"And the beat goes on......................"
Here's my interview with Andrew Taylor of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration
Andrew Taylor Bio: Andrew Taylor is Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration www.bolzcenter.org - an MBA degree program and research center in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business. An author, lecturer, and researcher on a broad range of arts management issues, Andrew has also served as a consultant to arts organizations and cultural initiatives throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the International Society for the Performing Arts, American Ballet Theatre, the Center for Arts and Culture, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and helped develop the budget pro forma and operating plan for the $205-million Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. Andrew is currently the president of the Association of Arts Administration Educators (www.artsadministration.org), an international association of degree-granting programs in arts and cultural management, research, and policy, and is a consulting editor for The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. Since July 2003, he has written a popular weblog on the business of arts and culture, The Artful Manager, hosted by ArtsJournal.com (www.artfulmanager.com).
Barry: There are many ways for arts and cultural professionals to learn and advance their craft. Where do degree-granting programs in higher education fit into that spectrum of learning opportunities?
Andrew: Like most other professionals, arts and cultural managers can learn on the job, through professional development at conferences and workshops, through self-study or mentorship, or through a number of other paths and resources. In fact, most responsive leaders in the arts will always be learning through one of these means, as there's always more to learn. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs provide a place and process for uniquely intensive and sequential learning in the full range of skills and insights required of cultural management. For some, a degree program provides a fast-track through what would take decades to learn on the job. For others, these programs offer a space to rethink what they've learned through experience, and to connect it with the theory, critical thinking, and personal/professional networks they need to evolve their work in the arts.
You certainly don't need a business degree to run a business. Nor do you need a communications degree to serve as an effective communications professional. But these structured learning opportunities, along with the rich environments and personal networks they provide, can bring you to a different place in your life and your work than you could discover without them. It's the same with degree programs in arts administration.
Barry: When I was the Director of the California Arts Council, there were degree programs in Arts Administration at U.C.L.A. and Golden Gate University. Those programs no longer exist. Can you give us status report and an assessment of university arts administration program provision in the U.S. today? How many schools offer curriculum in the area? And are we turning out more or fewer graduates from these programs than say four years ago? Where do you see this area going in the next few years? What obstacles will it face?
Andrew: There have been a few graduate and undergraduate degree programs that have closed shop over the years, due to the retirement of their founding directors or changing priorities for their host institutions but others have risen in equal or greater numbers. Over the past four years, I'd estimate that the total number of degree programs in arts and cultural management has grown slightly, with some more significant growth in undergraduate programs.
As for numbers, The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE), the international collective of degree-granting institutions in arts and cultural management, has 59 full member programs and 37 associate member programs, the large majority of which are based in North America - http://www.artsadministration.org
In the next few years, I'd expect roughly the same slow growth in programs and graduates. As the environment for cultural organizations continues to change rather dramatically, our challenge will be adapting our curriculum and programs in response, to ground our students to know how the world used to work while preparing them for the world to come.
Barry: Follow up Question: Can you give me some examples of how you think curriculum in arts nonprofit programs will likely change in the next couple of years in response to a changing environment in which our arts & culture nonprofits operate? For example, I am a vocal proponent of advancing the sector's advocacy and lobbying skills, and for arts leadership to make advocacy and lobbying a part of the job description of arts organization senior staff and board members yet advocacy and lobbying doesn't seem to yet be a part of most higher arts management programs. Do you think that is an area that will change? Are there others you can point to?
Andrew: The shape and sequence of the coursework will likely remain much the same, as such things move at a glacial pace in higher education. But the content of the required courses is changing all the time. For example, introductory marketing courses used to emphasize fairly basic consumer awareness and decision-making models. Today, a course with the same title will cover much more sophisticated terrain, like customer analysis and segmentation, value-based pricing, and channel strategy.
