Wednesday, December 7, 2011 Bolz Center Blog
Are you ready? Honestly, are you? by Andrew Taylor

So, you're running an arts facility or cultural organization in Anytown, USA, and your computer person (who might also be your office manager) falls ill or quits in a huff -- does anyone else know the system passwords and protocols? Or, a patron falls and breaks an arm -- is your front-line staff prepared and practiced on what to do? Or, a flood or storm or social uprising threatens your building, your collection, your costume or set shop -- who's in charge, who do they contact, how do you gather a response team quickly and effectively to minimize the damage? Or an event is cancelled or delayed due to weather or an artist that's unable to perform -- how do you share the news with staff, board, and audience members in clear and consistent ways?

Artsready These, and a thousand other scenarios, are often low on the radar for arts managers or arts organizations, given the pressing demands of just getting their work done with minimal time, resources, and staff. But these scenarios can define (or redefine) your organization's reputation in the community, your trust among donors, your financial health, your stewardship of essential public assets, and worse yet, they can threaten the safety and even the lives of those you serve and employ.

It's not a glamorous or high-profile part of a cultural manager's job, but if you touch lives, own or manage assets, or serve a role in your community, emergency readiness is a baseline requirement for your work.

Given the low profile, poor understanding, and extraordinary need for 'readiness' among arts organizations, South Arts built a coalition of funders and providers to construct ArtsReady, a step-by-step readiness planning and documentation system for cultural organizations, boards, or managers. For $300 a year, one or many members of an organization can step through key questions about their readiness -- in financial management, facility, technology, ticketing, and a range of other areas -- while building documentation for times of sudden need. All data is stored in 'the cloud' so it won't rely on your own IT systems. And the service is also becoming a network of 'buddies' who can help each other when things go south.

The public area of the website is still a bit text-heavy and picture poor, but the inside of the system is clean, clear, methodical, and broken into do-able doses. If you run an organization and you don't have a detailed, integrated readiness plan, you need to try this. If you have a plan, you likely still need this system to figure out if it's robust and all-inclusive.

There's an old insurance-agent aphorism that "people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan." If crossing your fingers and closing your eyes is your readiness approach, it's time to make a plan.