Inquirer series highlights sustainability challenges

Philadelphia_museum_districtArts and cultural institutions are grappling with significant change. This is clearly demonstrated in Philadelphia as the first two of Peter Dobrin’s three-part Sunday series for the Philadelphia Inquirer have made clear.  To the many excellent insights this reporting is sharing about Philadelphia’s evolving arts sector, we have one to add: Think about the importance of leadership transitions in determining which organizations thrive and which are throttled!

Dobrin’s series is illuminating how declines in governmental and foundation support is affecting the City of Brotherly Love’s renowned arts sector, key to Center City’s rebirth but uncertain in its future footing. The first article examined how a Philadelphia arts revival that was rooted in the city’s urban core is now expanding and unsettling the relationship between institutions and their home city.

The second installment examined how shifts among the few foundations and philanthropists who funded the lion’s share of arts and culture programming – with boldface names like Lenfest, Pew, Annenberg among them – have contributed to the complex challenge of sustaining Philadelphia’s arts community.

The search for sustainability among arts and culture institutions hardly qualifies as “news.” As tastes change and key donors stop giving, the arts sector undergoes continual creative destruction that makes room for new energy and institutions.

The organizations that learn to embrace change – the only constant – are the ones that survive and thrive. So too with the men and women leading these organizations.

As CEOs and executive directors near the end of their tenures, some organizations thrive and others are threatened. One key dividing line is whether they have planned ahead for leadership transition or not.

Our new book, When Leaders Leave, explores in-depth the challenges and opportunities that arise before, during and after a leadership transition.