Bright Spots and Organizational Change

by Jini Stolk

Those of us trying to make sense of the Vancouver Playhouse’s abrupt closing on the eve of its 50th anniversary may find some answers in this WolfBrown post excerpt by Jane Culbert.

How do some organizations thrive in difficult times? Last year, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation commissioned a study of a number of “bright spots” (“organizations that are achieving outstanding levels of success in one or more areas – artmaking, audience engagement, organizational development and capitalization”) to identify characteristics, perspectives, or behaviors that can potentially be replicated by others. The report, Bright Spots and Hard Bargains: Leadership in the U.S. Nonprofit Performing Art Sector is well worth reading – and so are the opening remarks  that Holly Sidford (one of the report’s authors) gave at a Community Foundation conference last April.

She describes three performing arts organizations (or “institutions”, as Matthew Jocelyn says we should describe them that were identified through the research. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, whose new mission is to develop “a passionate audience for the orchestral experience,” Trey McIntyre, a dance company centred around creative community engagement, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, which focuses attention on American composers and performers, each exemplify:

  • strategic and impact driven leadership;
  • a clear sense of public purpose and a distinctive artistic identity; and
  • a belief that the institution is inseparable from its constituency.

I don’t know enough about Vancouver Playhouse to know if these lessons are applicable to its situation. But they are certainly worth thinking about for the rest of us.

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