The past few days have undoubtedly been difficult and upsetting for the small-to-medium arts sector of Australia. And a funding crisis has been precipitated. Whether we have secured funding or not, whether we knew what was coming or not – the sense of shock and disappointment is palpable.

Now more than ever, it’s important to stand strong, support our peers and know that our sector is the most creative and resourceful sector in the Australian economy.  There is no question that we have the ideas, inspiration, partnerships and relationships that will see us through this.

Pick your time to do battle. This isn’t it.

Parliament has been dissolved and Australia has a care-taker government until the federal election on 2 July.  There is nobody to fight with or take it up to because their eye is on the end-game of being re-elected.

With these guys out of play, it’s important to suppress the desire to publicly vent our anger and disappointment.  It may feel right to express frustration to a wider public and draw attention to the crisis, but the critical audience now is those in the position to help us most – our patrons, donors, sponsors, philanthropic funders – and others that may become any one of these in the future.  We know that support in all its forms follows vision, excellence and execution – so now we need to communicate from a position of strength and opportunity.

What to do next

We need to move quickly through the stages of grieving and put our very valuable heads together.  Here are five really important things to do and be mindful of in this initial recovery phase.

  1. Retain your power or agency

Our sector is the most creative and resourceful sector in the Australian economy.  We must own that position and make sure that we’re the ones calling the shots on how we pull through this.  We retain agency by talking about our vision and being proud of our strategic and clever teams. With the confidence these natural assets provide, we will find all manner of creative and inspiring ways to work together and bridge the gaps.

  1. Don’t rush it

It is important to remember that we have seven months of oxygen.  We have the time to craft a solution and much can be done.  Don’t jump in and start patching with a packet of band aids.  This is the time to design the future for your organisation and you have to think big. There’s a saying … ‘it’s often easier to raise a lot of money than a little’.  It’s true that it can be easier to fund a vision and transformation that is underpinned by a bullet-proof business plan than it is to fund incremental improvements or stop-gaps.

  1. Regroup

Artistic and executive leaders, staff and boards need to come together.  It is important to debrief internally. Receiving feedback on your application may be helpful – or it may not – because decisions may have been contextual rather than related directly to you.  It doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is getting on the front foot quickly with your Plan B.

The immediate concern is revenue generation and there is a multitude of ways to approach this.

  1. Be very careful with cost-cutting

No arts organisation in the world has ever saved its way to financial health. Cutting costs from programming and income generating functions is a dangerous exercise that can set off a fatal chain of events. Less compelling artistic programs, marketed in less sophisticated ways amid a backdrop of inadequate fundraising is the kiss of death.  Being brave, leading with vision, communicating brilliantly and drawing your audience to you is how you fight your way back.

  1. Stay positive in the media

As above, right now, our most important audience is those in a position to help us – and they want to hear from organisations with incredible stories, ambition and an exciting vision of the future.  If we are Australia’s most creative and resourceful citizens, then now’s the time to prove it in partnership with those we inspire and those who believe in us.

Caroline Sharpen is an experienced strategist, consultant and business development practitioner. She is also the principal of Sharpen Creative Industries Consulting, an alliance of specialists and independent consultants working with arts and creative-sector clients.

First published as a feature on Limelight, Friday 13 May, 2016.

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