Although art startups may seem inherently different from other industry startups, with regards to the creation of company culture, they are very much the same. In today’s post by Julianna Davies, the writer for the MBA Online, discusses how arts startups can take the lessons proffered by MBA programs to help create happy and productive company cultures. Expounding upon Dennis Baker’s post about company culture within the art world, Julianna emphasizes that employees passionate about their craft will lend themselves to the creation of good company culture.
Bringing MBA Know-How Into Arts Startups In Order to Create Good Culture
Designing a corporate culture is just as important in an arts startup as it is in an international corporation. With as many responsibilities as creative professionals have to balance, however, establishing morale often comes as an afterthought. This is usually a mistake. Though the work environments of theater companies, museums, and dance academies are quite different from businesses in any other sector, all have one thing in common: all are dependent upon the successes and contributions of their employees. A culture that embraces teamwork and rewards individualism creates harmony amongst staff, which leads to better productions, exhibitions, and end products.
The Upsides of Starting from Scratch
Startups are often at an advantage when it comes to making culture decisions. Instead of having to reform a negative ambiance or fix a toxic work environment, entrepreneurs largely start from scratch—the possibilities are all but endless.
This sort of possibility requires clear parameters, however. “Do you want to run it as a benevolent dictatorship? A cooperative? Or something in-between?” the American Association of Community Theater asks on its website for theater enthusiasts. Hierarchy and creative structure may also become points of contention. Choosing projects and divvying up administrative work are things that can cause resentment and frustration if not clearly addressed upfront. “Be very clear about the decision-making structure and lines of responsibility,” the AACT recommends.
Checking Off the Basics
Making decisions about the ideal sort of corporate culture to foster is an important first step. Actually implementing that culture is often a bit harder. Getting started usually requires the following, at minimum:
- A mission statement that clearly defines founders’ ideas and aspirations;
- A communication plan for conveying the mission to staff and new hires, often through bylaws;
- A plan for funding decisions, including who specifically is responsible for what sort of fundraising or solicitation work;
- A conceptualization of the target audience, which should shape a great deal of internal decisions and team aspirations; and
- A decision about union-related issues, if applicable: whether staff can or should be part of a union is an issue best cleared up at the front end.
Joining trade-specific organizations—national theater groups, local ballet instructors’ associations, or museum guilds—can also be a good way to network with other professionals, particularly those who have already gone through the startup process. Memberships can be pricey, but are usually worth it to executives who know what they are after.
Most of what determines whether an arts startup will succeed is far more than funding, clientele, or the right “vibe.” These things are important, certainly, but without a coherent staff, even the best ideas are likely to flop.
“With the current climate and so few jobs available, entrepreneurship has really become a hot topic,” Medeia Cohan-Petrolino, founder of arts support group School for Creative Startups, told Britain’s The Guardian in 2012. When it comes to which startups will succeed, Cohan-Petrilino honed in on substance. “Some of them are brilliant but others just use all the right buzz words and lack any meaningful content,” she said.
The risk of “lacking content,” as Cohan-Petrolino put it, is that staff will be some of the first to feel the effects. An organization that looks fine on the outside but fails to keep its employees motivated and content risks dissolution from within. The Getty Museum, a Los Angeles landmark, was almost a prime example when it lost its director to “morale issues.”
“In the museum world as elsewhere, deep pockets do not always bring happiness,” the New York Times reported shortly after the Getty’s director, Deborah Gribbon, abruptly resigned in late 2004. “Morale at the Getty Museum has been low in the past several years, with staff turmoil and resignations.” According to the Times, Gribbon’s resignation “came as no surprise to the museum world.” The museum was able to recalibrate, but not without individual meetings between the board and curators and a complete overhaul of the corporate culture at play.
Differences Between Art Industry and Other Business Models
The idea of “corporate culture” is very much dependent on subjective facts: the industry type, market expectations, and staff backgrounds, to name a few. While some of the basic tenets of how to create a culture apply to businesses across the board, startups in the arts sector usually require a more nuanced approach.
Many arts groups are charities or not-for-profit corporations. Most are also driven by fundraising or ticket sales to things like gallery openings or theatrical productions—productions where the staff themselves either are or have produced the main attractions. How employees will interact in these situations, and how they see themselves as personally contributing to the success or failure of the organization, are very important cultural considerations.
Creating a culture of collaboration, respect, and creativity is essential in the arts world. It often takes time, but need not be challenging. In most cases, open communication, a shared vision, and a commitment to the underlying art are all that are required to get a positive corporate culture off the ground and running.