ArtsFwd and EmcArts offer a non-scientific poll of emergent arts leaders, and their perspectives on where they work. Essentially, it’s a quick assessment from people who chose to respond, so it can’t be generalized to anything but can be riffed upon to suit my purposes. The gist of it: respondents who self-reported that they worked at a ‘highly innovative arts organization’ were more likely to feel like their voice was heard in the workplace, that they participated in decision making, that they brought their ‘whole self’ to work, and that they felt more connected to the artistic core of the organization.
Obviously, it’s hard to determine whether the self-reporting, the assessment of innovation, and the qualities of the workplace are all intertwined, correlated, or just conflated. But the survey does help identify some key questions for cultural managers who want an engaged and connected staff.
For my own unscientific purposes on this blog, I choose to emphasize the connection to the artistic core of the organization.
As a director of an MBA degree program that’s essentially in the business of finding, developing, and placing emergent leaders in the arts (I hate the word ’emerging’…so I’m using ’emergent’), I know from decades of experience that new hires, staff-level, and even director-level leadership at arts organizations are often disconnected from the organization’s artistic core. They work in an office, often separate from the production space. They pursue job functions that are similar in many ways to non-arts nonprofits, or even for-profit organizations much of the time. And they’re often too busy or bustling to connect with or reflect on the aesthetic purpose of their work.
For example, I had a former student in an orchestra’s development department share with me that she might as well be working at a hospital or social services agency, as she and her team rarely had direct connection to the musicians, artistic leadership, or the music itself (other than staffing the courtesy table before each performance).
There are many, many ways that arts organizations are under-resourced, and unable to compete for professional talent on salary, benefits, or other monetary compensation. But arts organizations are dripping with opportunity for deep connection to the artistic core. If we don’t continually reinforce every employee’s purpose and connection to that core, we’re leaving our most powerful source of energy untapped.