Ask Not What the Company Can Do for You...

Posted by Krista Lang Blackwood, Nov 17, 2011 3 comments

Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood

How often do we artists walk into a company supportive of the arts and ask, “What can we do for you?”

Do I hear crickets?

Yep. Those are definitely crickets.

Here’s how it usually happens; we walk in and immediately start defending our existence, and then we ask for money. We tell companies what kind of a public relations boon it will be to give to the arts, outline how we’ll use the logo in our materials, talk about wording for sponsorship, and then wait for them to write the check.

If they don’t write the check, we grumble about how they just don’t understand. Then we come back in a couple of months and try again.

What we should do is find a way to serve the businesses who serve us with sponsorships. The former mayor of Kansas City, where I live, commenting on nonprofit/city government partnerships, said, “I love nonprofits and think they deserve city support. But only if they provide a service better than the city can.”

So how can we provide a service? And if we start to think along those lines, will we lose our art?

It’s a fine line, but I think there are ways to massage what we do to be able to offer businesses something for their money once in a while.

How many corporations offer ongoing team-building workshops? All of them, right? And what is a choir, an instrumental ensemble, a theatre troupe, a dance company if not a team?

How many corporations emphasize professional development opportunities designed to help managers cultivate supervisory and leadership skills? All of them, right? How many times do you think they wished they could role-play conversations before they actually had them with employees? And who is good at playing roles?

And what about project management skills? What is a large artistic endeavor? A project, right?

Public speaking. Communication skills. Space beautification.

The list goes on and on. The arts are uniquely positioned to offer creative ways to build themselves into corporate systems in ways that will benefit both the systems and the artist.

So is that selling out?

I don’t think so. It’s just another tentacle of the arts. Why can’t we have art for art’s sake AND art as a useful economic engine?

3 responses for Ask Not What the Company Can Do for You...


November 21, 2011 at 9:42 am

This is is an excellent example of what I'm talking about.

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November 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm


It's the same argument some have when the arts are commercially successful; if it's making money, is it still art?

Of course it is. Some commercially successful "art" may not be considered "art" by some "artists" but, then again, "art" is sometimes not considered "art" by some "artists." It's a sliding scale full of lack of objectivity, prejudice and pure opinion.

So we can't define "art." But can we redefine "art"?

In this current climate, I think we need to. If corporations don't understand what we do, they won't support us. We have spent many years trying to teach corporations how to speak our language. But it's time for artists to learn how to speak the language of business and find a way to enrich it.

Not selling out; re-branding. We're creative, sure. But if the arts die due to lack of funding, it will be because we weren't creative enough.

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November 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

My sentiments, exactly! A couple of months ago I had a post ( quite close to this, but i must say I received more than a few responses that almost screamed "sell out!" There have been so many posts exploring this issue this week, that it must be time to get down to it.

What constitutes a sell out? I think that if we we act with integrity and sincerity, we are not selling out no matter what we do. The ultimate issue today as I see it is that business frequently doesn't actually get it - just as most traditional schools (no matter what they say) really don't understand how to develop inquisitive, flexible, free-thinking minds. Their rhetoric is good - but their action shows otherwise.

So what's selling out? Some artists work well within a more corporate environment while others do not (there are studio musicians, for example, and others who wouldn't dream of it) - but beyond that, there is the reality that we all need to eat and our country is becoming more corporate by the second. So do struggling artists say no to a side job? Usually not. Why, then, say no to doing something with corporations - such as helping them develop their staff, as you aptly suggest - simply because the work lacks the pure artistic integrity we so enjoy and admire?

I really believe it's time for the arts to get more 'down' with the community - and I don't see why that should rule anyone out, even those who are so clearly on the other side of the aisle - the corporations.

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