Designing your next cultural edifice

If you build it they will come — unless they don’t.

“Vision” can apply many ways in nonprofit operations in culture and the arts. Building an impressive edifice for one of the arts can be rewarding, but in their book “Building for the Arts” Peter Frumkin and Ana Kolendo offer 15 rules for the structural design of cultural facilities.

Those guideline are:

  • Fund operations and endowment as you go.
  • Start project when all the money is in hand.
  • Available real estate (even when cheap or free) is not in itself a reason to build.
  • Use anchoring to fight design creep.
  • Don’t ask for community input unless you are ready to listen and respond.
  • Have a Plan B for major swings in the local economy and changes in local politics.
  • Wait to announce the building budget until you are certain you have a solid number.
  • Offer trustees the opportunity to dissent.
  • Hire staff early.
  • Keep board decision-making group small, diverse and unified.
  • Bringing in a star architect will increase building costs.
  • Be ready to adjust programming mix to incorporate more commercially viable material as operation costs increase.
  • Acoustics and similar aesthetic qualities, like gallery proportions and light, might be lost on the audience.
  • Supply does not create its own demand.
  • A great building will not lead to artistic excellence, but a powerful and compelling artistic vision can lead to a new building.