Updated: Jul 12, 2019
As an Arts Management Student at Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA, I’m studying arts administration in one of the most vibrant places for the arts and culture in the world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving my take on some of the most compelling readings and discussions we’ve had on Performing Arts Administration while drawing from the amazing arts leaders and arts spaces I’ve encountered as a grad student. Stay tuned!
The Arts Management program at Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA at Claremont Graduate University has provided a thorough overview of what it takes to lead a performing arts organization, from developing a compelling mission to designing a functional and enjoyable venue for audiences and performers. Textbooks like Jessica Bathurst’s and Tobie Stein’s Performing Arts Management and Doug Borwick’s Building Communities, Not Audiences served as clear and system overviews of managing a performing arts institution and developing strategies to engage with audiences. We’ve also consulted articles from mainstream media outlets and arts-focused blogs to learn about varied perspectives on key issues in the arts. The combination of these sources helped me learn the basics of performing arts management while also developing the skills to critically assess the arguments of others in the industry and to form my own opinions about administration in the performing arts.
In a course focused on Performing Arts Presenting and Producing, we started with an overview of non-profit and commercial management structures in the performing arts, as well as the distinctions between mission, vision and values. We also discussed how an organization’s mission guides its practices and the way it presents itself to audiences.
In a blog post for Americans for the Arts, Peabody Institute Dean Dr. Fred Bronstein shares a cautiously optimistic view on the future of classical music and orchestras, contingent on conservatories’ willingness to adopt a new mission in training their students. Discussing an industry-wide hesitation to place community engagement and innovation as core values, Bronstein advocates for teaching students more than just musical excellence. He highlights the necessity of equipping students with technology, communication, audience development and community engagement skills in an era of rapid and unprecedented change for classical music and society in general. Bronstein then outlines the Peabody Institute’s four-stage approach to providing students with these skills and discusses the benefits this program provides to students, the Institute’s Baltimore community and performing arts institutions at large.
I agree with Bronstein’s position that education for aspiring musicians must be expanded beyond musical excellence to ensure these students can have a successful careers that bolster classical music institutions in the future. In a time of declining audiences and donations for orchestras, it does not make sense (and is almost cruel) to train students and fuel their passion for positions that may not exist in the future. However, I feel that Bronstein may be placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of artists in believing that simply changing current education models is enough to reshape the future of classical music.
As he discusses in the article, conservatories are simply “tinkering around the edges” in providing technology, communications and community engagement training. In my experience, many arts institutions are doing the same thing. Community programs and sophisticated digital marketing and content strategies are still second-tier priorities, coming after ticketed performances or museum exhibitions. To ensure this next generation of digitally savvy and community-aware students can be successful, institutional mindsets, priorities and budgets must also change.
A key factor in changing institutional priorities is audience data. Institutions can learn a lot from studying the many publicly available reports and research studies about cultural audience trends. As a former journalist, I have been awed by the amount of thorough and well-organized research related to the arts that is available for free. This is an invaluable resource and I feel that arts organizations are not using this data to assist with decision-making enough.