As I wander the web, I notice only a few basic and foundational resources for arts and cultural managers, or those who aspire to the work. This is particularly true among short-form, video/media resources where people often turn for first-cut insights on a topic or task or career.
As one drop in that blue ocean, I’ve now launched a YouTube video series called #ArtsManaged. These will be short (10 minutes or so) overviews of key issues or insights on Arts Management. First up, a definition of what Arts Management is.
Take a look below, and click SUBSCRIBE to get future editions! And feel free to comment with suggestions, critiques, or other resources.
So what is Arts Management you may ask. Or maybe you didn’t ask, but here you are watching a video about it. So hang on if you want to know.
I’m Andrew Taylor. I’m on the faculty of Arts Management at American University in Washington, DC. And this is ArtsManaged. It’s a series of videos and resources of other kinds, talking about Arts Management: what it is, how it works, how you might get better at it.
So let’s talk start with a basic definition. What is Arts Management? First, let’s think about a phrase we may know better “art works.” Art works are the objects or actions or experiences that involve creative human expression. Somebody makes a painting. Somebody makes a theater piece or presents it to you. Somebody writes a song and performs it in front of you, or with you. Somebody writes a book or has a spoken word poem that they share with you at a coffee shop, or anywhere. All these arts works. They are works of art. They are creative human expressions that are manifest in action and artifacts. And they’re essential to the extraordinary life we lead all around us in every way.
So let’s think of another phrase called “art worlds.” Art worlds is a phrase used by sociologist Howard Becker to describe the whole ecology that surrounds different disciplines and how they work. So not just the artistic individual and their creative expression. But all the suppliers, all the machines and instruments, all the spaces they need, all the resources, the audiences who might show up, the funders that might give money toward the cause. Those are art worlds, and arts managers are the glue and the machinery and the supporters of everything between an art work and an art world.
Anytime you’ve been to a theater, you might have seen an advertisement for the show you went to see. You might have shared that with your friends. You might have purchased tickets to the show and show up on the day of the event. Somebody took your ticket and showed you to a seat. And you sat down and there was a performance on a stage with all sorts of equipment. You might be experiencing the art work, but you could experience it because of the art world. All the steps in between, in the both the production of the creative expression, and in your experiences of it. There was lots of people, money, and stuff at work to make that happen.
Same thing if you went to a museum, or a gallery, or you saw a poet and speaking at a coffee shop. These are all things that have art works at their center, but they have art worlds around them, which means they have people, money, and stuff that made it possible to make that work from the vision of the artist or the creative team. And they have people, money, and stuff that coordinate the engagement and opportunity for others to experience it in whatever way they might find valuable and meaningful.
So Arts Management is the glue between art works and art worlds. And we’ll talk about that in a couple of other ways.
So let’s build a basic definition from the ground up.
Arts Management is about human expression, creative human expression is at the core. So anything an arts manager will do has something to do with a creative human expression, whether it’s a new work that’s being created and performed right now in a live performance, or whether it’s an artifact from a century or two or three ago, created by a past generation, that we want to share with the current audience in a museum or a gallery or in a public space. So arts managers are about creative human expression, let’s call it expressive ends.
Second, these all involve people, money, and stuff. So it does just doesn’t happen with one person doing one thing in one period of time. It’s a complex ecology of people, money, and stuff that are required to make that work in the first place. And also make that work available to groups of people. You need money, obviously, to fund to pay people to buy things. You need stuff, equipment, instruments, special space, that you might need to perform or experience the work. And obviously at the core of it, you need people. People are making the work. People are experiencing the work. And people are at every step of the way, coordinating and collaborating their activities to get a work into the world – to make an art work into an art world.
So we have expressive ends as a base of this information. We have people, money, and stuff that need to be organized and coordinated. And then we’re going to use two words to talk about what an arts manager does, they “aggregate” and “animate.”
