Do you have goods that you’re not making good on? Are you resource rich but cash poor? Or worse, are you resource rich and don’t even know it? Are you standing on fertile soil and thinking, “Gee, what do I do with it?” I want to continue to emphasize that the real-life magic behind real-life alchemy (making something from nothing or as the saying goes, making a dollar out of fifteen cents) resides in these two elements: Empathy and Imagination.

EMPATHY: People often undervalue the basic concept of mutual benefit. Caught up in survival mode, individuals and organizations can sometimes in their desperation focus solely on little old “me”. It’s not unlike a mugger’s mentality. And similar to two-bit crooks, any action you take within this mind frame can only produce short-lived advances on the upside. And damaging, repelling effects on the downside. Conversely, folks aiming to equally give and receive can build lasting partnerships, expanded patronage, and repeat business. It’s a no-brainer but one needs to value and possess inner calm, clarity of mind, and an overflowing generosity in order to see it.

IMAGINATION: Make no mistake, empathy alone won’t stack chips. You need a plan. You need to look at your “stuff” and see it in entirely new ways. How can I trade this? Who can I trade this with? How do I make it low-risk for me AND the persons I want to trade with? For the sake of getting concrete, allow me to provide this example and of course, also the math…

Say you have a struggling small theater. And as busy as your season is, your space is still “dark” – i.e. not in use for any rehearsal or show – 150 days out of the year. This is typical. Now let’s review some “givens”. Obviously, there’s an arts culture in your town. Which means there are aspiring artists, lots of them you have never met. Many of them have never been to your space and may never appear in any of your productions. They have dreams. And they may not be able to afford your regular rental rate. After all, they’re only emerging and more than anything, would love the chance to simply show their work and hone their craft.

So, let’s say you give a “dark days” rental deal. To make it attractive and low-risk, you offer a percentage split rather than weighting these budding artists with overhead. For the sake of numbers, how about 80% for the artists since they’re doing all the work – producing, marketing, event managing, etc. – and 20% to the house for providing the space?

Now let’s suppose these events are simple and self-contained: Poetry readings, staged readings, music events, open mikes, etc, running about two hours or so each. Because these emerging artists are hustlers and well-connected to their communities, one event may attract 30 people at an $8 entry. At this total of $240, that’s $192 going to the guest and $48 going to the house. Have the contract specify that the renter MUST provide their own cleanup and other staffing needs in order to save on janitorial fees. To CYA from lukewarm ventures, you add a clause that states that a minimum number of presales must occur or an advanced deposit to be included in the split (not in addition to) shall be made lest the event be canceled – After all 20% of 0 is 0. Plus, you assign your trusted interns to rotate in house managing duties (lights, lock-up and perhaps box office) as part of their training program.

MATH: (30 people x $8 = $240) x 20% = $48 gain

That’s really not a lot of money. But when you roll out this new “dark days” program, let’s pretend you’re able to fill half of it in the first year.

MATH: (150 days / 2 = 75 days) x $48 = $3,600… Ch-ching!

Now, we’re talkin’. But wait, don’t go screaming Yippeee just yet. There’s more to be earned – because there’s more empathy and more imagination to be offered, because you’re no longer entertaining that deplorable short-sighted “me”. Check this out. As part of your contract, you also reserve the right to give a brief welcome at the beginning of every program – Totally reasonable. Your theater’s AD or your very friendly and articulate interns will greet this new audience, educate them on the “dark days” program, announce upcoming shows in the new season, and encourage people to sign the email list. Do you understand what’s happening here? You’re offering value. You’re giving a “home” to new artists, cultivating new talent, creating dialogue with fresh faces, and expanding your audience base beyond your usual outreach.

MATH: 30 people x 75 days = 2,250 people

Can your theater use more attention? Don’t be foolish. Of course, it can. Imagine some 2,000+ new audience members walking through your doors. Even if only a small fraction, 5%, come back to see your theater’s regular programming, that would yield 100 new people that didn’t buy tickets last year. What’s a show normally cost at your venue, $15?

MATH: (2000 x 5% = 100) x $15 = $1,500 additional income

And if only 4% (or 80 people) of this new off-season audience is made of other promising Artistic Producers, you just might book every one of your “dark days” program next year. As it is, in this hypothetical first year, you stand to make $5,100 of pure profit.

MATH: $3,600 split admission x $1,500 new ticket sales = $5,100 total

And it’s not NEARLY over yet! You can offer a similar percentage split for a happening food vendor to provide concessions. If you want, you can also offer equipment rental for basic lights, microphones, or speakers, at a separate additional cost. And you may have newbie technicians (your interns) man the more complicated equipment for another fee as well.

Aren’t we having fun now? Why stop there? Sky’s the limit so let’s go even further! For burgeoning Artistic Producers whose aesthetic and work ethic closely matches your own, you can offer a promotional sponsorship at no other cost to either party. As part of the deal, you include them in your e-newsletter, which expands their turnout, legitimacy, and income potential, introduces your audience to new hip work, and brands yourself as the hot spot for cutting-edge art. How that translates to dollars is not linearly measurable but I guarantee the new connections are priceless. That is social capital that money cannot buy.

Are you getting it? Giving a hoot shouldn’t be saved only for charity drives and creativity shouldn’t be reserved for just art-making. Quit being stingy with your empathy and imagination. In this scenario, there are NO sharp negotiations, NO ONE gets ripped off, and EVERYBODY wins. Sure, we ought to still be realistic.  Definitely!  What I’m suggesting isn’t some magic pill.  Like anything else that’s new, there will be growing pains and a learning curve – It might even sting: The program may take a few years to build up and the co-marketing opportunity may require some tinkering to be mastered; The criteria for guest curators and artists may take some trials before developing into a standard that matches your company’s mission and needs; The math and overall management may need frequent adjustments.  These aren’t negatives, merely considerations.  Your odds for gaining yardage are about 50/50 when you try on some new calculated maneuvers like those I’ve suggested.  However, your odds for stagnation go all the way up to 100% when you stick to doing what is safe and predictably poor-performing.

Somewhere in your world there is an empty room, either literally or figuratively, that is dying to be inhabited with new life, new ideas, new relationships, and both social and paper currency. There you are on acres of fresh fertile soil. “Aaah, lovely.” And I just handed you – for free – a seed worth $5000+ with a potential lifetime value of plenty more.

Don’t just stand there. Go!