Management Students Got Skills. You Better Recognize That Fact

One of the things I hate most about attending conferences is that the sessions I want to see most seem to always be scheduled at the same time. One of the tough choices I made was between a session on Emerging Leaders and one on the career opportunities for Arts Management program graduates. I attended the latter hoping to purchase the audio of the other session only to discover it wasn’t recorded due to a mix up about what hotel it was occurring at.

The session on career opportunities for arts managers was lead by Andrew Taylor of the Bolz School, Irene Conley, Chair of Performing Arts Management at the Hartt School and a gentleman whose name I neglected to note.

The discussion wasn’t so much about the job market that will greet arts managers as it was about the skillsets arts managers will need to possess.

Conley mentioned the importance of problem solving, resourcefulness, critical thinking skills and good communication skills. One of the things she requires her students to do is make four new contacts each week as a networking exercise forcing them to do enough background research on people that they can answer questions about each person.

As part of the classroom experience, she emphasizes the process of group work as well as the end product. She has the students evaluate what they did as a member of the team since that is the dynamic they need to operate within in a job environment.

She works to make sure the internship opportunities her students avail themselves of are meaningful and not just providing advanced knowledge in copier machines.

Andrew Taylor took a slightly different approach in talking about what skills managers should have. His contention is that arts organizations look for a one to one correlation between a job description and the skillset a person has. He noted that corporate recruiters know what type of person they are looking for, the skills that will translate to their industry and assume the person can acquire the specific knowledge they need on the job.

Arts organizations don’t know what they want, write up an extensive wish list and then try to find someone who has those exact skills. If I understood Taylor’s explanation correctly, finding an exact fit is not only difficult, it also contributes to a view of the organization that is limiting. The idea that the activities of development are exclusive of marketing which are exclusive of sales is the type of thinking that stunts progress. A person needs skills and understanding that encompass all these areas regardless of which one they are being hired for.

As an illustration, Taylor mentions that an associate was looking for someone to run the box office of a large performing arts center. After some dissatisfaction with candidates from the arts field, he ended up hiring a person who had run a Sears phone order center because they had a better sense of how to manage offering service on that scale.

Taylor says he trains his students to essentially take control of interviews and use answers that create a bridge between what the organization is looking for and the skills the student possess to show how their experience translates.

I made the comment that I thought another skill set people needed was the ability to talk about and advocate for the arts. I mentioned the need to communicate the value of the arts at all ends of the spectrum– advocating to governments and grant makers, (noting that recent research shows that the arts may not be best served by citing economic value of the arts), all the way down to press releases and speaking to individuals.

The part of the session that got me thinking the most though was the idea that arts organizations don’t know what they are looking for when they hire. I currently have my hands tied in that regard since I work for a state institution that pretty much codifies how good a candidate for a position is based on number of years experience and education. I have clearly seen more effective people paid less because their experience and education were less than others.

I imagine there will come a day when I can’t hide behind the strictures of a bureaucracy when it comes to determining who is best suited for a job so I have already started pondering what the skills are that candidates for arts jobs should possess. How should a job description be written to attract people with these skills and knowledge? What appears in the descriptions today that don’t reflect what we really need/should be seeking?

What I think I need to do is ask Andrew Taylor if he has come across a situation where the description, interview and actual position all correspond appropriately. I fear his answer will be that such a situation doesn’t exist within the arts world.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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3 thoughts on “Management Students Got Skills. You Better Recognize That Fact”

  1. Your comments about the struggles arts organizations have with a limiting scope when hiring make sense, but even this workshop was a fine example of the problem. If you’re hosting a discussion on what skills a manager needs, why wasn’t there a panelist from an MBA program? There are organizations and individuals who come from a non-arts perspective who can also contribute.

  2. Darren-

    Thanks for your comments. Actually, Andrew Taylor’s program at the Bolz Center is an MBA program. (http://www.bolzcenter.org/) Many of his comments and insights come out of the interactions his students have with the other MBA students at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    The gap between human resources in arts organizations and the current trends in corporate HR is ever widening according to some of the comments Andrew and his students made at the conference. Needless to say, it is also worrisome.

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