For me, the constant challenge is to resist the impulse to respond to complex changes by adding more complexity to our curriculum. As we notice more globalization in the arts, shifts in leisure time, challenges to copyright, and the like, the impulse is to tack on more and more readings and topics, rather than rethinking things down to their underlying forms. This is certainly true in connecting students to marketing and development. We used to treat these two income streams as entirely different entities (and many arts organizations are still structured as if they are different endeavors). Yet, really, marketing and development are just different corollaries of the same challenge: matching your organization's strengths with an individual's or organization's needs and values, and encouraging more of them to commit their resources to you. Come to think of it, that describes volunteer staffing and governance, as well.
The growing need for advocacy and lobbying fits this simplicity effort as well. The two primary jobs for governing boards and top leadership are to ensure that their organizations work effectively and productively, and that there are sufficient resources and support to sustain that success over time. Lobbying and advocacy are essential elements of both of these primary tasks.
So, what I hope will evolve in our curricula and our learning strategies is a new simplicity, a growing emphasis on elegance and elemental insight, rather than just teaching more and more stuff. As Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with saying (who knows if he actually did): Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. But it's a bear to get there.
Barry: If the number of graduates from these programs is on the increase, does that mean the number of jobs available for these graduates is similarly increasing? Or to put the question another way, is arts administration more viable as a career path today than it was a few years ago? Are students optimistic that they will find the jobs they are looking for after graduation? And if they are optimistic, is that optimism justified by the reality? As a follow-up question, is recruitment for these programs difficult? Is it easier than it was a few years ago? How do these schools go about recruiting the best and brightest?
Andrew: I can only speak from my own experience and the conversations I have with my colleagues at other programs, but I think that the supply of graduates and the demand for them in the market are well matched. We have great success in placing our graduates in substantial jobs around the country, and I know other programs do, as well. What's more, we know that graduates advance quickly in the ranks, once their organizations experience what they can do.
Of course, the career success of our graduates is a different matter than the viability of cultural management on the grander scale. Most indicators suggest that the dramatic growth in the number and size of arts organizations of the past few decades has hit a plateau. Most of the forces that fueled that growth, massive increases in wealth; availability of workforce to staff, govern, and volunteer; and under-penetrated cultural markets, have leveled or declined.
It's an increasingly challenging time to work in any capacity at a professional nonprofit arts organization. But to the benefit of degree programs and the students within them, those challenges are growing the demand for thoughtful, innovative, and accountable leaders and staff.
Barry: Follow-up question: Do you think the pay level for arts administrators particularly at the levels the graduates from these programs both enter and aspire to will likely increase so as to remain somewhat competitive with other jobs those students might take? Will their holding a degree help to raise the pay structure? And what about the mid-level administrators who are not graduates of programs and don't hold degrees will they benefit from increased pay levels as well? Much of arts & culture funding is program based and even basic operational support often ignores salary needs what are your thoughts on how to advance the profession of arts administration through increased compensation packages to our leadership?
Andrew: First off, conversations about compensation always need to recognize that it's a complex calculus. People have all sorts of reasons for committing their time, talent, and attention to careers in cultural management, or any other career for that matter. Salary is certainly an essential element of those calculations, but only one. Also in the mix are a sense of purpose, productive contribution to an endeavor you value, connections to co-workers and constituents who enrich and challenge you, and a sense of joy and play.
On average, the arts industry will always be resource-poor in capital and operating cash, it will be delivering services at below their true total cost, and it will be striving toward mission statements that are much larger than its capacity to deliver. We'll make up some of the difference in contributed income, volunteer labor, and the fiscal privilege of the nonprofit form. And we'll make up the rest in relatively lower salaries as compared to our commercial peers. There will be outliers in large and iconic cultural organizations, but there's no escaping the math.
Does that mean we can't structure organizations that pay a living wage with benefits that respect the time, talent, and commitment of staff and leadership? No, of course not. It just means we have to be resourceful in our human resource practices, thoughtful in our organizational scope and scale, and competitive in the full definition of compensation.
I've been pleased to see a steady increase in starting salaries for our graduates, and a growing willingness for thoughtful organizations to shape competitive compensation, even when they have to be creative with vacation time, professional development, and other non-monetary benefits. As the labor pool constricts over the coming decade (which demographics say it must), the market will force this kind of resourcefulness for those who want the most qualified and productive leaders.
