Kelli Strickland is the Executive Director of The Hypocrites. She completed the Devos Arts Management Fellowship at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 2013 and returned to Raven Theatre as Executive Director where she had previously served as Director of Education. Kelli has twenty years experience as an arts educator and consultant in program development, program evaluation, and arts learning assessment. Kelli is an instructor at Loyola University in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
I am recently back from vacation and under the spell cast by days of few interruptions and simple choices. I am, in short—relaxed. And as sometimes happens after a period of decompressing and unplugging, I wonder how I can’t do a better job of holding on to this feeling upon my return. This leads me to an observation that is not new, but one that I have to remind myself of with some consistency. I do too much. But with experience I am recognizing that some things I do don’t bring enough value to my life in order to justify the continual doing of them. So I stop doing them. This requires a somewhat regular review of my goals, my values and my hopes for the future. These things change. And as they change, I need to make sure that the activities that I fill my time with evolve as the vision evolves.
I think this is a helpful question to ask within our organizations. Are we doing too much? Sometimes a piece of ancillary programming, a festival, an audience engagement activity, a fundraising event continues to be tacked on to our calendar every month, every year, for every show, because we’ve always done it. But when is the last time we gave some thought as to why we began doing it? How satisfied are we with its current incarnation? Is it achieving what we hoped it would achieve? Have we gotten better at it? Does the amount of staff time spent balance positively with the outcomes? Most importantly, do the outcomes help us fill our mission and support the organizational goals and vision outlined in our strategic plan?
Inside an arts organization we have two tools to keep us focused on what we have defined as a priority—our mission statement and our strategic plan. These two tools are perhaps even more important to storefront where we are working with such limited resources of time and money. We are, after all, creative people. We have lots of ideas. How do we know if we are taking advantage of an ‘opportunity’ or merely piling something on to our plate that will bog us down and overwhelm us? How do we protect our precious resources by not getting distracted, chasing down opportunities that seem exciting but are not really ‘for us?’
We do it by steadfastly returning to our mission and our vision for our companies. And we ask ourselves does this opportunity, this program, this initiative help us get closer to the vision that we have created for ourselves? If it doesn’t, we don’t do it. The opportunity or idea may bring us attention, or increase the regard for our company, or just seem like fun. But that’s not the litmus test. The litmus test is, is it fulfilling our mission and moving us forward toward our vision? I continue to maintain that one of the greatest threats to our overall health as a community is burnout.
I have been in more than one conversation where an Artistic Director has suggested that mission statements and strategic plans feel constricting because they want to be open to all possibilities. For me, there is great freedom in a tool to help with decision making. Rather than agonize over the many reasons whether an idea might be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ affordable or cost-prohibitive, original or hackneyed, the best ideas will quickly rise to the top because they support our mission and move us toward the vision we have for ourselves.
When I talk to companies about what their vision is for themselves there are a few things that you hear with some regularity:
- “We want to grow to a budget size of $xxx.”
- “We want to grow it as big as we can.”
- “We want a full-time staff of four.”
But these are somewhat nebulous goals if you don’t know what you are doing with this increased budget or staff. And growing something as ‘big as you can’ leaves no opportunity to celebrate achievement. There’s is always more that we can be doing. But we cannot do everything. If we don’t make conscious choices about what we are doing, we will suffer eternally from a feeling of not having done enough. And feeling like you haven’t done enough is dispiriting. And when you are dispirited you get burnt out.