What the heck is an ASO!?
We are! The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance is a type of nonprofit widely known as an arts service organization (ASO). Yesterday, while travelling to the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations conference, I took a minute to revisit Arts Service Organizations: A Study of Impact and Capacity, published by The Boston Foundation in 2004. This study contains some of the most concise and compelling definitions of an ASO, like the overarching one below:
…service organizations play a significant supporting role by providing technical and management assistance, operational services such as collaborative buying or group marketing, and opportunities for collaborative learning and group solidarity with agencies that share similar characteristics. By handling or supporting the functions that nonprofits may not have the staff or expertise to tackle alone, service organizations help their participants act as if they had achieved a larger scale of operation while freeing them to focus on their core mission and programs.
Because we don’t create, produce, curate or otherwise manage art-making endeavors ourselves, for some people it is difficult to understand what GBCA does, and why it matters so much. So, when writing and speaking in public, I often describe GBCA as an advocate, an instigator of services that strengthen the cultural sector, and the jet fuel to ignite action and provoke change. A funder recently said, “GBCA protects the investments in cultural organizations that are made by our foundation.”
And we do this work collaboratively, with funders, other ASOs, universities and colleges, city and state government, our members, non-governmental healthcare organizations, national advocates, and more. These are the things we do, and we do them solely for the benefit of our members and the sector with no politics or partisan obligations.
Arts service organizations are, in many ways, the unacknowledged gems of the cultural ecosystem. They play an important role in supporting the work of artists and nonprofit agencies and in developing the sector’s cohesion and ability to meet its collective needs.
I hope you agree!