gary-d-coleWho is Gary D. Cole? For those of you who don’t know, get with the program! He is the author of the novel Black Box and the memoir Artless as well as is a theater entrepreneur, producer, and playwright. His memoir Artless is a fascinating exploration of his life plus is an odyssey through the arts and politics.

If you who have already read Artless the following is going to be a special treat. If you have not yet read it but are planning to, this will be a terrific preview of the man who somehow manages to straddle the gap between the arts and business.

artlessBefore we dive in, let’s take a look at the context this evolved out of. We are in a graduate program for an Arts Administration program and are reading Gary D. Cole’s Artless as assigned reading. The class became interested in what Gary D. Cole is up to now, so we approached him. And he was kind and generous and gave us a response.

We at Lights Camera Read are thrilled that Gary D. Cole answered the following three questions we asked him. You will find his answers below.


The questions:

  1. It’s been a while since Artless was published. What are your current views on the relationship between art and commerce?
  2. You wrote the novel Black Box as well as the play Bodyhold. Do you have any current artistic projects you are working on?
  3. As a leader and manager, do you have any advice for aspiring nonprofit executive directors, artistic directors and managing directors in the current political climate?

Now here are Gary’s answers to the questions:

  1. I would draw a distinction between “selling out” and incorporating businesslike principles in the operation of an arts company. Selling out means compromising one’s artistic principles in the interest of making a buck. I don’t condone that and never will. But it is not selling out to be accountable to one’s supporters, responsible for complying with budgets, respectful of one’s employees and contractors, and receptive to criticism from patrons — recipes for success in the arts as well as in business.
  1. I’m putting the finishing touches on a memoir of my time as a Chicago Tribune paperboy in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s. Titled “NEWSBOY: Along My Route for The World’s Greatest Newspaper 1968-1975,” the book is both a chronicle of a young boy trying to make sense of the tumultuous events exploding around him (including assassinations, riots, and war), as well as an intimate portrayal of my route and customers. I suppose this project could be characterized as a prequel to “ARTLESS.” I expect to see it published later this year or next.

Last year I produced a remount of “Mary Tudor,” one of CoHo Productions’ most successful shows, here in North Carolina where I now live. Financially, we structured the production in the same manner as “Bodyhold,” with each cast and crew member receiving a guaranteed payment plus a percentage of profits. I’m pleased to report that the production did well and paid most of the actors and production team more than they had ever received in theater.

  1. I believe my cautions in “ARTLESS” about the perils of reliance on government funding are as well-founded today as they were when the book came out. We are sadly living in a time of bitter ideological divisions that will inevitably play out in grant decisions. Leaders in the arts should be wary of tailoring their content to suit the prevailing political creed, rather than producing work that truly inspires them. They should keep their focus on finding constituents in their community that support their artistic vision and doing everything they can to engage those supporters in the life of the company. And they should always be asking whether “building capacity” is truly in the best interest of promoting their art, as maintaining an organization can easily become a higher priority than producing great work.

I would urge arts executives to be open to different collaborative approaches that can help reduce costs. I’m obviously biased, but the co-production model we introduced at CoHo Productions has held up well through the years. Theater artists from the community propose projects to CoHo, which provides the venue, marketing, and box office under an agreed budget for the plays it selects. CoHo’s artistic partners are responsible for the creative and technical elements of the production. This approach allows CoHo to minimize its overhead expense while maximizing the energy and commitment that the artists bring through realizing their vision for the projects they initiate. Co-production might make an interesting case study for your class!