Barry: What constitutes the core subjects in a balanced arts administration education program today? What areas of arts administration education are we, in your opinion, doing a good job at covering? Which areas are we not doing such a good job?
Andrew: The benefit of having a full complement of independent graduate and undergraduate degree programs around the country is that there is more than one answer to those questions. Some programs emphasize community engagement, some balance toward business, some focus on a specific arts discipline, some are entirely cross-disciplinary. If prospective students take time to understand their choices, they can find the mix, balance, and teaching philosophy that match their own learning interests and career goals.
The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) website at www.artsadministration.org is a great resource to begin this comparison, and it will soon be getting much better as we launch the association's web redesign in the coming months.
But within that range and variety, there are certainly essential elements of an integrated curriculum in arts and cultural management. AAAE recently developed graduate program curriculum standards to clarify and advance those essential elements among its graduate-level member programs. Those standards recommend both coursework and service learning in the production and distribution of art, financial analysis and budget management, income generation through earned and contributed sources, strategic planning, legal and ethical environments, policy, institutional leadership, and international issues.
Undergraduate programs will have a different mix at a different level of engagement, as they also need to cover the broader goals of undergraduate education.
As for where we're doing a good job in arts administration education and where we aren't, there's no way to provide a general response. All of the degree programs have unique strengths. All of us are also working to continually improve. For me, one of the larger frustrations is the disconnect between academic programs in arts administration and leadership development initiatives outside academia. It seems so obvious that efforts on both sides would benefit from more seamless conversation and collaboration. And yet each side seems to work in isolation from the other.
Barry: Follow-up question: Why is that? What can we do to build intersections between those academic programs and the initiatives outside academia?
Andrew: I'm honestly not sure what created these separate camps, as it makes no sense for either side to disconnect from the knowledge and insight of the other. I hear grumblings from non-academic programs that the academics are detached from real-world challenges. And I hear similar grumblings from the academic world that practitioner-based programs lack reflection and rigor. Both are right and both are wrong. And it's certainly not a challenge unique to arts administration you'll hear similar strains in almost any industry with specialized academic programs.
The only way to build those intersections is to continue to try. The AAAE is working to build more meaningful and productive bridges with national service organizations, and they seem more eager than ever to connect with our programs. If we can gain some little victories and I think we can we can slowly disassemble these flawed perspectives and unproductive barriers we've constructed over the decades.
In the end, the theory/practice argument is silly. You can't take action without a working theory of the challenge in front of you even if that theory is unspoken and unexamined. And you can't advance theory without direct interaction with real people making real choices.
Barry: Generational succession is a hot button topic, and how the arts & culture sector can, and will, attract new blood from the next generation will likely greatly impact the future health of the sector what is the role arts administration education (particularly at the university level) in helping to insure that the sector has a reliable stream of qualified new talent to join its leadership ranks? How has it fared in successfully playing out that role?
Andrew: I'll have to admit that I have a growing frustration with the tone and tenor of our proclaimed leadership crisis as explored at national conferences and among arts leaders. From my vantage point, the arts world is swimming in extraordinary prospective leaders with great ideas, entrepreneurial spirit, killer skills, and passion for the arts. I meet passionate and competent young and mid-career arts professionals everywhere I go. But I also watch them leave the sector because of their own frustration with the work they are allowed to do.
The problem, in my opinion, isn't a lack of prospects entering the pipeline, but rather an extraordinarily leaky pipe. Working in an arts organization should be one of the most powerful mixtures of passion and profession. As other industries strive to meet growing workforce demand for jobs with meaning, personal value, connection, and impact, arts organizations so often seem to squander the riches they hold in these very areas. Through rigid leadership and governance structures, advancing professionalism above passion, growing aversion to risk in programming and in practice, and strangely sterile and joyless work environments, many arts organizations have modeled the corporate ideal of the 1950s just as corporations are rediscovering creative expression. It's an odd irony that we feel we can't compete for tomorrow's knowledge workers, when we can offer so much of what those workers claim they want.
