Small Ship, Big Sails: Asset-based Storytelling

Dear Friends,

We’re here. The end of 2019 is upon us. While we at Red Olive are working with almost 15 groups across the country to tell their organization’s story in order to garner financial support for the arts & culture we so love, I want to take this moment to hold space for the administrators who make it all possible. Make the work seen. 

Because Red Olive’s mission is to be a critical fundraising expert firm to small arts & culture organizations, it never ceases to fascinate me the lengths to which the administrators—interim & permanent executive directors, the editors-in-chief, the all-volunteer staff with no official title or compensations, the board members who step in during times of critical transition, etc—put the needs of artists before their own. 

But shouldn’t art be the focus & get the bulk of the resources? Yes, and—. I think this question & positioning is a by-product of a dated philanthropic investment philosophy whose mathematical evaluation for a “successful” (read: “worth funding”) organization was one that did not spend more than 20% on administrative or “overhead” costs. So we’re trained into this mode of thinking that one must deny the self (or the armature on which good art is made!) in order that the art shines through. Imagine that. 

Last week I had the chance to view the HBO documentary The Apollo at a friend’s house. Present in the screening room were three generations of diverse folk. & maybe all of us were arts administrators in our own way: theater, visual arts, literature, communications specialists and editors, executive directors, producers, & then me. We bopped to the archival music. We cried. We smiled. We shared in critical community & space-holding after, well into the night. 

Of the Apollo Theater’s importance, Patti LaBelle said, it was a place that made artists feel like they were worth it, “not because we weren’t worth it, but because we weren’t allowed to be worth it [before the Apollo].” (emphasis mine) That stayed with me. From multiple entry points, it’s how I come to the work of Red Olive, of Black Art Futures Fund.

Also last week, with that statement echoing in my ear, I asked an unpaid arts administrator in our 1:1 coaching call what it would look like if they had adjusted the budget to include both the stated raises for artistic contributors, and maybe a stipend, at least, for the other folks like herself who make all of this possible: the creation of a space that made writers feel like they were allowed to be worth it. The call went silent for some time as she sat with it. While it was considered what it meant—to be allowed to feel like the unseen efforts of the administrators are worth investment, a budget line, a fundraising effort. 

One of the other pieces from The Apollo that stuck with us—all 3 generations—was that we had no idea that there was a time for which The Apollo went dark. Closed its doors. After a few false starts and short ownership, it went from a for-profit entertainment venue, to the space that is closer to being what we know today. But the message: our spaces we love and need so much could close. & what would it look like if we took care of them? 

What a world we could live in then! If the orgs we love remain sufficiently resourced, then the art we so care about can, too, be sufficiently resourced & nurtured & brought forth for generations to come. 

Our artistic futures are worth that investment & dreaming. 

In solidarity,


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