About the Author: Gladys Tutisani serves as Cultural Affairs Specialist, U.S. Embassy Harare, Zimbabwe."We as artists are meant to be dreamers. It is our job to lead our communities, not follow. And that is also the key to success in the arts world -- keep surprising your audience." With those words, one of the best arts management seminars to ever be held in Zimbabwe kicked off on Valentine's Day.
President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Michael Kaiser, flew into Zimbabwe to lead a crash course in better arts management on February 14. His visit was part of the Kennedy Center Arts Management Fellowship program, in which there is currently a Zimbabwean fellow, Mr. Nicholas Moyo, the Deputy Director of the Zimbabwean National Arts Council. This visit gave more than 70 Zimbabwean arts managers a chance to learn and discuss some of the most fundamental management principles that Kaiser and his team normally teach at length during three-year fellowships.
Kaiser began by encouraging artists to keep dreaming big and to deliver transformational projects that excite and surprise audiences. He underscored that when artists "play it safe," they lose their "family," otherwise known as their audiences, donors and volunteers. The second step to success in the arts industry is a well thought out marketing strategy. Kaiser encouraged attendants to develop websites, Facebook pages and email campaigns, and constantly update them. Boring art and boring marketing leads to a disengaged support network -- the kiss of death for an arts organization.
When it comes to long-term planning, half the attendants were adamant that Zimbabwe is not ready to put this to practice. They argued strongly that the lack of long-term planning in the arts sector is due to serious political and economic instability. But Kaiser challenged these nay-sayers with astounding real life examples of dire professional situations he had dealt with in his 27-year career in arts management, such as pulling the Royal Opera Theater in London out of terrible debt and into a new era of creativity and financial sustainability. We literally observed many 'aha!' moments on artist's faces as strongly held positions and beliefs were let go. Artists were left in no doubt that long-term planning improves marketing prospects, increases ticket sales and magnifies press coverage.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson that one artist said he took away from the seminar was the repeated statement, "fundraising is not begging but a transaction." The artist said he found that statement profound; that it spoke directly to the way he had always operated, begging for funds for his projects.
We will watch with interest how the Zimbabwean participants use Kaiser's recommended on-line resources. Based on the group's enthusiasm during the final reception, the Kennedy Center website should definitely get more hits from this part of the world than anywhere else in the coming months. There is now a palpable scramble to build on this two and a half hour seminar to improve arts management in Zimbabwe!
The U.S. Embassy in Harare and the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) co-hosted a half day seminar by the President of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Michael Kaiser, on February 14.