Arts Directors archives
Even if you do it well, running the modern
arts organization is no guarantee of success
Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan
would want to be head of an arts institution?
Do the job badly and
you’ve got press hounding you and nervous board members second-guessing
your every move. The end - when it comes – is dissected in
public, but since institutions usually prefer not to speak
ill of the dead (at least on the record), it’s
difficult to defend yourself [Irish
- Australia’s National Gallery director Brian Kennedy
hauled up before a government committee [Sydney
Morning Herald] to explain his controversial management
chorus of discontent [NYTimes]
last fall coming from the ranks of Carnegie Hall complaining
about director Xaver Ohnesorg got so loud
that the newspapers picked it up and, almost before the
stories could sink in, Ohnesorg accepted a job running the
Berlin Philharmonic (the orchestra counted the
appointment as a coup [Frankfurter
- Last month, Maina Gielgud, who
hadn’t even officially taken up her new job running Boston
Ballet, quit after decisions attributed to her (firing dancers)
made public. [Boston Herald].
the job too well, and it can almost be worse.
- Is there anyone in the art world
upon with more suspicion [Forbes]
than the Guggenheim Museum’s Thomas Krens? Krens makes no
secret of his ambitions for a global museum, and he’s been
remarkably successful at dotting the planet with Goog outposts.
But instead of admiring profiles of the likes that (until
recently) accompanied Jeff Bezos’ empire-building, Krens
is most often depicted as a megalomaniacal
sellout with a world-domination complex
[The Guardian] who’s not serving
the cause of art. [The Scotsman]
David Ross, [Los Angeles Times]
who, while running the Whitney Museum, rarely saw his name
in print without being described as “embattled” (now he’s
doing much better, thank you very much running San Francisco
- Or Trevor Nunn, the pilot of London’s National
Theatre, who has, by all accounts, whipped his theatre into
a real going concern. Yet he’s been taken to task in recent
months for “artistic
incompetence, [The Telegraph]
overspending, pandering to white middle-aged audiences,
sticking to the boring programming of safe, well-tried classics
or musicals at the expense of cutting-edge contemporary
drama and, last but not least, of arrogance for trying to
run the ship himself and not appointing associate directors
to help him pick plays for the National's three stages.”
Most recently, he’s
been attacked [The Observer] for
handsomely profiting both himself and the National by sending
a hugely successful production of “My Fair Lady” to the
commercial West End. Though the theatre is prospering, Nunn
has now said he won't renew his contract.
- Or perhaps the New York Philharmonic’s Kurt Masur.
Masur (now in his 70s) is generally acknowledged by everyone
in the music world for
rebuilding the notoriously unruly Phil [NYTimes]
and has the orchestra playing better than it has
for a long time. But after 11 years, his board saw him as
old and too conservative, so fresh blood was called for
– in the person of 70-year-old Lorin Maazel. That’s okay.
Masur isn’t hurting for new jobs. He’s taking over leadership
of the London
Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France
[San Francisco Chronicle] in Paris.
The directors’ dance has been whirling uptempo in
the past few years. Four of America’s Big Five orchestras
have spent a good part of the last couple years looking for
new music directors – the NY Phil took three years and was
by Riccardo Muti [Dallas Morning
News], its top candidate.
In the past year Lincoln
Center [NYTimes] and the Kennedy
Center [Washington Post] both
got new top executives. The Australian Ballet contributed
its artistic director to London's Royal Ballet, and after
a massive search at the end of a very bad few years, London’s
Royal Opera House hired someone from the BBC to run it.
Smaller companies have fared no better. The Royal
Winnipeg Ballet has
had three artistic directors in eight years[National
Post]. In Lyon, France, last year 12 heads of cultural
institutions – including from the Opéra de Lyon, Orchestre National de Lyon and several museums, left
SO MUCH GLAMOR
Why the turnover? Top cultural jobs
might seem glamorous but that's increasingly
not the reality [Chicago Tribune].
Directors complain of successions of 18-hour days and unrelenting
pressure in balancing artistic mission with financial constraints.
jobs have become less and less about art [The
Independent] and more about sweet-talking patrons,
fund-raising, balancing budgets and looking after institutional
Being an artist doesn’t qualify you
to run an arts institution these days (if it ever did). Now
you need to be a CEO first in order to make the necessary
business decisions. Yet given the precarious financial nature
of most institutions (and the public scrutiny), who would
want the job? If you’re a good manager, there’s a lot more
money running a corporation. Executive directors of arts companies
are substantially underpaid compared to the corporate world.
And you can’t escape the pressure
as artistic director either – increasingly in all fields,
success even in the non-profit world is defined by how many
customers you bring through the doors. While artistic vision
plays an important role, it is financial models that wag the
modern arts organization’s tail.
The growing undesirability of such
jobs was recently put on public display at the Victoria and
Albert Museum. The museum has been going
through a rough patch [The Art Newspaper]
– a couple of decades of declining attendance and rising debt
– and it is increasingly falling behind its more-glamorous
London cousins like the Tate.
The museum reportedly offered its
top job to several international candidates last year, but
was repeatedly turned down [The Independent].
The V&A’s eventual choice was tepidly received in the
"Mark Jones may not be an entirely
unknown quantity - he has been running the National Museums
of Scotland since 1992 - but
he is untested [Sunday Times]
at the highest level and was certainly the darkest of the
three horses in the race."
Even if Jones restores
the V&A fortunes [Glasgow Herald],
there’s no guarantee it will be appreciated.
Boston's Museum of Fine Art, one of
America’s great encyclopedic art institutions, spent a couple
of years in the early-90s looking for a new director. The
museum had worked itself into a crisis of monumental proportions,
with a $34 million accumulated deficit and an operating deficit
of $4 million a year. There weren’t a lot of qualified takers
for the job. Anyone taking it had to know he would be spending
all of his time fundraising, with little energy left over
for the art.
five years after Malcolm Rogers took the job, he
had helped the museum [Boston Globe]
complete a $137 million capital campaign and set an annual
attendance record of 1.7 million visitors. Membership nearly
doubled in his first five years. And he managed it all while
out a $437,000 annual surplus.[NYTimes]
museum supporters thrilled? Not
exactly [Boston Globe]. His
detractors are legion: Last year the New York Times quoted
one of them: "his acquisitions, his exhibition policies,
everything that has to do with art is a disaster."
modern museum/theatre/orchestra/ballet company director is
expected to pull in the crowds, balance the budget and turn
out a credible artistic product. These days it’s difficult
to define what mix of those three constitutes a success. Clearly
the latter can’t be accomplished without the two former. But
perhaps the turmoil over directors is an indication of the
struggle the art world is having in defining what success
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