In Cautious Defense of "Dictablanda" - A Benevolent Leader to Save the Cultural Sector

in #history2 years ago

In reading the history of the Historical Society of Philadelphia and the dismal failures to manage its extensive collection of over 10,000 items and a world-famous research collection it is clear that a Dictablanda, or a soft dictatorship in which civil liberties are preserved, is the best solution for the survival of the cultural sector.

The following will highlight why a benevolent leader is needed in the cultural sector.


This post is about power

"There seemed to be no agreement why the HSP existed"

This is a problem no dictator has ever had. The HSP needed a leader to say exactly why the HSP existed and what it needed to do to be financially solvent. It didn't, and it lost 50k a month. With a benevolent dictator, a subservient board of trustees would be able to voice their concerns and exercise the freedom to leave the board, but ultimately the leader decides what happens or what does not happen.


The movie, The Death of Stalin (2017) comically shows how well boards solve problems as Stalin's closest advisers fight for his job after he dies.

Three Solutions too Many

In an attempt to save the HSP Susan Stitt, CEO, came up with three good solutions. A true dictablanda need not present solutions. Instead they would introduce actions. Should the HSP, live within its means, get smaller to get better, or put its efforts into a big idea? Any action that saves you from losing 50k a month is ideal.

Susan Sitt was CEO. She should have been allowed to act like one.


Singapore did alright under Lee Kuan Yew, but would it work for the Cultural Sector?

Nosce Te Ipsum: Know Thyself

The HSP still doesn't know what to be. What are you? Is the HSP a museum or a special collections library? Someone must take control, liquidate the board rather than the employees and make the HSP thrive.

The agreement to work with the Atwater Kent Museum was a strong half-step in the right direction, but still only a half-step. Time for survival means time to go all in!

*N.B.: This post is not an endorsement of political dictatorship, but rather an attempt to spark conversation about decision-making and power in the cultural sector. What do you think?

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Your post reminded me of the idea of a Culture Czar. Does Philly have one? NYC does. I think this type of person could whip sluggish Boards into shape. Or they would just fund their friends and continue the wheel. We need Daenerys Stormborn!
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More context on this quote (to spur conversation): "There seemed to be no agreement on why HSP existed. She [Stitt] called HSP 'a multifaceted organization, fragmented with narrow perspectives that are often self-centered. HSP is an historical society long undernourished, and impoverished spiritually as well as physically.'"

Doesn't it seem Stitt was attempting to push the board to recognize it had to "man up" and declare its focus after eons of doing pretty much exact opposite? (That being enabling institutional sprawl a.k.a mission creep and setting up an untenable situation?)

I think it was very clever of her to present the three options the way she did. Clearly she was in favor of option 3, the history center. But by going to the board and presenting multiple options, then steering them to option 3, she made them feel like they were involved in making the decision. Even though she wasn't able to convince outside organizations to join up for option 3 and they reverted to option 2, this method can secure board buy-in much better than presenting one option and saying it's this or the end of the line for HSP.

I was once trained by an army officer who, when planning, would invite his subordinates into the planning process, then steer them towards whatever plan he'd had in mind from the beginning. However, because they felt like they were included in creating the plan, they immediately took ownership of it and executed it with enthusiasm. As the article mentions, Stitt clearly got buy-in from her staff. I wonder if she did it in a similar fashion.

Right! And that kind of leadership (or cat herding, if you like) is essential to take care of before going to the main, would-be funders of a big idea like the History Center. Or for that matter, going to funders for any kind of ongoing support. No funder wants to work with weak and fragmented leadership.