Disponible en anglais seulement
Leading Roles – 50 Questions Every Arts Board Should Askby Michael M. Kaiser, Brandeis University Press, ISBN 978-1-58465-906-8
a book review by Catherine Molina
Catherine Molina is the Principal Violist of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, a former member of the Thunder Bay Symphony, an RCM examiner and the director of an active music studio. She currently serves as a player representative on the GSO’s Board of Directors.
Michael Kaiser explores the complexities of running a not-for-profit arts organization with a special emphasis on the critical role played by the board itself. Kaiser’s credentials are impressive; he is the President of the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts (2001- present) and is credited with the revival of the Royal Opera House, the Kansas City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and the American Ballet Theatre. Last year he embarked on a sixty-nine city tour, addressing boards in crisis.
In the preface, Kaiser recounts his first experiences as a board member with the Washington Opera. He is candid in describing howhis enthusiasm and best intentions did not always result in a benefit to the organization. He claims that he has failed as often as he has succeeded. This willingness to self-reflect opens the reader to pause throughout the book and perhaps to see themselves (and not just others!) in the scenarios described.
The book is structured as 50 questions and answers covering everything from life cycles of an arts organization, mission statement, governance, fundraising, marketing, staff, planning and budgeting, to crisis management and programming. The author apologizes for the repetition that naturally occurs within this format, but he actually never restates ideas in the same manner, making for an exceptionally enjoyable read while preserving the book’s value as a the reference manual.
The author’s central message lies in the importance of the mission statement, which he feels should direct the strategic plan and in essence motivate every action taken by the organization. Kaiser offers a penetrating analysis of difficulties an arts organization is likely to encounter and the pitfalls of approaches typically taken to address these challenges. What emerges from the discussion is a clearer sense of a logical and informed path forward.He cautions that in dealing with those inevitable periods of financial stress, ways must be found to cut anything or everything but the art itself, and the marketing. Kaiser is convinced that the most important work the board does happens in the community, not in the boardroom. He shows no sympathy for an unproductive board member and urges each organization not to wait for the term to expire to deal with the problem. This is a recurring theme in the book- he describes reactionto this advice at his workshops as a one and a half hour journey from disbelief to relief!
As the title suggests, the book is intended primarily as a guide for volunteer board members to understand and enjoy their role in governance. The scope and cogent manner in which the material is presented however, make it a must read for everyone involved in the organization-experienced or not!