Purpose – Opera houses have been traditionally publicly financed in many western countries. However, today many opera houses are facing serious financial troubles, due to the recent financial crisis. There is thus a widespread public debate on measures to ensure agency efficiency for performing arts organizations. Focusing on the reform implemented recently in Italy, which submitted opera houses that had severe financial difficulties to a recovery plan and encouraged forms of collaborative governance (CG), the purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of CG on the performance of the arts sector. Design/methodology/approach – Multiple case studies are used, on longitudinal data from multiple sources over a period of up to five years, in order to triangulate the narrative of financial and artistic performance and ensure trustworthiness. The study thus spans the period before the Bray Law came into force (2013) and covers the entire period in which recovery plans were implemented. Findings – The analysis explores how opera houses are building sustainability for themselves and the community in terms of financial and artistic performance through CG. Various forms of CG adopted yielded positive results. Furthermore, more robust forms of CG generated better performance, especially from a financial point of view. Originality/value – This paper adds to the limited knowledge of CG in the non-profit sector by bridging the fields of agency performance and CG. It discusses how the introduction of forms of CG can build up long-term sustainability, solving the dilemma of how to achieve financial equilibrium without compromising artistic quality, focusing on the case of opera houses, which are notably affected by Baumol’s cost disease.
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