Arts management critical

There’s no business like show business. But both the song and the popular imagination ignore the boring but essential role of back office, administrative work in the arts.

In the last few years, the Barn Arts Collective of Tremont has grown beyond a group of friends meeting at a private waterfront residence and exploded onto the Mount Desert Island arts scene in a more public way.

The artists in the collective have delighted audiences with their own theater work. They are beloved by teachers and students for their school programs. They have lent their experience, skill and teaching chops in collaborative productions with other arts groups, like the Acadia Community Theatre and the Crooked Road Shakespeare Kids, with wonderful results.

These artists and their organization merit the community’s support. But that support should not come with the expectation that they don’t need to follow the rules, or that infractions, when they occur, should be dismissed.

An Aug. 7 stop work order from the Tremont code enforcement officer instructed the Barn Arts to cease public performances at a boathouse owned by Richard Helmke until the venue is determined as safe. Later, the Planning Board upheld the order, finding their site plan application for change of use incomplete.

The troupe moved their production to the nearby community center, but the town manager then asked them to find another venue after damage to the floor was discovered.

The Tremont officials did not act out of grumpiness or spite. They acted because the rules apply to everyone. Depending on the agreement between the troupe and the property owner, one or the other would be liable were someone injured during an event.

Great performances and visual art were featured at a warehouse space known as the Ghost Ship in Oakland, Calif., too, but that name became infamous for the tragic fire that ended its run last year. Should tragedy have struck the boathouse, that likely would have been the end of the Barn Arts Collective’s run, as well.

Last year, the Barn Arts hosted 118 artists-in-residence and held 128 performances and events, according to the collective’s annual report, which reported about $63,000 in revenue for the year.

The Barn Arts leaders apparently manage all the administration and record-keeping, alongside their artistic roles in the group’s work. With such an ambitious performance schedule, preparing a complex, technical site plan review for the Planning Board may have received short shrift. But the details of operating in a legal venue must become a priority, both for the safety and protection of those performing and their audiences.

Adding an administrator, drafting by-laws and recruiting a board of directors will help the Barn Arts Collective avoid the scramble they have faced this summer. It will make their work even better and assure continued success.

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