Monday, July 4, 2011

Start-ups, Politics, and Crazy Ideas

Several months ago, my boss, Malcolm, and I had a crazy idea to start a music school.  It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time: Shrewsbury loves the arts and they love their kids participating in them.  Shrewsbury, like most school districts, don't offer as much in the way of arts education as they once did.  Granted, they're still better than some.  And Shrewsbury doesn't have a full-service performing arts school -- lots of places to take lessons and some one-off programs here and there, but by and large, nothing on-going.

Malcolm and I put together a great package that included group music classes on a variety of topics, a theater program, and even some visual arts classes. I had several top-notch teachers lined up who were excited about the program.  While we certainly planned on starting with the youngsters, we had a vision of expanding our classes to include adults as well in all three areas.  Our plan was to include it under the existing music ministry at the church.  The school itself would be secular, but he and I saw plenty of opportunity to expand upon church offerings and programs using the resources that the school would have in place.

Our church loves politics.  And here's where our grand idea gets squished.  After several months of back-and-forth, the church decided that this school was too risky.  Despite having seed money squared away, a built-in student base from several sources, and tons of excitement from younger families -- families that already participate in our church as well as others outside the church -- the school was killed in committee.  Our timing was off.  Those that were most excited about the school were not around for the vote given that it finally happened early last week.   Also, true to form, as one sub-committee asked for one thing, another one was unhappy with the answer/result.  Sadly, the school could have benefited everyone -- even if they did not directly participate in it -- because it meant an additional income for the church as well as new offerings for church programming.  Nevermind that it would be a great marketing tool for the church.

We were told, instead, that we would need to form a separate entity - most likely a 501(c)3 non-profit - and then apply for space usage (and pay a fee for that space).  So the church would still get its income with none of the "risk" or side-benefits.  The problem is that in making this decision, the church overstepped what it could decide for us -- entity type, governance, etc.  While we can certainly ignore some of the church's decision, Malcolm is rightfully hesitant to move forward.  He's busy enough for three people - another board, another organization, etc would probably tip the scales for him.  I'm right there with him -- as it was, this was going to be a challenge for me to juggle next year.  The added stress of putting together a separate non-profit would probably be too much unless he and I draw in more help from the get-go..

I have a few options to explore for this, but I fear that our great idea is dead in the water unless people show a ton of enthusiasm and push for it.   As of right now, I'm tired and more than a little burnt out from the process.  The lack of vision and possibility continually astounds me but it is what it is.  The next month will be spent regrouping and figuring out options (if any).

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