Wow Neighbor, Your Grass Is So Green!

At a time when arts organizations are merging the executive and artistic director position into one, either as a cost saving measure or because they can’t identify suitable candidates to fill vacant roles,** comes praise of dual leadership as a model for non-profits in general to emulate.

Says the Nonprofiteer:

“…the Nonprofiteer wonders why all nonprofits don’t adopt the bifurcated leadership model common in the arts: an Artistic Director to lead program, a Managing Director to handle resource acquisition and allocation.

Wouldn’t social service agencies operate better with someone at the helm whose expertise was effective service to clients and someone at the rudder whose expertise was squeezing every dime til it shrieked? These are not identical skills–they’re not even complementary–and for charities to insist on combining them into a unitary Executive Director means one part of what they need done will almost inevitably be done badly.”

In all the performing arts organizations for which I have worked, the artistic director has always held a subordinate position to the executive director, if only a half-step below. I can’t really speak with authority about whether two equal leaders is effective. I have worked in a situation with an Executive Director and a subordinate Artistic Director and in situations with an Executive Director and a subordinate artistic and managing director. In the former situation, the two directors worked closely as partners, but it was clear where the final decision resided.

I don’t know if the Non-Profiteer is suggesting two people in equal roles necessarily. I am familiar with the structure of a number of non-profit social service organizations and short of a couple very large entities, I can think of none where there was a programs person with the scope of authority and responsibility comparable to an artistic director. Any change may not require an equitable relationship as much as less a lopsided one between the two areas.

What is interesting to me is that the Nonprofiteer’s comments have made me re-evaluate the dual leadership issue. Deciding to consolidate positions for economic reasons or because the board can’t/doesn’t want to find a replacement suggested problems about the organizations other than the implications of a changed leadership dynamic. It is certainly easy to see how both roles can get the short shrift with satisfaction for neither when they are invested in one person. My thoughts upon reading that the positions were being consolidated were generally that it was too bad for that company rather than the decision was bad for the performing arts world as a whole other than considering it an example of poor decision making. Some times it takes the observation of an outsider to make you reevaluate if something is valuable enough to fight to keep.

(**I wanted to cite the article I recently read supporting this fact in but for the life of me, I can’t find it.)

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. (

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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