, and periodic winners and losers, to think of it as always moving between feast or famine may ignore the reality that the “new normal” may be that we are not ever going to return to an economic model that for decades was the bedrock of arts organization’s existence; and second, some arts organizations survive the economic downturns, while others do not.

The challenge for our organizations is to recognize the stage at which they have arrived.  Knowing and accepting that an organization is in the late stages of its development is the first step in moving towards renewal; towards a renaissance of ideas and relevance within the marketplace.

What keeps us from pursuit of such a path?  Denial?  Fear that the changes necessary are antithetical to the original mission?  Poor management and leadership?  Bad decision making?  Complacency?  Those and more.

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