The Biggest Problem Facing the Arts

The main challenge facing the arts world is the lack of a trained corps of managers who know how to find resources, attract audiences and other constituents and provide support to our artists.
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This week we will welcome ten new arts management fellows to the Kennedy Center. These talented young people will spend an academic year with us studying the many elements of arts management including planning, marketing, programming, and fundraising. They will work on major projects in our numerous departments and participate in high level meetings with senior staff, donors and board members. This Fellowship program, now in its ninth year, is but one project of the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute. We also have developed programs for arts organizations of color, international arts managers, arts managers in Washington D.C., New York City, and the Midwest and for the training of board members of arts organizations.

Why does the Kennedy Center devote so many resources to these programs? Because the central problem facing the arts today is not a lack of flute players, choreographers, actors or painters. The main challenge the arts world must address is the lack of a large, trained corps of managers who know how to find resources, attract audiences and other constituents and provide support to our artists.

Arts management is a young field. While wonderful impresarios have operated for centuries, serious codification of the rules of arts management began less than fifty years ago. And while we have a number of academic programs offered by universities across the nation, there are simply not enough of them, and several are too academic in their approach. Arts management, after all, is a practical field, like medicine, and must be taught through real-time, real world experiences.

There are, of course, a large number of wonderfully talented arts leaders; many of them were self-taught, others learned from a mentor. But there are not enough of these excellent leaders to serve our many arts organizations. Smaller arts organizations have a particular challenge with management. All too often, when managers distinguish themselves in small organizations, they are wooed away by larger, more prestigious institutions that can afford to pay higher salaries. The small organizations, which enjoyed a period of great entrepreneurship and growth, find themselves unable to attract equally talented replacements.

Arts leaders in the next decades will face radical changes in technology, a generation of potential audience members who did not participate in the arts at school, ticket prices that disenfranchise whole blocks of our population and on-line activities that provide serious competition for audiences. If the arts are going to survive this period of transition, we need to invest far more heavily in arts management than we have in the past.

Strong, trained, talented arts administrators will find solutions to this growing list of problems. They will help their organizations adapt and thrive and they will provide the support artists need to do their work.

But I fear that unless we address the arts management challenge, too many arts organizations will fail to find proper solutions to these challenges and we will see too many talented artists without the resources they deserve and too many communities without access to the arts and arts education.

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