The always fragile arts ecology is now awash with fear. Signs of real trouble are everywhere: Major university presenting programs are slashing staffs, or being cut entirely; opera companies are closing in Orange County California and Baltimore MD; New York City Ballet has announced that it is cutting 11 positions in the corps de ballet; The LA Opera has cut 17 staff positions; and even the mighty Metropolitan Opera is trimming its sails.
Certainly, some of these adjustments are timely recognitions of a changed reality. Others I'm hearing about carry with them the sulphuric smell of panic - that paralyzing reaction to an unknowable terror. This is unproductive in the extreme. We who work in, and care about the health of the arts must have a deeper and more creative reaction to the economic and cultural changes that now face us. We must acknowledge that we have grown fat and complacent - and that means you whoever is reading this. We have often flirted with a kind of precious irrelevance as we focus as much on the approval of our professional colleagues as the needs of our communities.
This new economic environment is no joke and it's not going to change for the better anytime soon. To survive and flourish we must embrace the moment. We must recognize and focus on unshakable first principals. We must know, love, and serve our individual communities. To survive in a community any organization must be vital to it. We must be able ask and answer the question "I what way are we vital to this community?" and be able to measure it. Those organizations with the nerve and discipline to act with creativity, clarity, and resolve during these difficult times will prosper and endure.
But that takes courage and work not fear.