Who Learned What? A Report From Kellogg's Arts Management Retreat
A good time was definitely not had by all at a recent weekend retreat for more than 50 Chicago arts executives at Northwestern University's prestigious J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management. "Kellogg needs to get its shit together," says a blunt Jackie Taylor, producing director and founder of the Black Ensemble, who felt the business school did a "lousy" job of preparing for the retreat. Held January 15 and 16 and funded by the Sara Lee Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the event was part of a $1-million, two-year initiative by the two foundations to help local not-for-profit arts organizations hone their marketing skills and develop desperately needed new audiences. If all continues to go according to plan--which is somewhat in question at the moment--Kellogg would be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in three installments to work with the groups. Thus far the school has received only one installment.
According to about a dozen sources who participated in the retreat, it was intended to familiarize those present with some general business principles, which will help them later analyze and use the research Kellogg professor Robert Calder (who did not attend the retreat) is in the process of doing on marketing and management in the arts. But Kellogg's efforts did not impress many of the arts executives--from theater and dance companies, art galleries, and trade associations--who spent two days in classes at the plush James L. Allen Center on Northwestern's Evanston campus. Among other things, Kellogg professors lectured the group on reading balance sheets, strategic marketing analysis, and management leadership styles. Several attendees were reportedly close to open revolt by the end of the first and most tedious day; those who persevered through the weekend indicated that the material was perfunctory and well below the level of management expertise of many of those present. "It was clear we were getting canned lectures," says John Ragir, executive director of Live Bait Theater (and a graduate of NYU business school). Most of the presenters were also faulted for not attempting to give their material any kind of arts context; most of their examples of good or bad marketing or management styles were from mainstream corporate America--banks, insurance companies. At various times during the weekend, some attendees even lit into Sara Lee and MacArthur staffers for giving so much money to Kellogg instead of directly to ailing arts organizations. Only one speaker, Kellogg marketing professor Ann McGill, who was the last to appear, emerged unscathed. "She managed to humanize her material by giving examples from her own experiences with the arts," says Susan Lipman, executive director of Performing Arts Chicago.
Sara Lee and MacArthur sources say they chose Kellogg not so much for any recognized strength in the area of the arts (it has little to speak of) but for its convenient location and its general excellence as a business school. It has scored first in Business Week's past three biennial ratings of the top business schools. At the end of the weekend Kellogg dean Donald Jacobs was reportedly loudly booed when he suggested the participants would have appreciated the retreat more had they paid for it. One MacArthur source said the foundations would analyze this retreat carefully before deciding whether to make changes in the program. Terminating the agreement with Kellogg was also mentioned as a slim possibility.
Number Crunching at the International Theatre Festival
The fifth biennial International Theatre Festival of Chicago could be the one that tests its organizers' financial mettle. In the back of the 1992 annual report, released with last week's press materials for the 1994 event, were some grim numbers; that festival lost more than $72,000, after the 1990 event had cleared a profit of more than $208,000. Total expenses for the 1992 festival skyrocketed a hefty 17 percent, to $2.54 million from 1990's $2.17 million, while ticket revenue increased only 7 percent. Furthermore individual, foundation, and corporate grants dropped a not insignificant 2.5 percent between 1990 and 1992. Clearly the organizers are going to have to hold expenses in check for the 1994 festival while working doubly hard to boost ticket revenue at a time when theater ticket sales are down. Artistic director Jane Nicholl Sahlins and managing director Pam Marsden have pared down the budget to around $2.4 million from close to $2.6 in 1992 and are bringing in only six companies and one solo performer, down from ten companies in 1992. With a leaner festival, Sahlins and Marsden are counting more than ever before on the two big imports--Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors and a production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock by Dublin's Gate Theatre--to generate ticket sales. Other attractions expected to do well are Canadian Robert LePage's Needles and Opium and the Amsterdam-based group Dogtroep, which will create a site-specific performance piece in a new tent pavilion under construction on Navy Pier. The festival won't be operating a ticket office in the Loop as it did two years ago in rented office space in First National Plaza. "The setup was not cost-effective," says Marsden. But festival attendees can buy tickets by mail or at the festival's administrative office on West Superior, as well as through Ticketmaster or at performance sites. Ticket prices will range from a high of $40 (the top price for premiere attractions) to a low of $7.50 (the courtesy rate for professional theater artists).
The proposed merger between Victory Gardens Theater and Body Politic Theatre has hit a snag. Sources on the Body Politic board of directors say they are pursuing other merger options after being insulted by Victory Gardens' lowball bid of just over $60,000 for Body Politic's 50-percent stake in the building the two companies jointly own at 2257-61 N. Lincoln. (An earlier agreement between the two companies set the total value of the building at $380,000.) One other company Body Politic has talked to is Wisdom Bridge, which is apparently anxious to get out of its Howard Street location as soon as possible. Body Politic board members confirmed the discussions with Wisdom Bridge, but added that Victory Gardens was free to make another offer. "We need some clarification about what was wrong with our last offer," says John Walker, Victory Gardens' managing director. Walker said the next bid would be tied to Body Politic's outstanding debt, a figure that hasn't been revealed to Victory Gardens.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Barreras.