Artistic goals at Woolly


In the spring of 2011, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company was a finalist for an award recognizing excellence in non-profit management administered by the Washington Post and the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. It wasn’t big dollars, but we hoped it would help us connect with some corporate contacts. We didn’t expect that we’d learn something about art along the way, but we did.

As part of the process, company leadership spent 2 hours with the 20 member selection panel answering questions. These were mostly local business people who were used to dealing with direct social services organizations rather than art groups. They asked us one terrific question that we weren’t prepared to answer. They asked us about our programmatic goal setting on a project by project basis. I was disappointed to realize that the only show by show or even season by season, official goal setting we did had to do with ticket sales as part of our earned income budgeting.

That doesn’t mean Woolly never had artistic goals, just that we never framed them in a way that would be easy to share or evaluate clearly afterwards. For me, that was bad enough to want to take action on.

Artistic director Howard Shalwitz and I spent a few sessions together over the summer during which he talked about why he had chosen specific plays for our 11/12 season and what he hoped to learn from doing them. I took notes and eventually condensed them into a very dry set of hypotheses and tactics for the year. Howard then edited some of his passion and juice back into the text, and we had our artistic goals for the year.

You can see a copy here:

We’re half way through the year now, and Howard tells me that the goals have already been useful in communicating with senior staff and some guest artists. That led me to believe that the process was valuable enough it would be worth sharing with others as an example of artistic goal setting. Also, for anyone who reads this and has been doing this for longer than we have, I would love to hear about it and see examples.


The full Woolly theme for the season is “Does our civilization have an expiration date?”

The reinvigorated company plan has added non-acting artists to Woolly’s artistic company and incorporated a number of activities to involve company members in more of what we do.

Civilization is the title of a new Jason Grote play that opens in a few weeks.

Mr Burns is a new Ann Washburn play with which we will close the season.

  • February 1, 2012