4 Realities about business and the arts

I recently started working for a world-renowned arts organization; I fundraise for it by calling its patrons.  I've been learning an immense amount by working for an established arts organization about how business and the arts intersect.  Here are just a few of the things I've learned, and some direct applications to singing.  (Spoiler alert:  I’ve found all the things I learned incredibly heartening!)

1.  The arts and business absolutely go together.
Arts organizations must have money for space, sets, artists’ salaries, and more.  Donors receive the satisfaction of keeping the arts alive, along with a huge number of benefits with membership, which could include anything from getting to skip long lines in museums, to meeting the stars in that field, and a multitude of other benefits. 
This brings me to one of the most important lessons I learned here, which is that being able to carve a future for and fund any art form begins with understanding its value both in dollar terms and on the spiritual level.  That is the jumping-off point for funding it, and bringing the arts to audiences.  Something happened recently at our offices that really reinforced this concept for me:  a few weeks ago, there was a performance given at the studios there.  The time the performance happened coincided with our work hours.  We were told we could go see the performance, and the time would be paid if we did.  The reason it would be paid was because loving and appreciating the performance would help make us better salespeople.  With that fundamental belief in place, I believe it's no accident that the organization is celebrating several decades of excellence.

Likewise, singers are far more likely to “sell” their performances to an audience or panel if they truly love and are emotionally invested in the pieces they are singing.  While they must sing pieces suited to their strengths and weaknesses, opera is unique in that it has an over-400-year-old music catalogue to choose from.  They can find arias that they love AND which suit them.  In turn, love of and belief in the material will shine through, which is necessary component to closing any sale.  If you believe in what you're bringing to people, then you stand a chance of making the sale and having a lasting impact.

2.  Everything one does in the arts helps bring them to more people.
People become members of an arts organization for a variety of reasons.  To give only two examples:  some buy a membership because they already love the art form, others because they are new to the art form and want to learn more about it.  Whatever the reason, reaching out to patrons helps to plant the seed of the arts, or to nurture it where it already exists.  This concept was made clear to me when I met with the Head of Membership at the offices for the first time.  He said to me that, along with fundraising, our goal is to inspire/encourage people to love the arts;  perhaps the people who come onboard as members at the entry level will become longtime patrons who will continue to love and support the arts for years to come.
Similarly, from a singer's point of view, someone may come to a performance of yours because they already love opera, or perhaps because they are new to it and want to learn more about it.  Regardless of why they came, each person who comes to that performance is exposed to opera and its power to heal.  This helps to build a community of people who experience that unique power and will nurture it for years to come.  Whether fundraising for the arts or performing operas and concerts, everything we do plays a role in building a future for the arts.

3.  Your best chance of success (sales or singing) is in being yourself.
One of the things we are constantly encouraged to do at the office is to give the fundraising sales pitch with our own voice.  Each agent takes a different approach from the others, yet we are all able to close big sales. Similarly, when I look back on my path as a singer, my biggest breakthroughs have come when I used, and was true to, my own voice, physically and metaphorically, regardless of whether or not it fit someone else’s preconception.

4.  What you do truly makes a difference.

In my first week at my job, one of my managers spoke on the phone with someone who was going through difficult medical treatment.  She told him that the time she spent in the theater was time in which she could keep her mind off her treatment.  Weeks later, we still talk about that phone call, and it puts things into perspective when we’re trying to convince someone to come onboard as a member.
Even though some people hang up on you in telefunding, and even though a singer gets rejections after auditions, what we do in the arts truly makes a meaningful difference in other people's lives.  People told me last summer that my concert in Tel Aviv helped them get their minds off the war that was taking place there at the same time.  (I blogged about that experience earlier.)  THIS is the difference we are capable of making in the lives of others through the arts, and these moments are major reminders that at the end of the day, performing really is not mainly about you. 
Ironically, though, that knowledge is what gives me new-found freedom to promote performances of mine and of my colleagues.  While it can sometimes feel uncomfortable "selling yourself" to an audience or panel of judges, I end up asking myself:  Is there anything more worthwhile to sell to people, than something which has made a profound and meaningful difference in people's lives, and continues to do so?