If your company is a bus, your mission/mandate is the steering wheel. It influences the kinds of work your do and how you do it and helps you evaluate whether you have been able to stay on track over time. This kind of planning is the first step I like to take whenever I get a new client here at DUO and it should be the first step anybody takes whenever they decide to work in a group, or produce a piece of art for public consumption.
You are thinking, “But I have already started! We are in too deep!”
Never fear, it is always a good time to develop your mission/mandate. In fact, even if you already have a mission its a good idea to reflect on it. You need to decide if it still represents you, your art, and your plan to grow as an artist, and as a company. Are the things you are doing right now being impacted by your mission? I would like to suggest that perhaps they should be.
Personally I think of the mission and the mandate as separate things (and even here at DUO people don’t necessarily agree with me, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt).
Your Mission is the short statement that explains who you are and why you are. Most importantly it should speak to who you are as an artist or company. For example, let’s say there is a company of young choreographers coming together to perform modern remakes of classical ballet. Their mission could be, “CYC (Company of Young Choreographers) works to reexamine classical ballet to present it in a modern context.” This is a perfectly fine mission statement. It is, however, a bit utilitarian. I don’t know about you but I am not inspired by it. It doesn’t reflect the fact that they are each uniquely hilarious people and that they choose to work with equally awesome people. A better mission statement might be: “CYC presents choreographic works that are badass, we adapt classic dance for the next generation. We work with people who work hard, play hard, and know exactly how to have a good time.”
Some might argue that this mission statement isn’t professional enough. My response to that is, does it need to be? We are in the business of art and entertainment. Why does our mission statement have to sound like we are running a bank? We are cool, interesting and awesome. We should be willing to say so.
Your Mandate is a series of statements (I love bullet points!) that explains how you will achieve your mission. The goal with your mandate is to be as specifically open ended as possible. (I realize that rather a contradiction.) The idea is to be specific about the ways you work in order to achieve the goal of the mission without pigeonholing yourself into a place where you can’t be open to new artistic possibilities and collaborations. Using our CYC example let me explain what I mean.
Their mandate could be:
- We will present one production a year.
- We will re-imagine the works of Tywla Tharp.
- We will present works in a modern framework.
This is an acceptable mandate, but what if they want to rework a piece by Deborah Dunham? Or the recreation needs to be set in a different historical context in order to be relevant the current generation. Or even if the production would be their second in a year! These limitations would mean that this particular piece would not be a good match for this company and so an artistic opportunity would be lost.
A better mandate might be:
- We will present at least one production a year.
- We will re-imagine the works of classic and renowned choreographers.
- We will work with people who are as fun and hardworking as we are.
- In order to work with us, someone must be willing to learn, adapt, and make mistakes.
Sure, it’s not perfect. But that is the best part about your mission and mandate. It changes as the organization changes every year or so everyone (and I do mean everyone) should be able to suggest changes or alterations to the mission and mandate. Eventually you will develop a perfect set, at least for that moment.
Over time people will come and go, but the mission and mandate are the thing that helps everyone keep the bus on the road.
- From the desk of Matt Sweet