Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is There An Arts Management Crisis?

by Janet Brown
Recently, I attended a meeting of Seattle-based funders and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser. One of Kaiser’s points as he travels around the country on an “Arts in Crisis” tour, is the need for greater competency in management of nonprofit arts organization. His point that we spend a great deal of resources training artists in this country but very little on the training of managers rang pretty true to me.
Having spent much of my career as a technical assistance provider focusing on professional development and in higher education as the chair of a department of fine arts and adjunct faculty for a masters of arts in arts administration program, I’ve long believed that more training opportunities for managers would benefit the field greatly. Even in the largest cities, arts administrators find themselves isolated in their work. Many don’t seek assistance because asking for help reflects poorly on their organization and themselves professionally.
And there’s the time and cost factor. Who has time to go to classes, conferences, and mentor breakfasts while they are trying to run an organization that is understaffed? For most organizations, the professional development line in their budget is the first thing to go. Even restricting travel costs means managers are unable to attend convenings where educational and mentorship opportunities are available. There is a need for consistent, meaningful training opportunities for nonprofit arts managers that are easily assessable and relatively inexpensive.
Over the years, there has been an explosion of arts administration programs in academia. They have had mixed reviews by the field. In my experience, many programs suffer from the “ivory tower syndrome” with faculty that have never operated successful organizations, faced the issues of boards of directors, facility management, artistic directors, community involvement and funding cycles. On-line programs or programs in large cities that pull adjunct faculty from the field seem to be offer some hope for academia to offer practical training. But, it seems that on-the-job training continues to the most likely hope in developing competent, knowledgeable managers.

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