February 1, 2012
The operating environment for nonprofit cultural organizations today is daunting. Demographic shifts, changing participation patterns, evolving technology, increased competition for consumer attention, rising costs of doing business, shifts in the philanthropic sector and public funding, and the lingering recession form a stew of change and uncertainty. Every cultural organization is experiencing a combination of these shifts, each in its own way. Yet, while some organizations are struggling in this changing context, others are managing to stay healthy and dynamic while operating under the same conditions as their peers. These groups are observable exceptions, recognized by their peers as achieving success outside the norm in their artistic program, their engagement of community, and/or their financial stability. These are the "bright spots" of the cultural sector.Who are they? What are they doing differently? What can we learn by studying their behavior?To explore these questions, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation asked Helicon Collaborative to conduct a study of cultural groups in the Pacific Northwest. The project had two goals: 1) to identify "bright spots," defined as cultural organizations that are successfully adapting to their changing circumstances without exceptional resources, and 2) to see if these organizations share characteristics or strategies that can be replicated by others.