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Getting Past the "Now" Culture Within Arts Organizations

Posted by Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwald
Getting Past the "Now" Culture Within Arts Organizations

Yesterday I met with a number of potential applicants for the Taproot Foundation’s Service Grant program, which connects business professionals with nonprofits to deliver pro bono consulting projects in marketing, strategy, and human resources. I was there to continue my research into some of the more universal pain points in building strong infrastructures for performing arts organizations.


As we sat there I heard an executive director mention that “in six years we’ve never sat down and planned for or talked about the future.” They were, he explained; too busy focusing on developing and producing art.


I hesitated for a moment trying to decide the right response and the conversation turned away from his comment. But it stayed with me—I’ve heard this before.

The “now” culture within arts organizations, the focus on getting up the next show, the ever present feeling that if you’re not producing you’re somehow failing, means that conversations about how to strategically plan for the future are often an organization’s last priority.


But I hesitated yesterday because I’m not convinced; I’ve seen and worked with too many artists who are driven rather than stymied by how their vision fits into the larger national landscape. So what is it then—what is the roadblock that keeps arts organization from talking about the future?


My answer—resources; the scarcity of resources for arts organizations means most artists have adopted a head-down approach to their work.


Because let’s face it, if there’s any group of people who could dream a better future for their organizations it’s the artists in our communities. But conversations about the future are a risk right now because none of us know what the future looks like.


But if arts organizations understood how to better tap into the resources of the business community and professionals working in the business community knew how to offer pro bono consulting to local arts organizations would the dialogue change?


When arts organizations know they can count on the business community to support their strategic planning, marketing collateral, or financial planning would we hear more conversations about growth plans? I think so.


Pro bono consulting—doing work for a nonprofit for free that draws on the skills a business professional uses every day—is a relatively new pool of resources. And it won’t take from limited philanthropic dollars but rather allow arts organizations to build a new stream of resources.


Since 2001, Taproot has worked with over 3,000 business professionals engaging them in pro bono service in our core markets in Chicago, New York, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.


Our newest program Powered by Pro Bono, launching in the fall of 2012, takes our ten years of experience of engaging business professionals and delivering high-quality programs and offers the necessary tools and trainings to allow nonprofits to successfully solicit and manage pro bono resources independently.


Through pro bono consulting, business professionals have the opportunity to become more involved citizens and actively engage in new ways in their community.


We’re anticipating that by starting the conversation about how to make pro bono a core part of any nonprofit’s organizational growth we will see a shift in how the conversation is conducted.


Pro bono and the business professionals who deliver it will be counted on as resources to build a strong infrastructure under those dreams and conversations about what the future looks like.


Talking about the future then will be a celebrated part of an art’s organization’s journey.

For more information about Taproot and our programming visit our website at


*Photo courtesy of bixentro.

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