Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interview with Doug Borwick

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

Doug Borwick is currently President of the Board of the Association of Arts Administration Educators and has for over 25 years been Director of the Arts Management and Not-for-Profit Management Programs at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC.   He also writes a blog on engaging the arts in communities.  I wanted to ask Doug questions about the University degree programs in arts administration and some of the issues that face that sub-sector of our field, and to get a better sense of how those issues impact the whole issue of professional development in the arts as well as other challenges we face.

Here then is the interview:
1.  Barry:  What have you learned in your tenure as the President of the Association of Arts Administration Educators? What are you optimistic about, and what gives you pause for concern, for the future of our university degree in arts administration programs?

Doug:  The most important lesson for me has been the true meaning of ours being a young field in academia. While Oxford, Cambridge, and their descendants have had centuries to figure out what an education in English or philosophy should include, we are only now, just more than forty years into the development of the field, even realizing how different our programs are.

Arts administration programs are unique in ways unheard of in more established disciplines. Because of the youth of the field, they reflect the personalities and interests of their individual founders, their home departments, and their institutions in ways completely foreign to, say, mathematics. And the youth of the field gives the administration of the host institutions (and their accrediting agencies) far more sway over content and faculty hiring/promotion decisions than is true in other disciplines.

Arts administration programs housed in business schools emphasize management and finance; those in arts programs emphasize understanding of the medium; others focus on marketing, research, community engagement, or policy. They are all arts administration programs, but they turn out graduates with very different areas of expertise. And I’ve not even touched upon the differences between graduate and undergraduate education.

This issue is complicated by the fact that arts administration is highly complex. I refer to it as the ultimate liberal arts discipline. It’s necessary to understand economics, finance, management, marketing, leadership–all of the traditional management tools/skills, but it’s also important to understand not-for-profit-specific areas (e.g., fund accounting, fundraising, volunteer management, board development), the art form and its history, sociology, politics and advocacy, ethics, and community organizing to name a few.

The fact that the practitioner field itself is not aware that it does not agree on what it wants in arts administrators does not help. I’ve spoken with numerous professionals who want “more” and “better” from arts administration graduates, but they do not know that they don’t agree on what they want “more and better.” Some want higher order finance skills, some board development, some advocacy, etc.

That said, what I’m proudest of at AAAE are the strides we have made in curriculum guidance. Almost a decade ago, we began developing a set of standards in a broad range of categories for graduate programs in arts administration. These were, necessarily, focused on what the vastly disparate member programs were offering. Round one was a set of graduate standards. Round two, completed in my first year as President, presented refinements of those and added a set of undergraduate standards. In these two phases, the work was in-house and available only to AAAE members. As we finalize the i-dotting and t-crossing of both, we are getting ready to make these public, institute a continuous-review process, and actively solicit field input in refinement and development of the standards. I know some may think that backwards (“Get field input first.”), but that would only work (from an “art of the possible” perspective) if we were beginning with no programs in place.

I am also pleased about the fact that we have made some progress in establishing links with the field in ways that are uncommon in academia. In my first year as President, I met with and discussed partnership possibilities with AAM, Americans for the Arts, Chorus America, Dance/USA, LAO, the NEA, OPERA America, and TCG. Out of those conversations, AAAE created its Research Advisory Council to act as liaison between the needs of the field and of academic institutions. It’s in its infancy and the wheels turn very slowly in academia, but I have high hopes there.

As for concerns? The vastly different perspectives, needs, and interests of academia and practitioners make working together difficult. There is mutual if not distrust then lack of understanding. You know, stereotypes of academics looking down on those outside the ivory tower and on-the-ground professionals disdaining “pointy-headed, head-in-the-clouds intellectuals.” The reality that I’ve seen on both sides does not, for the most part, bear out those perceptions, but the fact that they remain in people’s minds could derail efforts to work together or cause the inevitable delays in implementation to be seen as lack of commitment.

