SAN DIEGO — Alvin Reiss was doing his thing again, fervently preaching the benefits of a relationship between business and the arts.
An effusive, energetic proponent of excellence in arts management, Reiss shared his knowledge of trends in arts management with a local audience of arts administrators and business executives.
He warned arts managers, however, not to undervalue their contributions in a promotional relationship with business. Reiss noted that a business has a very clear self-interest in promoting plays, exhibits and concerts.
"Goodness has nothing to do with it," he said, quoting the late actress Mae West. Any promotional relationship with a business should be based on an arrangement beneficial to both sides, he observed.
"You as an arts institution have an inherent value, and never underestimate that," Reiss told his audience of 40 Wednesday at the Lyceum Theatre. "There is very definitely a quid pro quo."
Reiss gave a similar pitch the next day at the National Conference of Performing Arts Leagues and Alliances, meeting here through today.
Reiss is a nationally recognized authority on promotional and fund-raising techniques in the arts. Based in New York City, he publishes an arts management newsletter and directs the Professional Arts Management Institute, a training program for cultural administrators. He is the author of several books on arts management, most recently "Cash In! Funding and Promoting the Arts."
On Wednesday, Reiss donned the role of a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the arts, cross-pollinating the local cultural scene with news of publicity and fund-raising successes of arts groups in other cities.
For instance, he showed slides of the Louisville Orchestra's eye-catching publicity campaign, in which a contractor's fleet of concrete mixer trucks were painted with the symphony's logo on one side and the slogan, "Get Mixed Up With the Louisville Orchestra" on the other.
Christian Dior perfume underwrote a New York City Public Library exhibition of bird illustrations, and Bloomingdale's department store ran a series of advertisements featuring well-known artists and arts leaders such as Martha Graham, Isaac Stern and Joseph Papp.
"From a corporate, bottom-line (type of) thinking, there is a return through involvement in the arts," Reiss noted. "What do they really want? An identity with excellence. And that's obviously one of the most important things and difficult things to buy. What that translates into is an image of a sort."
There are other potential gains for a relationship with the arts, Reiss advised. Advertising agencies, providing free services to arts groups, may loosen up and produce more creative work than they do for more staid business clients. Working on a pro bono basis with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, an advertising agency won a national award for a series of television commercials it dreamed up using local political, business and sports figures to promote the nonprofit theater.
Amid all this corporate free love, Reiss urged arts groups to meet their own needs first, and to beware of changing their artistic focus to suit the desires of a business underwriter.
He suggested several "Reissian rules" for arts groups to guard against losing their heads in the search for bucks:
- Ensure that the promotion is in good taste. Questionable activities can boomerang on an arts group.
- Is every business proposal in line with the image the organization wants to present to its community?
- Is the concept doable?
- Is it "something you really want to do?"
Once in a while, he said, "you have to say no."