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FIVE BOLD IDEAS Addressing a Complex Issue in the Arts - Part 4

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Introduction by Geraldine Ysselstein, Arts Leadership Director

The arts sector in Calgary and across this country has seen a lot of change, disruption, and evolution in the last couple of months. We are learning to engage with audiences in an online platform; lean into the discomfort of listening to artists and arts managers who are black, indigenous, and people of colour; strategize and plan for an unknown future; adapt to changing financial realities; and re-consider the value that the arts has in society when it is not physically accessible.

When we began the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program in January of this year, we like everyone else had no idea the snowball effect that COVID-19 would have on the world. In our final Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) presentation sharing on 5 BOLD IDEAS which was presented on April 15th, 2020, our REAL participants Lisa Mackay (Marketing & Communications Manager) and Bethany Yon (past Executive Director, Cowtown Opera Company) ask the question: “How can the arts sector actively (rather than passively) respond to the changing economic and political landscape?” Their presentation has been captured through a written summary (below), a video recording, and a graphic recording by Sam Hester.

Lisa Mackay is a seasoned arts marketing professional who is passionate about blending arts marketing skills and strategy with creativity and passion to invigorate revenue generation and support audience development. Prior to joining the Rozsa Foundation as the Marketing & Communications Manager, she was the interim Director of Marketing and Sales for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Director of Marketing and Audience Development for Theatre Calgary, and had her own consulting company where she assisted arts groups and small independent businesses with fine-tuning their marketing activities.

Bethany Yon is a passionate leader and manager and has, throughout her academic and professional careers, led in a vast array of administrative and business-centered capacities including conference and event planning, sponsorship generation and production management. Bethany was honoured in 2019 at the Mayor’s Lunch for the Arts as the inaugural recipient of the Rozsa Foundation Emerging Arts Administrator Award. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Music and has worked with Cowtown Opera, the Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra, Concert Opera Company, Calgary Opera Chorus, Classical Revolution, Calgary Pro Arts Society.

In their presentation four ideas were developed prior to the world-wide pandemic and the final idea was developed in response to COVID-19, Lisa and Bethany explore how the arts sector can set itself up to more resilient and independent from changing political and economic landscape so that the arts can be financially secure enough to weather economic storms rather than always be in a reactive/response mode.

1. BE CREATIVE Arts professionals are highly skilled at finding novel solutions to unexpected problems, but what about expected problems? We can look creatively at the sustainability of the sector and what assets we already have and see what needs those assets could fulfill outside of our artistic accomplishments. Some of the assets we have include great collaboration between companies as well as sponsors, we have performance/rehearsal/gallery/storage space, we have artistic and administrative talent, and other monetary or non-monetary resources.

How can we creatively build on what we currently provide culturally to create more revenue? How can we leverage the potential monetization of work already being done in the digital world? Is there a market for assets such as online museum tours, livestreamed performances, Facebook Live book readings and discussions, downloadable content for training or educational use, etc.?

2. RALLY THE TROOPS The arts is a deeply relational sector. Connecting with hearts and minds to share ideas and spark reflection is what we do best. If we can build connections through our artistic practice and offerings, why not inspire our colleagues, supporters, and fans to speak with one voice in times of economic and political shift? We have built audiences based on trust and relationships, why can’t we lean on them to be an army of vocal advocates?

When it makes sense to our mandates, how can we use our art itself to creatively muse on issues present in our current society and allow the work we present to motivate our consumers to act, in whatever capacity they have?

3. CODIFY SOCIETAL VALUE OF THE ARTS The value and importance of the arts can be built into our social systems in the same way that healthcare has been. Benefits packages and remuneration by corporations could cover not only medical expenses but cultural expenses (eg. subscriptions, tickets, classes, materials). The arts can help with mental health, creative connection, and cognitive development which are important for individuals, companies, and the wider society.

How else can the arts be directly and consistently incorporated into a corporate environment in areas such as employee engagement, employee wellness, and team building? All arts-related spending, not just donations, should qualify for tax credits. This provides incentive to participate in the arts without affecting an expense line in the overall government budgets and increases governmental support by tapping a currently unrelated department.

4. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE In every field there is always going to be a range of perspectives from which we speak; arts included. As political landscapes change, could we work together as a sector to determine who amongst us best aligns with and understands those currently in power to be able to effectively communicate the collective shared needs and wants of the arts? Identifying a ‘spokesperson’ who can use the right language, perspective, and approach for each differing government when advocating would benefit the entire arts sector.

5. COVID-19 OPPORTUNITIES As artists, we have an opportunity to share our skills, techniques, and creative processes with a wider public who are looking to fill their time with meaningful and creative activities. Over time the wider public can recognize and place a monetary value on the essential contributions of the arts in a shared humanity as an outgrowth of this current situation. As organizations, we have an opportunity to advocate to those in power, reach out to our supporter base, promote and uplift the individual creative initiatives of our artists, pay our artists even with cancelled contracts, uphold promises to our community and reschedule work that was already in place, and find creative ways to share our work remotely.

We invite you to engage with this final 5 BOLD ideas presentations. What ideas captured your attention? Let Lisa Mackay at and Bethany Yon at know by emailing them, starting an online chat with friends or colleagues, answering our short survey, or letting us know your ideas at

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