The art of business is a concept that most of us can readily accept. As much as some business school professors might want to compare business to a scientific discipline, most of us readily embrace another, more creative approach to our business styles. We think outside the box, look for serendipitous synergies, and hope that some secret sauce will give us a competitive leg up.
As Donald Trump titled his 1987 autobiography: “The Art Of the Deal.”
The business of art isn’t always so well articulated by the creative people in our community. For a lot of artists, even valuing their own work is a challenging task. Some have a hard time even asking for payment for their creative endeavors. Arts organizations sometimes aren’t much better in this area. The arts groups, after all, are usually asking for money, not reporting that they made it hand over fist.
When a business has to defend its position in its community, it can point to the salaries it pays its workers and the taxes it pays. An arts group starts out on defense, showing how modest its budget is, and how little it draws from the public coffers.
But that’s changing. Last week U.S. 1 reported on the efforts of several Princeton area arts organizations to show just how valuable the arts can be. James Steward, the director of the Princeton University Art Museum, explained how he was planning to bring together a group of Princeton arts organizations to present Princeton as an arts destination. Steward is pulling together a group of arts leaders to meet with business leaders at an invitation-only event on Thursday, June 23, to facilitate that goal.
The Arts Council of Princeton, meanwhile, has spearheaded an effort by the Princeton Area Arts and Culture Consortium to measure just how much economic impact the arts have. The survey process, developed by the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, sounds — dare we say — scientific, like something one of those business school professors would design. It does not use a simplistic but sometimes exaggerated “economic activity multiplier,” described by the Americans for the Arts as “an estimate of the number of times a dollar changes hands within the community (e.g., a theater pays its actor, the actor spends money at the grocery store, the grocery store pays the cashier, and so on).”
Instead it asks participating arts organizations to report their payrolls and other operating expenses and asks a representative sample of patrons — 800 are needed in the Princeton study to fill out a two-minute questionnaire — to identify how much money they spend in addition to the price of the ticket. About 20 arts organizations that are physically located or regularly perform in Princeton are participating. Results are expected in May, 2012.
When I first heard about the study I thought that they better not include me in the survey. I promote the arts at every turn, thanks to the space we devote in this paper to the subject, but I almost never go out. I find myself driving back from the office on, say, a Monday night and being struck by every parking space being occupied on Alexander Street and University Place. “What in the world is happening?” I wonder. Then I realize pianist Andre Watts is performing at McCarter, an item I had seen in the pages going to the printer a week earlier.
I’m not much of an arts patron. But this past weekend I did head off to a potter’s studio in Hunterdon County, where my friend and I spent $150 or so on some wonderful pieces. That night we went to Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell for a production of two original plays by Princeton playwright Marvin Cheiten. Tickets were $25.
On Sunday it was a trip to Philadelphia for a remarkable performance by the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra and a 21-year-old violinist who mesmerized the big crowd at the Kimmel Center with her 27-minute solo rendition of Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. Tickets: about $30 apiece, plus a light dinner for two at a tavern next door to the Kimmel Center, $50, and parking $18.
Nothing extravagant (and modestly priced, even by my antiquated standard of modest). Still more than $300 out of pocket, all injected into the local economy.
James Steward’s vision would build on the results of the economic impact study. The Princeton Art Museum director would like to bring Princeton area arts organizations together with other nonprofits and area businesses “to create a richer sense of Princeton as an attractive destination for shopping and cultural consumption,” says Steward.
Herding all those artful cats into the same room with the big dogs of business seems like a major challenge indeed. The other day I stopped by the Arts Council to meet with some folks who are trying to encourage the arts groups to coordinate their event planning so that five different fundraising galas do not all fall on the same evening. (It happened most dramatically on Friday, April 29, of this year, when U.S. 1 listed more than 70 events, including fundraisers for the Arts Council of Princeton, Corner House, Planned Parenthood, and the Concordia Chamber Players – not to mention competing comedians: Dennis Miller at the State Theater and Lewis Black at McCarter.)
I winced at that news. We at U.S. 1 have been offering our help since we created our first events database nearly a quarter century ago. On some occasions, as we have recorded far-future dates for our annual wall calendar, we have been known to broker deals among various arts groups. But the problem persists, and I found myself repeating our offer to the arts representatives in the room.
There’s no business, as someone once said, like show business.