Another very practical concern is that, given the many things that could and should be done, AAAE is a small organization with one part-time staff person. The individual Board and committee members have demanding day jobs that make undertaking new initiatives a challenge.

2.  Barry:  Do you think the curriculum at these programs (both undergraduate and graduate) meet the challenges facing the next generation of leadership?  Besides the basics of nonprofit arts management (finance, fundraising, program design and oversight, marketing, board relations and the like) what broad areas do you think are currently underserved (for example:  is there sufficient preparation in public policy and advocacy, or in the more subtle management skills such as how to motivate employees, how to listen, how to communicate effectively, conflict resolution, organizational adaptability etc.)?   Are there standards for graduation requirements across all the programs and how are these standards monitored and determined?

Doug:  No curriculum can meet all the challenges. As I’ve said, AAAE has made major strides in articulating the areas that should be addressed, but there are many, many areas. The best to be hoped is that each program (undergraduate or graduate) will provide depth in a few and breadth by covering most.

This is the time, also, to articulate the role of our curriculum standards. AAAE is not an accrediting body. Even if some members and some outsiders might want it to be, the politics of academia preclude that at this time. AAAE’s curriculum standards are a statement of our best current understanding of what graduates of our programs should know and be able to do. The role of the standards is to serve as guidelines in program development, curricular improvement, and advocacy on the part of programs within their host departments and institutions. As for the on-going development of the standards, one of my last acts as President of AAAE will be to formalize standing committees to oversee constant review of the standards and to solicit field input into their content.

That said, if you take all our programs together, I would say there is no content area that is missed. In individual programs, the answer will likely depend on one’s point of view. I might say that some are woefully inadequate with respect to community engagement. I suspect from your perspective many are not up to snuff with respect to the practical, hands-on aspects of advocacy. In addition to the institutional constraints and individual preferences I’ve mentioned already, there is the constraint of what can be covered in how much depth in, for instance, a two year Master’s degree. I do believe that opening up the standards to feedback from the field will assist AAAE in determining, in general, which things need more emphasis and which less. Given that we are academic institutions, I suspect that we may need to devote a bit more time to nuts and bolts preparation (especially for our younger students) and somewhat less to theory.

3.  Barry:  Further to the above question: Are our university arts administration programs preparing their graduates to be more entrepreneurial, adaptive and innovative?    Are the base curriculum models mired in a too traditional, and arguably, outdated and antiquated approach?  In his keynote address to your organization's annual conference in 2010, Ben Cameron asked: "…does the present environment and the possibilities of innovation through applied research invite us to rethink our larger training - rethinking what we teach, with whom we teach, indeed what we are ultimately trying to instill?"

Ben went on to ask:  "In addition to teaching subscription theory, should we also teach voter registration and as paradigms of engaging public energies? While the internship at the nearby LORT theatre may be hugely valuable, can we entertain the notion that the more valuable experience may be with the political campaign, the sports complex, the environmental justice center? Should marketing and audience development be taught in tandem with social psychology? Should we insist that EVERY research project—including supporting of productions and marketing—be interdisciplinary, requiring students to engage their colleagues in econ, business schools, emerging technologies and more? What would happen if we too adopted the five-stage business development model in lieu of our training emphasis (which typically is based on only two steps—training and, if lucky, mentoring)? Do we dare prioritize post-graduation capital even at the cost of student aid? Indeed, might our primary goals be the cultivation of acute external awareness, deep curiosity, rigorous self-scrutiny and a deep abiding understanding of, and commitment to, risk? As training programs, can we promote to our students and model a vision of the arts that are firmly rooted in the world, rather than insulated from that world; that speaks with the world in dialogue, rather than to the world; that mirrors the same principles of nimbleness and openness, of innovation and curiosity that we may seek to impart?"   

