This is not about technology.
This is about learning lessons from the technology community and a broader entrepreneurial spirit and taking those lessons to a decidedly foreign place: arts and heritage institutions.
And nobody seems more interested in doing that than Thaddeus Squire, the refined founder and president of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, a new iteration of his 2005-founded Peregrine Arts and its triumphant and sprawling, summer 2009 urban exploration art showcase Hidden City.
Squire, turning 39 on July 26th, grew up in Merion near the Barnes Foundation, about which he penned an ‘incendiary’ letter to the Inquirer in 1999, criticizing its coverage. It was loud enough, he said, that it helped him land a development job with the Museum of Art, having had just moved back to Philly, after Princeton and serving a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Through that work at the Museum of Art, RelÃ¢che and elsewhere, he became quite focused on the entirely unsurprising notion that arts organizations aren’t, on the whole, very good at funding what they do.
“We’ve over estimated the need for research and best practices for creating sustainable and resilient arts and heritage groups. We have more research than actual labor to run any of these programs using the best practices we research,” said Squire, a Brewerytown resident since 2002. “I’m interested in a model that brings the research and the labor together.”
And that’s just about how Peregrine, which did work in the arts consulting space, became the three tiered CultureWorks program, which is only now readying for the public and, Squire says, could reshape how art gets done and sustained in Philadelphia and beyond.
As always, edited for length and clarity.
What is CultureWorks going to do or already doing?
We have three different packages: sustainability initiatives for big organizations, outsourced management services for, say, middle-sized groups and cultural co-working for very small startups, with almost an incubator mentality.
Go into greater detail.
It’s no secret that you can divide business into these three things: what you make or do, to whom and how you’re selling it and what the delivery for it is. We have put together a service suite meant to fit that nifty trifecta.
So for the big organizations, we’ll work on specific outputs around Cultural Sustainability Initiatives. With the Academy of Natural Sciences, a $14 million organization. It’s not comprehensive finance management, because they have a team of five or so doing that, it’s allowing us to do deeper re-visioning of products, strategic planning.
Then we have Management Services, where smaller and mid-sized organizations can get the full package of [financial management, fundraising, board and leadership development, marketing and program management at a fixed monthly cost]. We’ve been doing this since November 2008, starting with four pilot clients… It’s very long-term professional development.
For example, we trained an artistic director who didn’t want to do the fundraising stuff. It was a week in, week out process, and two years later, he’s completely transfixed by the funding market. I’ve made a Frankenstein… It’s almost a medieval system, like going back to the journeyman and masterman apprenticeship. I have reservations about the professionalization model today [because] I’m not in a professional sector. I’m in a trade. You learn trades by doing them, not sitting in a classroom.
The third piece is the newest, and that’s the Cultural Coworking. A lot of very small organizations wanted services that we just couldn’t offer at a price they could afford, and we started looking for a model where we could support them and offer varied services but do it in a larger way so we could afford to do it. It’s certainly modified from something like Indy Hall, but it ends up being a very efficient way to facilitate access. So we offer the technology and direction and resources and some mentorship but can do it across groups at the same time.
How did you get here?
We wanted to offer whole sustainability systems to all cultural organizations but we came to an affordability problem with scaled delivery.
How do you take your high-performance services to a $70,000 a year org that can’t drop $200 to $300 an hour on high-level services. The cost of the labor and the expertise is what it is, but you can reconfigure how to deliver those services.
So [to better explain], in the Greater Philadelphia arts and heritage sector, including things like historical sites, we divide them all according to what they do, like [the Pew Charitable Trusts] might have [groups put in] performing arts or another category. What we’ve realized is that it makes a lot more sense for these organizations to be divided by organizational scale, because sustaining really has very little to do with discipline or subject matter but much more to do with scale.
We as a sector haven’t built that into the arts common logic.
Doing a marketing audit for an organization on the small scale that so many arts groups are on is an absurd exercise. It’s killing a fly with a Howitzer, which is what foundations do. You don’t need to spend $30,000 to figure out how to spend $200,000. Those organizations really need a whole systems output management service. So then we just went about finding services for these different scaled organizations.
…We wanted to do more than what we did with Peregrine. It was after Hidden City 2009 that we reevaluated the market and decided Hidden City was a great success, way better than we thought in many ways, so it should remain on its own. But we needed to expand into something more comprehensive around scale, and that’s where CultureWorks came, which is a transfer of Peregrine’s nonprofit status.
So where does Hidden City, which is being held again in spring 2013, fit?
Hidden City 2013 is increasingly being treated as any client of CultureWorks. It has become a separate organization, and I stay involved as founder and board member, but we’ll have a new [executive director].
In July, we’ll launch the international artist RFP, looking to fill 18 to 20 sites in the city, and we’ll also quiet launch then Hidden City Daily, something of a media platform to cover this community.
In short, this next fiscal year is the simultaneous debut of CultureWorks and the re-launching of Hidden City as an organization from just a project.
So what’s next for CultureWorks?
It’s the coworking part now. We already have that core community, but now we have to get a sense of other coworkers, so we’ll put a call out in July, and try to judge what kind of space, though we’re thinking something like 12,000 square feet for 40 to 50 people to start.
We’re striving for late fall to launch the start of this coworking part.
Aren’t there already lots of collaborative work space for the arts in Philadelphia?
This is going to be very different than [established Old City coworking space] Indy Hall in this way. This isn’t going to be people who like Nat Mechanics and learn their craft together, like Java. There are places to create art [elsewhere]. This is about managing and financing that art. There’s a difference between the office and the factory floor. There’s a work and physical distinction. Nobody is making space to manage and grow business.
It may seem convenient to create art and fund art side by side, but it’s more sustainable to have shared space just to get the arts better at funding that work.
When the William Penn Foundation brought the ArtSpace to Philadelphia, you get to a space that is implausible, with dance studios and kilns. [Full disclosure: William Penn Foundation funds the Technically Philly Transparencity project] Where artists make their art is transient. I think the solitary collaboration in art happens when they write grants in their kitchens.
The coworking ethos is very relevant, but the dichotomy between making and managing in the arts is very stark and that’s what I think is different here.
What about the long-term goal for CultureWorks as a whole?
Now we’re looking to bring this to scale. We have proof of concept of these resources… The 2015 plan is to have an internal staff of 10 to service 250 organizations per annum, that’s six to eight large projects, 14-15 in the management services and the balance in co-working, maxing out around 200 in terms of space and support.
Along the way, we make these organizations more resilient and start to demonstrate impact on the sector itself.
Just to clarify though, if you train more organizations in fundraising, won’t you just create more competition for limited resources and attention?
The cash on the table is very finite, so while certainly we’re interested in making the pie bigger, I think the project is to do more work better and more efficiently with what we have.
What we’re really doing is creating an engine for what I see as vast inefficiency and waste in the funding of arts in Philadelphia. How can we do more with less money, or even just the money we have? That comes back to the systems we hope to provide.