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Building Music Communities



What does it mean to build a community? Is it as simple as just serving our communities or does it entail something more, such as bonding our communities through the performing arts? Is it also something beyond that? Then there are the basic questions: What are we truly trying to create and how do we grow our audiences? Time and time again, organizations have asked these basic questions attempting to come up with innovative ways to remain relevant—perhaps it’s our entire industry trying to do so. Still, have the basic questions become too diluted so the answers merely boil down to ticket sales and the number of new subscribers recently recruited? These statistics are certainly important, for we create our performances for the sake of sharing them with others. Yet, there is something more beyond all of this and we can tap into the bigger picture that is sometimes missing or forgotten.

 

When we compare performing arts organizations that have succeeded or faded away, what were the reasons? The location and environment? Revenue streams? The validity of the programming? The vision for growth? Effective leadership or poor management? The performers? Something else? Perhaps you have experienced both organizational structures during your music career. Certainly, the ideal location, revenue, leadership, and the other factors mentioned allow an organization to thrive, but sometimes, even when present, they can seem to fall short. Even though a well-established organization can somehow function on six and seven-figure deficits, it can only do so for so long. Sometimes the surrounding community will help save the organization and sometimes it will not. When it doesn’t, it begs the question: “Why not?”

 

Looking at smaller organizations, similar challenges can occur, but whether it be a local school ensemble, a small theatre, or a private studio in a city or small town, the opportunity to build a surrounding community is always there. As you participate within these organizations, think about your own role. What is your level of involvement? Are you someone who helps build relationships with others inside and outside the organization? Are you actively nurturing your community into a supportive unit, or are you just letting the cards fall where they may? Are you always just showing up, but leaving as soon as the performance is done? Simply assuming or hoping that an audience will always be there is truly not the way to ensure it will be. There is more involved than just hosting a few performances, donor events, and doing “the ask” at your next event. Think about what you are doing to retain regular attendees and to ensure that new ones will return.

 

An area often overlooked are the volunteers. How are you running this group? It matters not if you have only one or fifty volunteers. These individuals can contribute to so many solutions if given the chance. Volunteers often come in a variety of ages, but it’s fair to say that a majority of them can be around retirement age. These folks usually have untapped knowledge, motivation, and willingness to share their expertise. They can accomplish much more than they are given credit for and provide more effective service than just stuffing the quarterly envelopes or other such mundane tasks that are sent their way. Volunteers can serve on working committees, manage events, help with fundraising, marketing, and an array of other important roles. Just think about what these people did or still do in their careers. They are accountants, lawyers, managers, business owners, domestic engineers, physicists, educators, performers…just fill in the blank. Although sometimes thought of as unreliable, when managed properly, they can assume great responsibilities and be as dedicated as your CEO.

 

So how do we put everything together and help a music community succeed? Discovering opportunities for strengthening your organization from the inside and outside is going to take dedicated planning and execution. Identifying additional leadership roles (whether official or unofficial) in all areas from staff, musicians, volunteers, and yourself will create constructive momentum. Learning to step up, but also learning to delegate and ask for help, will reign supreme in situations where only one person is trying to do everything alone and burning out in the process. Furthermore, providing ways to get your audiences involved in your organization and creating ways for them to truly feel part of something bigger will help form the nexus for the health of your organization. When you strive to grow all of these sections and connect everything together, you will soon find an environment that has flourished into lifetime colleagues, friendships, adopted family, mentors, and your community. Not only for yourself will these incredible things happen, but for everyone else who truly becomes part of this unique and irreplaceable music community.


For more information on this topic, visit Strengthening Leadership.


 

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