In a dark, recessed corner of imagination, few artists dare speak of but frequently venture, sits their vision of grandeur.  Of their stand.  Of their mission.

Their voice, their actions, and their work, standing loudly for what they believe in.

Their seeking of truth.

This, is their artistic vision.

Similarly, every arts organisation has an artistic vision, but why are so few able to craft it eloquently into words?  Why do even fewer not have one at all?

A clear and inspiring artistic vision is critical to any arts organisation as it sets a clear direction for the company to pursue, and to clarify what it stands for.

Without a concise & clear artistic vision, arts organisation will find themselves prone to drifting along without purpose or reason.  When challenges, threats and barriers appear, the organisation, its leadership, and the company will be thrown around like a raft in a storm.

Here I will explain what it is that you need in order to craft an inspiring artistic vision.  What are the tips and the tricks to bear in mind when putting it together, and why your arts organisation needs to have one.

1. Keep it Short

Typically, the length of a vision explains in one or two sentences exactly what the company or artist does, stands for, and hopes to achieve.  Any more, and you haven’t made your statement concise enough.

A short and concise vision from Punchdrunk details clearly what they do and what they intend to do.

“Punchdrunk works with producing and commissioning partners to create the unforgettable theatrical experiences of the future.”

A good artistic vision should not be too long, it should be short, punchy, and concise.

2. Answer These 4 Questions:

  1. What do we do?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. Why do we do it?
  4. Who do we do it for?

What do we do?

The first part of any vision should outline what it is that your organisation actually does.

It’s important to note the difference between ‘what’ an arts organisation does, and ‘how’ it does it.

‘What’ you do refers to the end result or impression that an audience member takes with them after interacting with your art.

Another way of thinking about it is that by outlining the benefits and end result that your art will create in the audience; you are describing what you are doing.

How do we do it?

‘How’ an arts organisation presents it’s work refers to the artistic discipline being practiced.

What are the principal art form(s) and discipline(s) that your organisation facilitates or provides.

Why do we do it?

While many artistic visions explain what it is they do, and how they do it,  in order to demonstrate differentiation it’s imperative for arts organisations to also focus on why they exist.

Describing what you do isn’t going to inspire anyone, but describing why you do it will.

Many arts organisations aim to present similar disciplines whether it be theatres, or galleries, however by focusing on ‘why’ they exist they will provide differentiation from other similar art organisations.

Who do we do it for?

Many arts organisations are visited by a wider audience demographic than other businesses not in the arts and include the ‘general public’, as their target market.  However, as an arts organisation, if you are able to narrow your niche down further, it can provide additional focus for your vision.

For example, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, include in their vision that

“The aim of MSTYP is to promote an appreciation and love of theatre to young people of all ages through classes, direct involvement in theatre practice and through watching good theatre.”

By detailing and breaking down their target market, it provides a clearer direction for all in the management of the theatre company about the purpose of the theatre, what kind of productions it should be producing, and who they should be targeting as part of the theatre, and as their audience

Think Those 4 Questions Can’t Be Answered Together?

The mission statement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a very concise and simple statement detailing in their vision ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’ and to ‘who’ they complete their mission.

In this example we have highlighted in red where the Met explains WHAT it does, in blue to show HOW it is done, in green WHY it does it, and in orange WHO it does it for.

To collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.”

With the Met’s artistic vision, their management, staff, and their audience understand what they are trying to achieve, and so can purposefully drive forward.

They want to stimulate appreciation and knowledge of works of art to the public by collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting these pieces, because they represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality.

3. Include Your Grand Vision

While many arts organisations have small plans and objectives, without a grand, ambitious vision there will be limits to the success of the organisation.

By crafting a grand vision of where the organisation should stand in the future, you are setting a goal for the company as well as touching on values that will be central to its operations.

Soho Theatre in London, while detailing quite a long and exhaustive vision (mission) on it’s website, does include a grand vision of:

“Want[ing] to be London’s most exciting hive of collaboration for live and digital genres, mixing and pushing performance in a way that delights audiences.”

Your grand vision should scope the ambition and future of the organisation, where it wants to be, and what it wants to be held accountable to

A Final Example…

Sydney Theatre Company (STC), a leading Australian arts organisation has the following artistic vision, and while extensive and long, contains all the necessary ingredients of a great artistic vision.  Within this I have highlighted the contrasting elements of what we do, how we do it, why we do it, who we do it for and long term goals separately in different colours.

“Our vision ‘Theatre without borders’ is put into action every day as we perform in Sydney, around the country and around the world; as we partner with other organisations and other art form practitioners to explore the edges of theatre practice; and as we continue to inspire theatre appreciation and participation not only in theatres but schools, community halls – wherever people get together.

Beyond its creative ambitions as an artistic entity, the Company is also mindful of its place as a leading Australian arts organisation. Our position and scale challenge us to promote the place of art in Australian society through advocacy and the activation of our networks. We provide experiences to audiences, but we also want to help build ongoing artistic capacity amongst the individuals and communities with which we interact. We play a part in making a creative, forward-thinking and sociable future by engaging with young people, students and teachers. And we also celebrate and explore the traditional role of theatre as a place for the discussion of the great ideas of the day.”

Should STC condense this artistic vision they could provide a clearer and more concise vision, which would still cover all the primary elements of their theatre and outline their differentiation from other theatre companies.

We perform to explore the edges of theatre to inspire theatre appreciation and participation, in making a creative, forward-thinking and sociable future, and build ongoing artistic capacity amongst the individuals and communities with which we interact.”

Start Crafting…

An artistic vision that the company can unite behind should take a while to formulate and include multiple revisions and amendments before settling on a final statement.

An artistic vision should also be open to change, and while it looks ahead to set a tone and barometer on where the company will be, it should be at every now and again to ensure that the organisation is on the right track.

In order to craft an artistic vision that inspires, and provides a succinct overview of your organisation, be sure to follow these simple steps and answer these questions:

  1. Keep it SHORT.
  2. WHAT do you do?
  3. HOW do you do it?
  4. WHO do you do it for?
  5. WHY do you do it?
  6. Include your LONG TERM goals.

Still don’t think you need an artistic vision?  Remember: If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.