Education and Engagement

Speaking of education and engagement (as I did in my last post, External Connections), there is topic (or two or three) specific to them that probably bears addressing. Like marketing/sales and fundraising, education and engagement are externally oriented. However, since they do not necessarily have an immediate impact on the bottom line they can be viewed as less important in the arts organization hierarchy. In addition, they are both relative newcomers to the discipline of arts management and as such are less well integrated into management processes.

Education and engagement are increasingly being paired in job titles and descriptions. There is some sense to that, but the differences–with respect to fundamental focus–are significant. Fundamentally, education seeks to tell/teach others about the work the arts organization does. While it is critical to understand the potential learners in order to communicate effectively, the prime focus of attention is on the organization. Engagement, the building of mutually beneficial relationships, begins with the organization learning about the community with which it attempts to engage. It must simultaneously be explaining itself to that community but we have to lead with listening. As a result, in response to a remark I recently heard, engagement is not “just” a different form of education. If that’s an organization’s understanding of and approach to engagement, the efforts will be at best marginally successful. Similarly, marketing and engagement have considerable overlap, at least in external appearance; but the differences, as with education and engagement, are such that we have to be very careful not to conflate them.

Another issue is the frequent complaint I hear from education or engagement professionals that their work is undervalued in comparison with that of their colleagues in marketing/sales and fundraising. The long-term (as opposed to immediate) nature of their impact is certainly one reason for this. The “new(ish)-kid-on-the-block” nature of each is another. However, both are vital to the future of our organizations. Neither is a “sub-par” version of the other nor are they less important than any other organizational function. The sooner we embrace the necessity of education and engagement and include them in the all decision-making processes the greater the chance of ensuring our organization’s’ viability, relevance, and indispensability.



Photo: By Tcodl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons