Friday, August 10, 2007

Look Out For Corporate Speak and Consultant Creep

Up is down, black is white, and the box we were thinking ourselves out of yesterday is the one we are stepping back into today.

Geoff Edgers follows up on the Citi Performing Arts Center's new strategic intitiative, which includes partnerships with other arts organizations. Read the article, but watch out for the Board's corporate-speak, which comes flying at you from every direction: "Mergers," "acquisitions," "wins." My favorite is this gem:

Spaulding said the Center has signed confidentiality
with groups it has approached for
and partnerships
, but according to sources at the organizations
involved, they include First Night, the Boston Cyberarts Festival, Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company, and Young Audiences of Massachusetts, a chapter of the national nonprofit that works to bring arts education programs into schools.

It is not that confidentiality agreements aren't perfectably acceptable in a case of strategic restructuring and partnerships, even for non-profits. However, in light of the biggest black eye that CPAC received from news in recent weeks, (the perception that their financial practices are somewhat opaque,) maybe they shouldn't be presenting the image of the kids from Young Audiences of Massachusetts signing a confidentiality agreement for the possibility of getting some of the cash that the Boston Foundation is promising the Citi Center.

From my experience, once the corporate culture invades an organization, its only a matter of time before its lazier twin brother, the consultant culture, comes calling. The consultant culture moves in with bluster and sweet promises of making more money by doing less with less people. Soon, everybody is pissed at you, the corporate culture leaves and you are left with the consultant culture, sitting on your sofa, eating chips and pizza on your dime.

Basil Fawlty famously proclaimed, "I could run this hotel perfectly well if it wasn't for all the guests." It appears CPAC is great at getting money, but has stumbled in just how to present cultural performances in a challenging environment. The solution? Keep getting the money, but get others to worry about the producing. It is the consultant's dream situation. The private sector equivalent is the Vendor Management Solution.

In that particular scheme, a large service provider gets so big and powerful that they can start going to major clients to offer the VMS. "Hey, sign an exclusive contract with us, give us the all of the orders for these services and we will cut you a good deal. And you don't have to worry about negotiating with 30 other vendors, you just have to deal with us."

Sounds great? Only if your are the VMS.

You remember those 30 other vendors? Well, alot of them are still going to be providing the services to that big major client, only now they have to go through the VMS, who dictates everything, has all of the power and takes a cut of what the other vendors used to get.

The promises of the bloated VMS are all in the marketing catch phrases:

"We're trying to make a permanent, stable platform for the arts here in Boston out of the turmoil of the last seven years," said John William Poduska Sr., chairman of the Center's board of trustees. "We've got so many balls in the air," he said. "We can't tell you
what's going to happen with mergers and acquisitions.
We do seem to be getting some wins."

See, the CPAC will be able to get Boston out of the mess it is in regarding the arts! They will be the "platform" providing the "permanence!"

The Boston Foundation handed out a portion of a grant with a stipulation that the rest of it would given once CPAC established partnerships. Give the money to CPAC, and they will deal with guests for you.

Joan Moynagh, one of CSC's cofounders and a Citi Center trustee until June, criticized the Boston Foundation for giving the Center the grant.

"I think anyone would rather see that go to a company that's actually producing something," she said. "Don't give it to [Spaulding] to pay his consultants to figure out a way to partner with smaller organizations. Give it to the smaller organizations. This virtual arts institution model, I don't think anyone gets."

Martha H. Jones, president of the Celebrity Series of Boston, also has
questions. For a decade, she and Spaulding collaborated to bring prominent dance companies to the Wang Theatre. Last fall, Spaulding told Jones the Center would no longer partner with the Celebrity Series for the project.

These are the voices of two people who have experience in CPAC "partnerships."
And if you think I am exaggerating about the corporate speak, I will leave you with the words of CPAC Trustee Robert Sachs:

"We think we've been totally honest with ourselves about our shortcomings and our needs, and we are taking steps to address those needs and to leverage our strengths," he said. "We feel we kind of have our arms around the issues and we've made some excellent hires over the last year. If anybody can accomplish this, we believe we have a team in place. It's going to take more work and continued commitment on the part of trustees and management alike."

UPDATE: Bill Marx has the breakdown and comparison of Boston Foundation funding for institutions at his Artsfuse.

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