Is that a dialogue your field has prioritized? What are your thoughts on Ben's inquiry?  Is Jim Undercofler's launch of a degree in arts entrepreneurship for Ithaca College an isolated, ground-breaking experiment or a trend in arts administration curriculum thinking?

Doug: There are a variety of important questions you are asking here. First, with respect to entrepreneurship, there is a good deal of discussion going on. Each of our last three conferences has had several sessions devoted to it. One of our Board members has volunteered to begin developing a curriculum standard addressing it. We have hope of partnering with some organizations advocating for entrepreneurship in academic programs (although our human resources for accomplishing that are limited). I am convinced that Jim’s proposed program at Ithaca College is at the vanguard of a real movement in the field.

Regarding your question about curricula that are “too traditional . . . outdated and antiquated,” we face a significant dilemma. To a large extent, our programs, especially the graduate ones, are judged by the success with which they place graduates in positions in established arts institutions. If those institutions do not truly value graduates with an entrepreneurial bent (and by “value,” I mean hire), it can be counter-productive for arts administration programs to place a significant emphasis on it. This does not mean they will not; it simply means that there could be risk to them in doing so. In spite of that, as I said above, this is a wave of the future for our programs.

As for Ben’s questions to us in 2010, AAAE has recently added a new curriculum standard in the area of community engagement. One of its functions is to foster the kind of awareness of and interaction with the broader community for which he was advocating.

4.  Barry: University degree in arts administration programs are an enormously valuable asset for our sector.  But are they underutilized?   Due to costs, scheduling and location isolation, by and large our university arts administration programs are unavailable to the majority of our current managers.  What role do you think these programs might play in the future (if any) in terms of the wider picture of addressing the professional development needs of our sector's managers?
5.  Follow-up: What movement is there in the arts educator field to offer access to its curriculum online, on demand - in whole or in part?

Doug:  Underutilized? From whose perspective? Over the last few years, perhaps due to the economy, we have had a big boost in graduate program enrollment. (While that may seem counter-intuitive, the downturn in employment has encouraged many to seek higher education.)

You are right, though, that a traditional in-residence degree is not an option for people with full-time jobs. Several member programs of AAAE have degree programs that are largely online, designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals. We began work on compiling a list of workshops and short-term training programs that may be of interest to those seeking continuing education in the field. That effort still needs work. It should be noted that our programs can be at the mercy of host institutions that discourage online offerings (a dwindling number to be sure) or non-degree opportunities.

I have spoken with some of the national arts service organizations about collaborating on professional development training. The idea was met with some enthusiasm (in some quarters). However, as with any collaborative effort, the time and energy required to pull off such partnerships can be daunting.

6.  Barry: Is there any data / research on the composition of the students enrolled in these programs - compiled in the aggregate?   I'm wondering whether or not there is proportional representation of multicultural groups in particular?  What is the field doing to ensure such representation for the future of an educated and trained arts leadership?  It wo uld also be informative to know the breakdown of enrollees as to gender, geographic hometowns, age etc.  Is that data available anywhere?

Doug:  I am not aware of significant quantities of the kind of research you describe. I would like to have access to it, but collecting and analyzing such data annually would require resources that AAAE simply does not possess right now. And our member programs are surveyed within an inch of their lives. This should probably be high on this list of things to do for AAAE in the near future. Unfortunately, that is a very long list.

With respect to your question about multicultural representation in our programs, on a purely anecdotal, observational level, the make-up of our student bodies appears to me to reflect, in large measure (except younger), the make-up of arts audiences: upper middle class, white, and female. While that’s a gross over-simplification, it’s an issue for the arts as an industry, not just the arts administration profession.

7.  Barry:  And speaking of research, what kinds of research (either that being done, or that which ought to be undertaken) do you see as essential for the future of the arts educator field?  What kinds of information and data does the field need that it does not have?

