Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Mentors + Experience + Jobs? Yes, please.

How could I not post this article when I saw it surfing the interwebs? Michael Kaiser makes the point that just as great artists require mentors to teach them their craft, so to do young managers. It’s the job of the current generation of leaders, says Kaiser, to take the next generation under their wing. This important not only for those being mentored, but for the state of the arts in general. In order to ensure progression and growth in all artistic disciplines, young arts management folk must be prepared by the guidance of those savvy, old arts managers.

I don’t know about you guys, but this seems obvious to me. I do appreciate the point he’s making – there are certain, fundamental aspects of being a great arts manager that you cannot cultivate without the room for trial and error. He talks about art managers being “comfortable exerting authority while empowering others to do their best work.” That dynamic is not something you can develop unless you have the opportunity and organizational space to do so. Kaiser (rightly so) foresees the waning of the arts unless the reins are handed over in good stead. And the hands that take those reins need to become a little bit more callused through mentorship and the development of a holistic approach to leadership.

However, the down side to this thinking is that opportunities for arts managers to do so are few and far between. A lot of us are doing internships, and while I imagine (and hope) we are being enriched as leaders by the process, we aren’t necessarily being groomed for executive or semi-executive level status. Most organizations, particularly larger ones, are hesitant to even marginally pass over power and would prefer to spend our energies on specific tasks or programs. Unfortunately, it those larger organizations that would potentially be most served by developing more robust mentorship programs.


What do you all think? Have you had the kind of experiences Michael Kaiser is talking about? Have you had the opposite?


One comment on “Mentors + Experience + Jobs? Yes, please.

  1. emkais
    October 15, 2014

    This is something I spend a fair amount of time pondering—especially considering internships. I thankfully benefited from an excellent mentor in my first job out of undergrad, but the more I have explored the job market the more rare I find this occurrence. I do think in an economic climate that is uncertain many companies and industries buckle down to weather the present storm rather than set up successes in the long term. I think this is compounded in unpaid internship industry—one that I find particularly rampant in the arts. This article drives home a point: How often do you hear of the non-substantive internship? Kind of like free labor to do the undesirable tasks. Kind of like keeping your staff in set boxes.

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