Way back in 2011, I took a shot at defining what a master’s degree in Arts Administration (aka Arts Management) was about. And in the process, I also (kind of) defined what Arts Management was about. Back then, I was focusing on fostering “a more elegant invocation and allocation of people, time, and other resources toward expressive ends.” Through a decade of teaching, research, and consulting since, my definition of Arts Management has evolved a bit. Here’s what I’m using now:
Arts Management is the practice of aggregating and animating people, money, and stuff toward expressive ends.
For those who wonder why I use those particular words in that particular sequence:
Arts Management is a practice. While “management” is often defined as a process of dealing with or controlling things or people, or as a path to optimally accomplish tasks and achieve goals, it is more truly a practice – the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, rather than the abstract or detached consideration of such things. Of course, successful practice requires deep and connected theories of action (as well as reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action, as Donald Schön would say). But management, itself, is defined by action.
Aggregating and animating. The primary practice of Arts Management (or any form of management) is around gathering human beings, attracting financial resources, and accessing material resources (“aggregating”), and then igniting, aligning, motivating, or directing those resources toward some imagined outcome (“animating”). I’ll grant that it’s not much different than the earlier “invocation and allocation,” but the revised phrase de-centers the manager as a single source of action or control and leans more toward collective action – with the manager as one of many catalysts.
People, money, and stuff. I’ve found this to be a cleaner and simpler bundle than the original “people, time, and other resources” (plus, you can’t do much to aggregate time). In decades of talking about and teaching Arts Management, I’ve found that it’s best to begin with elements that most of us will recognize, that we can ground in existing experience. “Stuff” may be a bit glib, here, as it includes everything from oil paints to power tools to multi-venue arts facilities. But “stuff” defines a useful cluster of challenges in creative production that are distinct from people and money.**
Toward expressive ends. The core that transforms any old “management” into Arts Management is the nature, intention, and outcome of the work. Arts endeavors have creative human expression as a primary process or purpose. Sure, there are always a wide array of intentions and outcomes (income, wealth, attention, social goals, civic goals, discovery, education, etc.). But expression will always be among the top tier, and often at the top. This can include new works, fresh performance or presentation of existing works, or the curation, collection, and preservation of many works.
This definition is agnostic about technical requirements, aesthetic quality, business entity, or economic sector. Arts Management happens in and across private, not-for-profit, public, and community contexts. It happens in all forms of creative expression at all levels of technical or aesthetic complexity.
For myself, I’ll admit a particular focus on and fondness for expressive endeavors that cannot or choose not to capture their full cost through earned revenue. But that’s a definition (or corollary) for another day.
** When it’s time to get fancy and talk about capital, I frame it as a hybrid of “money-stuff” or “stuff-money,” since capital can be usefully considered as money that’s behaving like stuff, or stuff that’s behaving like money.