I think everyone who cares about the performing arts, and more particularly Opera, has had a heavy heart the last few weeks with the imminent closing down of Gauteng Opera. Even I had a short stint with the Black Tie Ensemble in 2000. Their funding model is just not sustainable. Why? They ticked all the right boxes. Politically well positioned with excellent artists and management. If they can’t make it, who can?

Let’s start with two obvious reasons. Everyone who works in the performing arts sector at a management level understands that music development is not supported at grass-roots level in our communities, because it is deemed less valuable than other endeavors. Our government agencies that support the arts have their own internal struggles. Which leaves a lot of important projects hanging.

I think I’d rather get to the point before I try to discuss attempted changes in management styles at theatres and performing arts organisations….so here it is:

Selling our art form as a product or brand like someone selling a car has never worked. Our dependency on funding agencies/foundations/benefactors in this model is untenable. If it was possible, many more organizations would have been successful at this. I also have to say that there is nothing wrong with the quality of our art or artists, but I don’t think our art is our most valuable commodity or collateral. It can’t and should never be our end goal. When we do think this way, we undermine the fundamental reason for its existence in the first place. Performing Arts is a product of human collaboration that is built on relationship. Not first between professional performers and their management, but much more grass-roots than that. Between aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers, moms and dads, and children. If we don’t get it right at this basic level, it is not possible to build sustainable support for performing arts in communities. Any other way is just a passing fad. Our art has always, and should always be a means to an end.

A person that had an extraordinary effect on my life is Yves Senn. He is the director of L’avant-scène Opéra in Neuchatel, Switzerland and his company is now in its 32nd year. ( http://www.avant-scene.ch ) Through political and personal challenges they are still strong and growing. Watch the video where he explains why he started his company. It was not about the music or the art….

Art….what Art? It is first and foremost about community.