Getting “A Real Job” Thanks To Your Arts Job

Last month the LA Stage Times had a two part series on work and the arts. One was on jobs at alternative theatres, but the one that piqued my interest was about the benefits former arts managers felt their arts experiences brought to their for profit finance jobs.

As much as I am sad to hear that people can’t support themselves in arts related jobs, I am always interested in information that makes a case for the value of the arts. Whole entries can be devoted to the brain and talent drain the arts sector suffers due to inability to pay a living wage, but I won’t delve into that here since the two profiled who left for the for profit sector are still very invested in the organizations they left.

One gentleman stepped down from his position, though he stayed on the organization’s board, to pursue an MBA and eventually work for Citibank. He felt his experience helped him develop interpersonal skills that enhance his value to the bank. Returning to work in the arts using the skills he learned in banking is always at the corner of his mind.

“But Tarlow observes how his managing director experiences at Celebration still feed into his current job. “Because it’s not only numbers now,” he says. “It’s about meeting with people and doing things more like I did at the theater. Building relationships…I have to work with people in the same way.”
“[Celebration] was a lot of work, but the rewards I got from it were a great gift,” reflects Tarlow. “When you get to do that kind of theater, you really make what you want out of it. It was a gift for me.” And it’s possible that this “gift” could eventually return him to theater — but in a better-paying job. “I have thought about becoming the finance director of a large arts organization someday. The skills I’m learning at the bank are definitely preparing me for a role like this.”

The second person profiled is also still very much involved with the theatre group he started out with and uses his day job as an auditor to inform the advice he gives to his arts organization and vice versa. Talking to arts people with no background in accounting and finance about those concerns helps him become a better all around communicator on the subject.

“His position takes him to a wide range of companies, both non-profit and for-profit, in all parts of LA. “I’ve worked on audits for much larger arts organizations with ‘real’ budgets,” he says. “Then I look at the smaller Rogue budgets and see where we have opportunities for…growth,” he adds.

Seeing differences between for-profit and non-profit models on a regular basis puts Maes in a constant state of noting challenges for the Rogues, and most small theaters, particularly in terms of keeping theater staff and managers focused on fundraising.


With his added CPA training and work experience, Maes imposes a tougher financial regimen on the Rogues than he did in the beginning. He is particularly geared toward thinking in terms of risk management, a quality he recommends for all small theaters, where even the smallest mishap — such as a show’s underperforming box office or an unforeseen loss of assets — can wipe out a company’s already anemic bank account.


Maes wants every theater company to remember that financial people engaging in a small non-profit are most likely not there because of the numbers. Personal meetings and being involved with creative people is what makes the arts rewarding for everyone, not just the artists….

…It’s also helpful being a good communicator and coming from a communication-driven art form. Being able to explain accounting to artists helps me even if I have to talk to someone with an accounting background.”

The third person profiled has worked in the arts sector for a number of years but is now wondering if she should parlay that experience in marketing, development and producing into a job in the for profit sector or continue working for non-profits. She has the confidence that the skills she brings from her non-profit experience can land her a job in a pro-profit studio or marketing firm and finds herself caught in the classic “passion or pocketbook” internal debate.

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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