Arts managers are in the business of aggregating people, money, and stuff, which just means if an artist is not making it by themselves, you need a group of people. And quite often you need a group of people even if the artist IS doing the work alone in their space. Somebody is bringing them coffee. Somebody is getting them a computer set up. Somebody is getting their stuff printed. So people, money, and stuff. You have to aggregate them toward the cause, toward the vision, toward the goal of the creative experience.
And then you have to animate them so you get everything together. You get these people gathered With a shared purpose. You get money and other financial resources into the space where you can control and use it. And you get stuff, the stuff you need, again, equipment, instruments, painting supplies, physical space, acoustical spaces, theater spaces, dance spaces. So somebody needs to animate as well. You can’t just get them together, but you have to get them aligned and moving in a common direction, and responding to the changing needs and nature of the creative experience and the creative expression.
So we’ve now built ourselves, from the ground up, a definition of Arts Management with one final piece: Management is a practice. Management is action. There may be theories that support that action. You obviously have to think clearly. You have to have an internal sense of awareness about your emotions and your mental state. But management is about action. It is about doing. It is about being.
So Arts Management, let’s use the definition now: “Arts Management is the practice of aggregating and animating people, money, and stuff toward expressive ends.”
And if we’re talking about Arts Management, as conventionally conceived, we’re really talking about a narrower set of creative expressions than the full set. So you might have gone to a big blockbuster movie. You might have purchased a new pop record that’s making lots of money on the Billboard charts. When we talk about Arts Management, we tend to mean forms of creative expression that cannot, or choose not to, capture their full cost or a profit on that full cost through direct engagement with an audience.
So ticket sales alone are not going to cover the cost of what these artists and this group and this ecology want to make available in the world. That means there’s a whole layer of activity in Arts Management around what would tend to be called nonprofit or not-for-profit or public or community or volunteer activity. So it tends to be the noncommercial aspects of human creative expression that we talk about when we talk about Arts Management.
Now that gets tricky in ways we’re going to talk about in other videos, because even that live performance you saw at your local theater, it could be the theater itself is a nonprofit, the presenting organization as a for-profit, some of the people working there are being paid as independent contractors. It can get real messy real fast. But let’s just start as a general rule:
Arts Management is about acts of creative expression that either cannot or choose not to capture the full cost of making the work available through direct sales.
And again, that’s a lot of words in there. We’re going to unbundle them in other videos. But let’s imagine we’re talking about a world that tends to be nonprofit. So your nonprofit theater, your nonprofit museum, your nonprofit performance space, dance company, media company, documentary film company, publisher. Companies that all rely not just on earned income, although most of them will get that, but also contributed income or grants or gifts, other sources of income that we’ll talk about in other videos.
So again, “Arts Management is the practice of aggregating and animating people, money, and stuff toward expressive ends.” And, as a subplot to that that we’ll explore in this video series, it tends to be works or collections of works that cannot or choose not to capture their full cost back through direct sale to a consumer.
Again, a lot of words there, but just the trick is here: Arts Management is a practice. You’ve experienced it, although you may not know you have when you’ve gone to a theater, you’ve gone to a production, a school performance, a community ensemble of some kind or orchestra performance and opera. It’s the difference in the connection between the art work that you might have experienced and the art world that that work is a part of.
So stick with us on ArtsManaged. We’re going to try and find all sorts of different ways into this conversation. But that’s a first cut. What Arts Management is it’s a practice. And it’s an exciting and compelling practice that’s full of complex problems.
I’m excited to talk more with you and I look forward to the conversation.
Julia Lu says
I enjoyed this introductory video and am glad that you acknowledged briefly the intersection between the for profit and nonprofit sectors. I hope in a future, more advanced video that you will discuss the role the arts service organizations play within the ecosystem because they are not always well known or understood.
Andrew Taylor says
Thanks Julia! The NEW video in the series talks more about the for-profit and nonprofit sectors (and the public sector, too). You can find it here. And I do hope to get to arts service organizations. But there’s a lot of foundational ground to cover before I get there. Grateful for your comment.