In most of the hand-wringing by established arts leaders about not seeing a next generation to succeed them, I hear a consistent subtext that what they're really not seeing is leaders like them. This next group of arts leaders will work differently, balance their work and life differently, and aggressively work to reshape our current understanding of how arts organizations can and should be run. It doesn't mean that their predecessors did things badly, just that each generation brings its own style and flair to the challenge. And thank goodness for that!
As for the role of higher education programs in this challenge, I'd say we have several. First, our programs need to work continually with practitioners to understand what competencies are needed, and how the environment is changing. If we graduate students that can't excel at the job at hand, we've missed a primary part of our calling. Beyond that, however, academic programs have a unique opportunity to reframe the conversation about arts and cultural leadership. Through research, convenings, service learning, collaborations with national and international service organizations, and conversations with our alumni, arts administration degree programs can help define the job ahead, while also serving the job at hand.
I think we've already seen extraordinary contributions to this conversation from academic programs across the country and around the world. And, to my mind, this is the most productive space for academic programs to explore.
Barry: In the follow-up public forums on the study we did for the Hewlett Foundation Youth Involvement in the Arts (click here to download the full report: http://www.hewlett.org/Programs/PerformingArts/Publications/YouthReport.htmwww.hewlettfoundation.org), a number of young people in several venues decried that the work offered them was pedestrian in nature, made no attempt to utilize their talents and was rigidly authoritarian, not allowing for them any meaningful decision-making authority. Those views echoed conclusions in the report itself by organizations that had successful programs to involve more young people. Given your observations, how would you suggest we begin a sector wide systemic change in our attitudes as to the recruitment and involvement of young people?
Andrew: I sure wish that I knew where the levers were to impact systemic change on this issue. It's a constant frustration to release bright and insightful students back into the workforce only to hear them frustrated and undervalued. I'm not suggesting they should be given the keys to the kingdom, but it's astounding what a little honest and responsive listening can do, as well as a clear sense that their actions and insights are valued.
I suppose the ever-increasing competition for labor will eventually force more thoughtful change. Corporations in other fields are working fast and furiously to rethink their work environments, their recruiting and advancement strategies, and their pipeline of potential leaders. Arts organizations that don't do the same will increasingly fall short of their promise, and eventually fall flat on their faces.
Barry: Arts organizations are really small businesses at their core with all of the positive things small businesses can offer local communities, and all of the problems and challenges every small business faces does the current arts administration education, thinking adequately address the needs of future arts administrators to become smart small business entrepreneurs in an increasingly competitive marketplace?
Andrew: The concept of an arts organization as a small business, resonates deeply with my program, and many programs of my peers. Even at a huge annual operating budget (like $30 million or more), arts organizations are small businesses for a range of reasons. They live on cash and die on cash flow, they excel only when a complex number of constituencies work in alignment, and they are personal endeavors that thrive on relationship and human interaction.
I know that many of my peer programs are working hard to advance this way of thinking, and I also know that a new generation of students is demanding it. I experience that push from my own students, and it drives me to work even harder to change the game. As one example, students are increasingly interested in exploring non-traditional corporate forms for expressive organizations from hybrid for-profit/nonprofit structures to informal, non-corporate organizations, to entirely commercial enterprises that still strive for mission over money.
The traditional, professional, independently operated 501c3 organization is certainly one tool in the toolbox. But a vibrant future cultural ecosystem will demand leaders with a mastery of many tools.
Barry: Many people have suggested that it's time for the old models to die and be replaced by new models that adapt to the changing times. And that may apply to the wider nonprofit universe as a whole. How can we facilitate moving from one paradigm to another and minimize the fear, disruptions, and challenges that come with wholesale change?
Andrew: I actually have this argument with my arts consultant friends quite a bit these days. After working with an endless string of struggling nonprofit arts organizations, all sharing the inevitable challenges of the nonprofit corporate structure, they can't help but wonder if there's a better way waiting in the wings.
