Artists Need Not Apply?

I hadn’t really intended for this to be a “Government and the Arts” themed week on my blog when I wrote about the search for a director of the NEA yesterday, but it seems to be shaping up that way.

Today the Ohio Arts Council posted a tweet saying they were looking for a new deputy director. Curious, I followed the link and was surprised by the minimum qualifications outlined in the job description.

– Completion of undergraduate core program in social or behavioral science or pre-medicine; 30 months experience in delivery of human services or medical assistance in governmental, community or private human support services agency or medical provider; 12 months experience in management; 18 months experience in supervisory principles/techniques.

– Or completion of graduate core program in social or behavioral science or medicine-related field; 24 months experience in delivery of human services or medical assistance in governmental, community or private human support services agency or medical provider; 12 months experience in management; 18 months experience in supervisory principles/techniques.

Wait, what?

I will concede that you don’t necessarily have to be an arts person to do an effective job in an arts related field. I have seen some people argue that a person with general experience in a role can be better than someone with a strict arts background (e.g. call center supervisor as a box office manager). I could see requiring a public policy degree instead of an arts degree, but this medical/social services orientation seems a little bit of a stretch.

Going by the position description, you don’t even need a passing familiarity with the arts to qualify.

Knowledge of social or behavioral science or pre-medicine; program planning for human service organizations; social program & policy analysis; personnel management and policies; agency & governmental laws, rules, regulations & procedures applicable to particular social program; supervisory principles/techniques; management; accounting, finance or budgeting*. Ability to deal with many variables & determine specific action; prepare & deliver speeches before specialized audiences establish professional atmosphere as administrator; handle sensitive inquiries from & contacts with officials & general public.

* May be acquired after employment

Now, let me just say all my interactions with the Ohio Arts Council have been top notch. They have been far more enthusiastic and responsive than we deserve after all the questions and problems that we posed regarding our final grant report as I transitioned into my job last summer.

Not only that, they have been proactive about addressing potential problems, giving me a call when they noticed me doing something online in a new grant application that might cause difficulties down the road.

If this is a result of hiring people using this apparently mismatched job description, I fully endorse it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

If the price of getting this sort of service from a government agency is to advocate for public health degrees over arts degrees, I will be the first to say we all should have entered the healthcare field, instead.

The truth is, there are plenty of people working for the Ohio Arts Council who have arts backgrounds, like the new executive director. The public information director has a background in arts journalism. The current deputy director had a visual arts background before she joined the arts council and later transitioned into the deputy position.

I am sure I would find similar stories for many of the arts council staff.

I reached out to one of my contacts at the arts council about the job description, her response (which came quickly, of course), was as I expected.

That job description is pretty standard for a broad class of deputy director positions across the entire state government system. It was the same way when I was working for the state of Hawaii, except we could insert the appropriate field of study.

The question is, does this really get government and the citizens the most effective employees? Speaking from experience, these descriptions get applied strictly during the initial screening of resumes so chances are an arts person is only going to get an interview if they just happened to get one of these degrees. It isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that a few good people have the qualifications and interest in the arts, but it isn’t an ideal situation.

But even if these criteria weren’t applied strictly, would someone with an arts background or interest in the arts even apply for this job in the first place after reading it? It sounds as if the applicant would be dealing with public health concerns rather than public art.

If someone with the exact public health qualifications applies and gets the job, would they be happy in a role when they expected to be involved with hospitals and health clinics rather than dance performances and art installations?

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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