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For the Record
Arts Administration:
What's in a name?

Sherry Wagner-Henry
Vice-Commissioner for Arts Administration,
Management Commission

Arts management, theatre management, stage management, production management, general management - they all have management in the name, so what makes them different?

Twenty years ago, when looking for a degree program in what is now referred to as arts administration or arts management, guidance counselors and admissions people looked at me cross-eyed. I tried to describe what I thought that term meant - managing a performing arts organization - but traditional words and their traditional meanings have a funny way of hanging people up. As soon as they heard the words arts and management, they assumed I meant stage management or production management. "Perhaps," they would say, "you want to be a tour manager or booking agent or record producer." Others suggested that I specifically wanted to be a marketing manager or a development director or maybe an executive producer or director. These were familiar jobs with familiar terms. Most of us know what a stage manager is supposed to do. But what does a theatre manager or an arts administrator do?

To help bring clarity and focus to that question, and in general to the field of arts management as both a career path and area of study, the Management Commission of USITT decided to delegate one of its vice-commissioner slots, and a consistent menu of programming and professional development, to arts administration.

While the Commission has been presenting programming and development workshops for years that focus on arts management issues and training (like the now-famous Leadership and Management Institute which emerges in 2006 as the Professional Development Workshop Just Do It-Leadership Trends for 21st Century), commissioners felt it was time to give an official nod to this area of study and practice.

As Carolyn Satter, Commissioner for the Management Commission, stated recently, "With the acceptance of Sherry Wagner-Henry as Vice Commissioner of Arts Management, I feel that we are now able to extend our inclusion to both the students who are choosing this as a career path, and the professionals who offer the Commission their expertise while looking for new avenues of networking."

So going back to that last question, what does an arts administrator do? Well, lots of things including, but not limited to, some of the things listed above. And perhaps that's why it is particularly hard to define what arts administration is and what arts administrators do - the territory of management is so vast.

An arts administrator is truly the jack-of-all-trades in the business of running an arts organization. While writing this article, I Googled "Arts Administration" on the web and came up with 47.3 million listings for the term - clearly a major change from 20 years ago. While the terms arts administration or arts management (which seem to be interchangeable these days) are prolific, they are anything but concise or precise. One website, a job description site based in the UK, had this to say about arts administrators:

An arts administrator provides management support for a wide range of arts and cultural organisations' events and activities. These include theatres, galleries, museums, music organizations, arts festivals, arts centres, arts councils, regional arts boards, dance companies, community arts organisations, disability arts organisations and local authorities.

It noted that some of the tasks might include:

  • Marketing a performance or event through direct mail to a targeted audience, planning and designing advertising, producing posters or publicity leaflets, generating interest from the media via press releases, press kits or press conferences, ticket discounts or contests, or attracting reviewers;
  • Planning and managing budgets;
  • Helping to secure funding for fixed-term projects such as the development of new buildings, renovations, exhibitions or specific performance events, exhibitions or workshops, or long-term fundraising and development with membership and annual campaigns, endowment campaigns and scholarship drives;
  • Programming and booking performances and events including arrangements for tours at home and abroad;
  • Managing front-of-house and audience service functions including box office, ushers, bars, restaurants and refreshment sales, patron comfort, and safety;
  • Taking responsibility for property and facility functions such as access, fire, safety, and general maintenance;
  • Selecting and training staff and negotiating legal contracts; and
  • Ensuring corporate and legal requirements are complied with and reporting to the board of directors.

At a more senior level, there may be involvement in strategic planning and structural management decisions.

And the list goes on and on. We've only just begun to scratch the surface. Add to this growing list of expertise needed on many levels that many of the arts administrators in the country (and in USITT) are also professors and teaching staff at universities, colleges, and high schools. They are managing directors, general managers, marketing directors, development staff, chairs of departments and programs, producers, deans, and directors. Combine these teaching professionals with the full complement of industry professionals and students who also comprise the membership of USITT, and I'd say we have a wealth of talented folks unparalleled in this arts membership organization (there's one the web site left out!) from whom we can learn, share ideas and best practices.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, as with all good opportunities, they are only opportune if they are used. So help spread the word about the Arts Administration initiative. Students, tell your friends at school who are studying theatre management or arts administration. Faculty, tell your design staff, non-design staff, and faculty, as well as your non-design staff and faculty who are teaching these management classes, running the box office, the front of house operations or the marketing and development office. And industry pros, well, tell other pros - your staff, your colleagues at other companies, their staffs. Before you know it, the membership in management, the participation in management programming, and the collective understanding of what arts administration really is will be as big as the term management itself.

For more information about arts administration programming that is being planned for Louisville, to contribute ideas for future conference sessions in arts administration, or to just tell us what you think, contact Carolyn Satter, Management Commissioner, Lea Asbell-Swanger, Vice-Commissioner for Programming or myself.

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Sherry Wagner-Henry