I'm not so ready to toss out the nonprofit structure, as it has proven to be powerful in advancing non-market-supported expressive forms. But I am ready to toss out all the myths and common conceptions of what the nonprofit form looks like. On paper, it's really not that complicated, a board of three or more, some basic rules about the distribution of net revenue and the avoidance of personal gain, and some loose but convincing ties to serving the public trust. George Thorn and Nello McDaniel figured this out decades ago, that the large majority of our troubles with nonprofit structure are due to the mythology we invest in it.
But of course, there should be a full range of means to advance the expressive life of our communities and the creative voices of our artists. Tomorrow's arts ecology will need to work harder to match organizational and corporate structure to the specific challenge at hand. The good ol' 501c3 will remain an important part of the solution. At least, so says I.
Barry: Is there any national consensus on policy being developed within the arts administration education community that can serve as a guideline for future decision-making in this area? If not, why not? If there is, how is that policy arrived at?
Andrew: Cultural policy is such a multi-headed monster in the United States, I would doubt that anyone could forge a national consensus. It's a creature of government at every level, federal, state, county, municipal but also of organized philanthropy, individual giving, and corporate support, generally forged as the byproduct of initiatives outside the arts and advanced without much communication between the players.
I think higher education can play a productive role in policy on several levels. Through dispassionate and rigorous research, we can inform and advance a productive conversation based on evidence and reflection. Through cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary convenings and partnerships, we can provide neutral ground for multiple constituents to learn together. Through curriculum and service learning, we can engage a next generation of leaders in the pitfalls and potential of the policy environment, and give them the tools to join the fray. And through all of this work, we can serve as translators, connectors, provocateurs, and thought-leaders to keep things moving forward.
Are we hitting all of the above on all cylinders? Of course not. But we're working at it. And some of the best policy work I know of is being done or supported by arts administration programs and their faculty in higher education.
Barry: You seem to suggest a greater role for your sector which I think will find a very sympathetic audience in the wider nonprofit arts field. How do you think that expanded role can best be rolled out?
Andrew: I can see a vast number of potential connections, but I can't yet figure the best ways to get there. For example, our degree programs have hundreds of students ready to research important questions in policy and practice and, in fact, many are required to do so as part of their coursework. At the same time, service organizations and policy-makers are swimming in vexing but essential questions with no time or resources to address them. How can we connect the student researchers with the subjects that will really inform our future, while giving them a substantial taste for policy development in the process?
Many arts administration education programs are already doing exceptional work in this regard. Carnegie Mellon's program has constructed a fantastic Arts and Culture Observatory initiative to provide on-going research on the state and shape of their region's arts infrastructure http://aco.artsnet.org/.
Joan Jeffri at Columbia University Teachers College has long been a focused and passionate researcher on artists and arts policy http://www.tc.columbia.edu/faculty/index.htm?facid=jj64.
Margaret Wyszomirski at Ohio State University is an arts policy juggernaut, and connects her students with real-world challenges and the tools to assess them http://arted.osu.edu/personnel/wyszomirski.php
Perhaps we can model these successful efforts and adapt them to work elsewhere.
I'd love to hear the thoughts of your readers and peers as to where and how we can move things forward.
Barry: You're the current President of the Association of Arts Administration Educators. Can you explain what that organization is all about? Is there an annual gathering? Are there ways you guys share information and work together in program development? Do you intersect with each other (or other sectors of the arts & culture universe) in terms of curriculum development or in other ways?
Andrew: Yes, I'm honored to be serving my term as president of the AAAE. It's an international association of arts and cultural management programs in higher education, started about 30 years ago as many of these programs were forming. We have an annual conference (our next is in Madison in April 2008). We connect our members on-line and in person to advance their programs and explore their craft. We engage prospective students in arts and cultural management and help them find a productive fit. We work with national and international service organizations, associations, and related networks. And we provide a forum for advancing the reach and quality of research, teaching, and service in this unique and complex field.
I've already mentioned our association's work in developing graduate program curriculum standards, and the tools surrounding them. Our members can use these standards to evaluate their own programs, and connect with peers who can help them grow and evolve where they identify the need to do so. We also know that the standards have been invaluable to new degree programs as they develop. And we are using them to inform our conversations with practitioners and professional development initiatives outside academia. We have a team of our members now exploring a similar effort for undergraduate programs.
