I’m in Washington, DC, for my final conference as president of the Association of Arts Administration Educators. These are colleagues from around the world who direct and/or teach in undergraduate or graduate degree programs in arts administration (or cultural management, or cultural policy, or…). Looking forward to keynotes by the Kennedy Center’s Michael Kaiser, the Duke Charitable Trusts’ Ben Cameron, and Joan Shigekawa from the National Endowment for the Arts, and panels/presentations/discussions about what we all do. I’m also eager to reconnect with old friends and new colleagues who all struggle with me to define arts and cultural management well enough to teach it. No easy task when the target keeps moving.
The transition from president, and the beginning of my MBA program‘s fifth decade, is nudging me toward an essential transition in how I’m considering the field. This association, and my program, were both founded to serve what was a rapidly growing niche in management & leadership in the past four decades — professionally staffed corporate nonprofits and public entities. That was never our exclusive charter, as many graduates of our programs went on to commercial efforts or volunteer enterprise. And to be fair, many member programs have actively embraced for-profit as well as nonprofit training for decades. But the implicit center of the circle was always pretty clear.
Now, my students and my field are eagerly exploring and exploding that assumed boundary (okay, not most of my field, but some of it). The formal conversations at conferences and among professionals are trending toward ‘new business models’ for value creation and capture. Increasingly, students are open to ANY organizational form or strategy that advances their vision. My phrase for this evolution is ‘tax-status agnostic,’ which found some traction on-line when I suggested it last month.
Increasingly, I am preparing my students and myself for tax-status agnostic cultural leadership. These are leaders ready and able not only to run a full range of organizational forms — from nonprofit to informal to LLC to community/public to for-profit corporate — but also to switch gears from one management approach to another in the course of a day (maximizing meaning when they support artistic process, maximizing revenue when they staff the lobby bar). That doesn’t mean these new leaders are indifferent to mission or public value. Nor does it mean they seek to maximize the bottom line over all other goals. It just means they understand their best function in any moment, in the context of their creative work, and in context with their community and constituency.
Merriam-Webster offers one definition of ‘dogma’ as: ”a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds.” I’d suggest that our assumptions and our development of effective organizations and effective leaders in cultural enterprise matches that definition.
I’m eager, along with my students and my colleagues, to question the dogma, and explore the tax-status-agnostic opportunities to advance and steward creative human expression. I don’t know what it looks like yet. But I’m happy to find a growing group of colleagues — many of them at this conference — who are on the very same journey.