Investing in Infrastructure: Changing A Value Perspective

Whether a choreographer who becomes an Artistic Director, or a folklorico dancer who becomes the Director of a community based company, or a former ballet dancer who starts a ballet company in a town that does not have one—often dance companies spring from vision, from passion, from a dream to bring artistry to an audience or community. They do not spring from a business plan. Sometimes before you can say “need to follow up from our first performance,” an organization of some kind exists. Then what?

What all too often happens is the Artistic Director is already behind in running “the business.” Scrambling to oversee production; scrambling to raise funds; scrambling to keep the vision going. The Artistic Director is the creative force and becomes the management and organizational force as well. There are just so many hours in the day. The management and organizational aspects fall by the wayside and a “put out the fire” style of management becomes the modus operandi. Artistic Directors are tired, they are stressed, they feel isolated; what they really want to do is create work, or create a repertory—create and present dance. Significantly, the Artistic Director does not pay him/herself for this work—the focus is on supporting the creative process—and so does not pay anyone else to do administration or management either. A culture has developed in the dance community of trying to avoid having to put money into the organizational aspects of a company or project. This attitude poses a serious barrier to organizational growth, and more importantly to artistic growth.
How can we realign thinking in the dance community to understand, value and invest in the organizational or foundational stability of the art, whether a company, project or collective? How can we provide affordable options that yield results?

As part of Help Desk®, Pentacle’s program pairing dance companies and independent choreographers with highly experienced arts professionals in a personalized mentorship focusing on foundational stability and growth, participants spend time discussing financial values. How do financial decisions reflect what is important to an Artistic Director? Time spent exploring this idea often leads to an understanding that good fiscal planning and allocating some precious resources towards infrastructure provides stronger and sustained support for the creative process. For example, it is all fine and good to want a booking agent; to get a booking agent. But if the dance company cannot provide the booking agent with the necessary materials, responses or support he/she needs to book the company and fulfill the engagements; the dance company will not last long on a roster and will gain a reputation in the community of being unprofessional, difficult to work with—no matter how strong the work. Finding sustained, reliable and affordable management support becomes key to creating a stable foundation from which a creative process can thrive and grow. Pentacle’s Back Office offers one solution.

Back Office addresses head on the critical lack of direct administrative and executive support and staffing available to small and mid-sized dance organizations, and to project-based artists. Whether in need of one person to help an Artistic Director with management and administration (e.g., an “Executive Director”), a person to write grants, or a tour manager, Pentacle senior staff works with participants to identify and articulate their infrastructure staffing needs, and then provides appropriate staffing on a long term basis. Back Office is not a temp agency. Pentacle helps to oversee this administrative staffing and organizes the support so that participants work with responsible and creative thinkers who undertake the tasks at hand in an efficient, reliable manner. Pentacle handles scheduling and coordination of the program participants and staff, and works with participants to create a schedule that works with their time needs, takes in account projects, seasons, etc. Back Office is sensitive to confidentiality issues that may arise during this relationship, and keeps utmost confidentiality of participants. Benefits to participants include:

• A guarantee of continuity of services (e.g., not having to replace the part time person who then leaves after six months to go on tour).
• Oversight by and a relationship with Pentacle staff, thus relieving the burden often placed on the Artistic Director or Executive Director to have to manage staff.
• Not having to worry about requirements that arise in connection with hiring employees or the risks of paying by fees.
• Assistance in HR matters and staff training.

Fees are determined based on staffing needs, scope of work, assessment of time needed to undertake the work successfully and the dance organization’s budget. The goals of this relationship are to work towards a stable, workable and affordable administrative system; and to solve the on-going administrative staffing challenges facing small and mid-sized performing arts organizations, and project-based artists.

The entire dance community: artists, service organizations, management support organizations, consultants, agencies, presenters AND funders need to embrace the concept of strong foundation as a stepping stone to artistic security and growth. We need to value and invest in stability and to find flexible and creative systems for creating and sustaining these foundations. Management and administration and “business” may not be sexy or what dance is about, but they can be what ensures dance keeps its place—and thrives—in the performing arts landscape.