The Roles and Styles of Leadership in Arts Organizations
(Excerpt from Dr. Adizes’ new book: “Managing Performing Arts Organizations”, Due 2007)
The role of the Manager for the Arts (MfA) together with the artistic director is to fulfill a social-entrepreneurial role within the arts community much as businessmen provide an economic-entrepreneurial role within the commercial sector.
The French social critic and novelist André Malraux expressed his grave concern about our postindustrial society in many of his writings. He believed that art represents a kind of protection for humanity by providing a raison d’être for those who feel threatened in the age of automation—the sort of protection religion gives to other civilizations. When Malraux was France’s minister for cultural affairs, he manifested his deep concern by recruiting and employing professional people in various communities for the purpose of providing the populace with new kinds of cultural experiences. He referred to his recruits as cultural animators. Their job was to create enthusiasm for more encompassing and more fulfilling leisure activities aimed at self-realization.
Malraux’s aim was to provide protection from dehumanization, not according to outmoded 19 th-century tradition, but with arts leadership that examines, modifies, and adapts methods, procedures, and techniques that have been successful in business and other human enterprises. His second recommendation called for disseminating this information throughout the arts world as widely as was useful. The sort of leadership that Malraux provided is what arts organizations need to make them viable in a society dominated by automation, alienation, disintegration, commercialization, and electronic communication. Malraux’s vision suggests, perhaps, a new kind of clergy—a clergy of the arts, which would counterbalance secular forces.
At the present time, arts organizations lack the time, money and, often, the knowledge to approach the problems that plague them. Artists, by the nature of their calling, neither know nor care about the practical and financial aspects of their work. If they care too much, they can become paralyzed by inner conflict, unable to proceed artistically. Thus, artists need a “partner” who worries about the administrative, managerial, and financial aspects of the creative process. This supportive role calls for managers for the arts, or MfA’s, not managers of the arts or managers of performing arts organizations.
I would like to focus on the managerial processes of those who lead arts organizations, recommend and execute the policies of the governing board, and help set current policies and define the future societal goals of the organization.
The organizations I am focusing on are performing arts organizations that have the following characteristics: activities that require preparation and resources; activities that require scheduling and staffing; programs that must be sold to the community—not only to those who attend, but also to those who fund the enterprise. These actions are justified by a desire to provide artists with the audience they need and merit, rather than to provide the audience with the production or the artist they demand, whoever or whatever that may be.
Stated bluntly, the MfA would be able to enrich the quality of life within a given community. The MfA should be someone who comes from a fine-arts background, has had adequate training in basic management and community organization, and has the entrepreneurial ability to put artists and audiences together for the greatest possible mutual benefit.
Such a person should be someone who is aware that some of life’s most valuable possessions are intangible and truly known only when they are absent. Health, for example, is taken for granted until illness arrives; and loneliness showcases the value of love; tyranny reveals the value of democracy; ignorance highlights the true cost of education; and we most cherish art when there are no artists to provide insight into the ancient verities—the importance of all of the above.
Such a person needs a specific “turn of mind” in order to execute the requirements of the job—a deep-seated value system that dictates unconditional loyalty to the art form and the artist. He or she is committed not to the arts center where art takes place nor to the current audience nor to the proverbial bottom line. All effort is directed toward maximizing the creative and performing artists’ impact on the community in which they work.
Training for leaders of arts institutions must include an essential ingredient: preparation for management for the future, a skill well developed by business and social science. It is now past time to bring that knowledge and those skills to the arts. To achieve expertise on a par with that of leaders in other disciplines, we need to study politics, social planning, community organization, behavioral planning, and management theory, all as they relate to the arts.
Using that new knowledge, might the manager’s expertise overlap the role of the artistic director? In today’s struggle, the manager’s daily and perpetual role focuses almost entirely on keeping the organization one notch above extinction. The manager has no time, energy, or subtle skills for influencing cultural policy and future planning. Is this as it should be? Of course not. The manager and artistic director should be a team working in tandem. Julius Rudel, when he ran the New York City Opera, described the two positions as the two “wings of the same Austro-Hungarian eagle”. If the wings of the eagle must be viewed separately, the artistic director should be concerned with the next creative work stirring in his mind. Although he or she may have concerns about the long-term future, the artistic director is responsible for what the audience experiences on stage—the immediate priority. But the artistic director, or creative artist, should possess also a vision of the art down the road, thinking about ways to develop a higher level of art that brings the audience to a broader appreciation. The artistic director has to plan ways to develop the art form by providing the artists with new challenges and synchronizing those challenges with the capacity of the audience to absorb them. By contrast, the role of the MfA is to provide a financial, organizational, and politically supportive environment where such development can flourish.
Sometimes the manager and the society may lack even the vaguest understanding of the kind of support that is needed. In essence, we are talking about the role of the arts in a future society: How do we measure the effectiveness of the arts? What is the total need for culture in a given community? These are the questions we face daily, but we never address them on a long-term basis. We tread water and barely avoid drowning, or we swim in circles. In truth, we could spend years and years trying to learn how to respond to these important questions. But if the intangible and challenging questions are somewhere ahead of our current knowledge and research, there still remains much to be advanced in the profession of arts management. Today’s MfA needs to be expert in finance, personnel, public relations, labor relations, legal matters, and art appreciation, as well as the subtler managerial skills. While it is impossible to provide a comprehensive presentation of the knowledge required by a manager for the arts, my intention is to provide a direction, or a frame of mind, within which the detailed knowledge can be learned. No profession gives its practitioners all the answers. Education can only introduce the practicing professional to an awareness of the general questions and provide the skills for developing answers.