How arts nonprofits and artists can keep one step ahead of the business game

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By Mark G. Auerbach

I started my career during college as an arts administrator, and after a dozen years “in the business,” working in large cultural centers (Wolf Trap outside Washington, DC), grand opera (Houston and Miami), small ballet companies (Connecticut Ballet), orchestras (Springfield Symphony Orchestra, MA) and professional theatre (StageWest), I started my own public relations company. I’ve worked with arts groups and still have one or two arts clients, but as my dual career in arts reporting took off, my client base pivoted to mostly media clients.

Last summer, a group of my musician friends from my Springfield Symphony Orchestra days had formed their own non-profit organization, Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) to produce concerts, since they were involved in a long-running labor dispute with the orchestra. All of a sudden, I’m helping them with board development, strategic plans, marketing, public relations, event planning…many of the skill I’d developed over my career, but most of which were not completely up-to-date. Where could I find resources to help these musicians sharpen their small business skills? Where could I find resources to update mine?

The usual resources…chambers of commerce outreach programs, economic development programs, small business development programs, and community arts organizations may offer excellent resources, but they aren’t always applicable to individual artists, small arts groups, or other non-profits in the arts. Some of the best programs out there are either time-consuming, or costly. Individual artists and small ensembles don’t always have the luxury of time or the resources to pay for such programs.

Resources for artists

The Western Massachusetts ArtsHub, a new networking resource for the creative economy players in the state, has organized a four-day virtual series of “how to” workshops, January 10-14. I learned about the program from the UMass Arts Extension Service, where I’d been a consultant to their clients when I’d started my public relations company. I’ll be giving a workshop, called “Public Relations 101: a “how to” develop an effective public relations campaign with limited resources. Some of their other workshop providers include Jeffrey Dreisbach of McCorkle Casting in New York on how to give your best interview or audition; Sean Moloney of Dramatic Health on how to be interviewed on video and how to interview on video; and Nancy Wheeler from WheelerConnect on how to network. There are additional programs on “how to” work with indigenous communities, how to make sure your company is up-to-speed on diversity, equity, and inclusion; how to use TikTok, and more. For details visit

There are statewide small business development councils that can provide consulting on a variety of areas to residents of the particular state (or whose business is based in the state). The Connecticut office is run by Matthew Pugliese, a former theatre administrator. The Western Massachusetts office, run by Keith Girouard, works with arts groups on an ongoing basis. You can learn more about these resources here.

SCORE, a national organization, offers retired executives to serve as mentors, plus provides a variety of resources, workshops, and learning opportunities.

Americans for the Arts has resources from all of the national, regional, and local arts councils. Their ArtsU program offers an array of training opportunities.

Other resources include: The League of American Orchestras offers webinar and training for the music community. Dance USA can help those in the dance community–performers, teachers, school owners, ballet, modern and folk. Theatre Communications Group reaches out to the theatre world, and if you’re looking to build your staff, their ArtsSearch jobs posting/listing site is a great place to start.

Keep your skills set up-to-date and fresh. And, these learning programs all offer the opportunity to network, and as we all know, who you know can be so beneficial to your business.

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark produces ArtsBeat on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on TV and radio on WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB. He also produces the TV and radio series On The Mark and Athenaeum Spotlight with Guy McLain.

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