Doug: I should probably defer to our Research Advisory Council on this. The question is precisely why we established the group. This may be the time to point out that I am the first President of AAAE from an undergraduate program. (It’s not been too long since undergraduate programs were first allowed to be members.) Not only that, I am not a researcher. I’m a qualitative kind of guy with a background as an artist. I had to spend a bit of the first portion of my term assuring the members that while I was not a researcher I understood the value of it and wanted to be proactive in focusing on its role in our field.

8.  Barry:  Virtually all of these programs tout that graduates can expect to land prominent positions post graduation.  From your observations, is there a hiring bias in favor of those who have completed these kinds of programs over those without such training coming up from the ranks?  And is that a problem for our sector (i.e., will such a bias be an obstacle to recruitment and retention of those without such training coming into our field as they will perceive that upward advancement and promotion would be that much more difficult than it already is for them)?

Doug: Here again, research data would be extremely helpful. As the director of an undergraduate program, my perspective may not be too useful to this question. My graduate program colleagues tell me about the placement of their students (and I have observed it as well). I would say that the older the field gets, the more there is an expectation among arts organizations that their “hires” have some academic preparation. But here is yet another difficulty facing the field. Experience is vital; knowledge is crucial. (This is why there is an expectation in AAAE programs that students will have substantive field experience in some form or other.) How do you get both in the “correct” proportion? I think those doing the hiring today have an intuitive sense of a sliding scale between academic preparation and experience. Soon, if not already, a “zero” on either scale will likely be a deal breaker.

I truly believe that as the discipline of arts administration comes of age, some kind of academic preparation will be essential for placement. The days of the artist-turned-administrator (without any management training) are numbered, if not over. I don’t see that as a bad thing.  The field is complex and its relationship with society at large will become even more complicated as time goes by. The opportunity to understand the theory of the practice that education or training provide will be critical.

I’m not sure I fully understand your last question. If you mean that the need for education will discourage those without that education from entering the field, isn’t that true in any professional arena? If it’s a numbers question, we do have the issue that pay has not changed enough to keep up with the increasing need for professionalism.

9.  Barry:  As someone who has for a long time championed the idea that "engagement" at the community level is essential for the survival of arts organizations, what is your take on the current debate and dialogue on the topic of "engagement"?  While "engagement" is a hot-button issue for the field - is it similarly a front-burner topic within the curriculum of the nation's arts administration programs?  How do arts administration programs integrate this kind of thinking (or other current threads in marketing and other areas) into the courses they offer?

Doug:  As I have said (incessantly) on my blog, I am thrilled that engagement is on everyone’s lips. I am also terrified at the prospect of it becoming trivialized as a fad or as an attempted quick fix for fundraising or to increase ticket sales. (The latter simply will not work and the possible result would be the conclusion that engagement is not important or is ineffectual.)

When I first began attending AAAE conferences, I proposed a lunch table discussion dealing with the topic of engagement. Two people showed up (one by accident). Granted, one reason for that, although not the only one, was that I was new and totally unknown there. Today we have a curriculum standard addressing it and a number of our programs focus prominently on the issue. I am hopeful that the issue of the arts engaging substantively with the communities in which they work is now one with sufficient momentum to keep it in play along with (and more important, in support of) marketing, fundraising, and advocacy.

10.  Barry: What advice do you have for your successor of AAAE?

Doug:  (Thank you, thank you , thank you for asking this question. I might not have put this together otherwise.)
  • Remember how disparate our programs and their needs are. Serve as translator between them and an advocate for all.
  • Don’t try to do too much yourself. Use your energies to push forward (rather than implement) initiatives. Take advantage of the new blood in the Association to develop and carry out selected new programs.
  • See yourself as a liaison between the arts industry and the programs training those who will manage it. 
  • Facilitate dialogue. Seek out the industry. They are bigger than we are.
  • Remember that what we do has the ultimate purpose of connecting people with the arts.
  • Figure out how to do it all with (virtually) no money. 
Thank you Doug.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.