Beyond this important and meaningful work, I'll admit that my favorite aspect of the association is the opportunity to gather with peers. These are brilliant, funny, reflective, insightful individuals. These are old friends and valued colleagues. These are members of an extended family with the common bond of advancing, celebrating, and supporting the expressive life of our planet, and the leaders who make it run.
Barry: You go to a lot of conferences - and participate as a speaker or panelist at a goodly number of them, is there, in your opinion, enough of a focus on issues germane to the provision of arts administration education? If not, where might more groups focus?
Andrew: I do travel the conference circuit a lot, and I'm sad to say that the arts and cultural industry lacks a thoughtful, responsive, and consistent learning infrastructure at almost every level. We're oddly insular in how we gather, and how we structure our learning, by discipline, by job function, by geographic region. And the bulk of our conference learning time is spent on tactics as to how to write a grant, use a blog, manage a mail campaign, rather than on strategy or lateral thinking.
To be fair to the conference conveners, it's a nearly impossible task to build such an infrastructure in such a rapidly evolving industry, especially when so many established arts leaders discount the value of continual learning. But I know that many of the national service organizations are working to turn this around, to rethink how they engage their members and advance a more curious culture among arts professionals, and to rebuild our rather sparse research infrastructure in a way that advances collective understanding and strategy.
We've built so many bunkers over the decades, and searched so desperately for good news about the arts and society to advance our cause, that we've lost much of our ability to question ourselves and each other out loud, to seek the connections among our disciplines, and to explore the integral links we have to other industries, other fields, and to the larger world. These are the fundamental building blocks of significant learning and field transformation in any field, and most definitely in the arts. One positive impact of the dramatic changes now taking place in the arts is the new ascendance of these qualities in our conversations.
Barry: If you had ten million dollars to spend to improve arts administrator education, how would you spend the money?
Andrew: I think we need a significant and sustained investment in fostering greater diversity in our student rosters, as the professional nonprofit arts also need more diversity in their staffs, leadership, and boards. A portion of the $10 million could make a tiny turn in that direction.
I also would segment some resources to encourage, support, and disseminate research on arts and cultural management issues, as we've only begun to scratch the surface of what we need to know to be effective teachers, managers, and leaders. And this doesn't take a bucket of money. For example, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is currently providing small grant incentives to researchers that will dive deeper into a recently developed data set on arts audiences. The grants (of $2000 to $5000 at the most) refocus bright minds on an essential issue in the arts, while generating new insight on existing data.
Finally, I'd fund a series of opportunities to encourage cross-talk and collaborative work between academic programs in arts administration and national service organizations. There's so much potential for mutual learning and growth between these worlds that even a tiny spark could set off a bonfire. If I had change left over from the $10 million after that, I'd probably buy some gum.
Thank you Andrew.
Couple of Announcements:
1. Alonzo King's LINES Ballet celebrates its 25th Anniversary with an extraordinary presentation of two new works at its Fall Season beginning this Friday night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco. The opening night Gala Party is sold-out, but there still tickets available to the performances during the run.
Click here for more information LINES Ballet www.linesballet.org/ and I hope as many of you as possible get the chance to see one of the world's truly great artists at the peak of his career.
2. The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco (on whose board I sit) has one of the truly great educational programs (in partnership with the S.F. school district) that reaches out to kids who have otherwise given up on school, and connects with them in a practical, hands-on, project-based learning program that lets the kids become part of an architectural / building team in the design of an actual project, click here for info on the foundation: www.afsf.org . The foundation is having an Arts Auction on November 8th from 5:30 to 10:30 pm at the Haworth Design firm in San Francisco at 9 Maritime Plaza (across from Embarcadero Center). This will be a free, fun event and the donated art (so far) is really quite spectacular. Please come out and for a very good cause. And if you are an artist and would consider donating one of your original works to this very good cause, I would be most grateful. Please contact either Claudia Valdivia at Claudia.firstname.lastname@example.org (415.981.8795 x 223) or John Giordano at John.email@example.com (415.981-8795 x238)
Have a good week.