Again, on boards

by Jini Stolk

The huge response to my post When should a board fire itself – and to numerous other posts, tweets, and facebook comments on Factory Theatre’s firing of artistic director Ken Gass – is another indication of how forcefully a board’s actions can reverberate throughout the community, eliciting anger, questions, fears and, unfortunately, division.

It highlights how crucial it is for volunteer board members to understand the context within which their organization exists and the role it plays within the arts community.

At the very least, the Factory situation should spur every arts professional in Toronto to a rigorous course of study and discussion around governance – defined as “the shared obligation of arts professionals and the board for accountability, responsibility and structures that ensure the ongoing health, sustainability and achievement of the mission of an arts organization” …or more simply as “defining how the collaboration process works.”

We should all be pledging to improve our understanding and practice in board relations, human relations – and let’s add crisis management to the mix. (For an illuminating discussion of how a good crisis communications strategy centres on speed, transparency, engagement, trust and accountability, check out this post. Thanks to Sue Edworthy for the link.)

A few comments on my post and further thoughts:

“I knew the legal right of the board of course…it’s one of the things that make the incorporation of an artist to become a charitable organization so problematic.”  The wildfire spread of Rebecca Novick’s post for Grantmakers in the Arts Please don’t start a theater company shows how many people are thinking seriously about new models of making art, “putting artists at the center and adding administrative structures only after carefully examining whether the administrative model supports the artistic mission.”

“Governance is not just the responsibility of the board – good governance can even happen without a board.” See Jane Marsland’s study on Flexible Management Models for the Canada Council for further discussion of the need for new, less hierarchical, more entrepreneurial approaches to supporting artists and their art.

“I’m fascinated by what drives well-intentioned people, when they are on a board, to lose sight of their essential purpose.” In order to understand that, we also need to understand why and how well-intentioned people can also become the most fiercely supportive and invaluable partners an arts professional can hope for.

And therein lies the work.

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