Moving Through Recovery

Moving Through Recovery

By Jill Robinson, CEO

It’s not that recovery is happening. We’re deep in the midst—the messy, dark midst—of this crisis. But as I said in last week’s blog post, I’m going to share observations after each TRG Executive Recovery Summit, and today my observations are about how we’re moving through this time, and what movement must be next.

Context: Recovery Summits began in mid-April as an out-growth of our weekly TRG 30 Roundtables that began earlier, in mid-March. To respond to questions that Stephen Skrypec and I didn’t have time to address, the consulting team developed a LinkedIn TRG 30 Virtual Network for follow-on dialogue and sharing. We quickly saw the need to support leaders specifically, and Recovery Summits were born.

Prior to each summit, we ask participants to describe their biggest concerns and biggest opportunities, and our first Recovery Summit was April 22nd. I’ve taken time each week to throw these advance comments into one of the Internet’s free “word cloud” makers, and a picture has begun to emerge.

Back in April the big “concern” words were these: challenge, able, back, revenue, season, community and uncertainty.    

Frequent “opportunity” words were these: new, ways, will, community, content, patrons and opportunity.

No surprise: community was at the center of both our concern and our belief about opportunity.

In April, our administrative teams were talking to our communities daily, processing ticketing refunds, credits and (more often than we expected) donations for the shows and performances we were postponing…maybe cancelling altogether. Museums stepped out early with free digital content, sharing with communities the treasure trove of educational assets, and quickly invested in making collections and more available digitally. Because our communities expressed their admiration, devotion and need of arts and culture in their lives, we began imagining how people could come back and how we might need to be in the interim. We began imagining, but we didn’t yet fully understand the implications.

On May 21st, Stephen and I completed our seventh weekly Recovery Summit and the words reflect those seven weeks and how we’ve moved through them. That day the “concern” words included
revenue, back and uncertainty (consistent winners every week), but also planning, fundraising, staff, will last, artistic and leadership.

“Opportunity” words?
Opportunity, of course, and: think, new, way, audience, online, classes, evolve and order.

At the beginning of each TRG30, I re-state my hope that as a field we will use this time of crisis to revolutionize the way we think and act so that we can evolve the sector:


And I am seeing the evolution. You can see it in the words. The field is now deep in scenario planning, and while much of it is terrifying, some of it has opened new possibilities in digital distribution, artistic and curatorial innovation, and revenue streams. Leaders are working hard to motivate and inspire smaller teams during layoffs and furloughs; they’re also waking up to the need to fill their own tanks to ensure they can sustain themselves for the long haul. Boards, which didn’t make the advance list, made its way loudly into the conversation with both/and comments like, “I had board leadership turnover just prior to this crisis…what a gift!” and “I just don’t know what to do with my inexperienced, overwhelmed board…”  Investment in people is a necessary preoccupation. I see leaders getting serious about how their artists and organizations deliver value and service in communities beyond live performance and interaction. And finally, many are imagining how they WILL come back and open their doors with detailed time and action models. Some very soon; some much later.

So now, what movement must be next?  We must start to imagine how we live alongside this virus. History suggests we’ll be living with disruption for quite some time; government officials remind us of this every day. Now, we must creatively dig into the hardest work yet, developing specific plans that assume that disruption is the new normal. This will be a new and different future. While nothing about this is clear, it IS clear that the next wave of our movement through must consider the following:

  1. Smaller is better than gone. Every industry affected by this virus is dealing with existential reconciliation, not just arts and culture. As leaders, we must now move from grief surrounding the loss of our former organizational selves, to joyful acceptance of what we can do as smaller, different versions of organizations. I promise you: smaller can be better.

  2. Artists are central to our recovery, and they must drive it. The time is NOW to push fear aside and reconcile with unions, agents and artists themselves to ensure that they can work, that they’re paid fairly in today’s context, and that we innovate the future together.

  3. New business models will drive us forward. We must consider not just scenario plans, but completely new models for operating and delivering value. Tanglewood announced its 2020 Online Festival this week; the Virtual Philadelphia Orchestra is led by President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky, who said in a recent interview, “We went from a classical music producing company to a media company in the space of a minute and that changed the way we think about everything.”  And these business models must make financial sense (see #5, below).

  4. Our communities will respond if we’re listening hard, and we keep them front and center.  Never has listening and responding to our communities been more important. To our loyalists, yes—as I recently talked about with Fred Reichheld—now is the time to create a culture of listening and acting on it. But not to just our loyalists. Loyalists are critical and will help not only fuel our recovery but partner with us in change. We must also emerge from this crisis building from the assumption that diversity will be a catalyst and that our ability to connect to our broader communities is required.

  5. For non-profit organizations, boards and governance models must be reconsidered to enable entrepreneurial and nimble support of the charitable service organizations and artists provide. We must stop obsessing about old fears that overhead is the problem, or that surplus operations aren’t smart. Organizations that headed into this crisis without necessary working capital are now at serious existential risk. Now is the time to change the way we think about the non-profit model and what it means and delivers and how.

Continue movingTo stop is certain failure; I fear it is the biggest existential threat. We owe it to our communities, artists, and administrative teams to keep moving through. As I reminded everyone in my blog last week, whether commercial or charitable, ours is the creative sector.  Every year, we lead our communities in thinking big, thinking differently, imagining how—let’s not stop now.

Join Jill and Stephen for an upcoming Executive Recovery Summits where these four challenges and more will be front and center. Register here.

Posted May 28, 2020

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