Alas, All Too Real

I spent most of today as a caveman, thinking primarily about food and shelter to stay in character (and suffering the comments from co-workers saying it was no great strain upon me to act the part of a caveman). As a result I pondered little of great import today.

However, had I not been pursuing some Halloween fun, I doubt I could have posted anything half as insightful (and from some of the commentary, inciteful) as Drew McManus’ second installment recounting his experience working with arts management grad students at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Both installments are a good read, but the second one packs a punch with its discussion of results and conclusions from his exercise. Read both for the full context, but if you only have time for one, make it the second.

Drew has lead this activity before where he has graduate students roleplay a musician bargaining committee for an orchestra. I don’t know if Drew had a different scenario than when he was at the Eastman School of Music or if, as people familiar with the orchestra world, the Eastman students recognized the scenario as being within the realm of possibility. What brought the whole exercise the UW to a halt was the students’ disbelief that the financial statements they were looking at had any basis in reality.

In Drew’s first installation, the mock negotiation team essentially walks away from the table in disgust at the financial mismanagement and decide they are going to form their own orchestra.

In the second installation, Drew recounts his discussions with the students about how the apparently hopeless situation the students found themselves in was all too similar to ones with which orchestra musicians are confronted. Reading the entries brought back a flood of memories and emotions about a dismal experience I had working at a mismanaged theatre. Symphonies haven’t cornered the market on awful decision making.

For all the disillusionment and frustration it brought the UW students, I wish my graduate training program had offered a similar class to us. As Drew says, it helps dispel preconcieved notions and allows future managers to enter the profession with their eyes open. Although, when I ended up having that exact experience, I might have seen it as indicative of how it was everywhere and quit the arts immediately.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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