The Question That Is Going To Take Awhile To Answer

As promised yesterday, today I am going to continue discussing my observations from attending the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship in Education (SAEE) conference this weekend.

I think it bears pointing out that the organization and its efforts are very new. This is only the second conference they have held. There are a lot of questions to answer and to date there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to do research and have these conversations.

I preface my observations with this because the one question I really wanted to see discussed was how to carve out time in an arts training program to teach students entrepreneurial skills. With few exceptions, it seemed like most of the courses in this area were being offered as an option rather than part of the core part of the training. Unfortunately, due to time constraints this question never came up as a main topic.

The conversation during closing plenary which I thought would be the most opportune forum to discuss this issue was tightly controlled and focused heavily on questions of research. (Again, I know there are a lot of questions still to be asked, and I didn’t expect a definitive answer. This is the danger when you get too many academics in the same room! 😉 )

One person who did indirectly address the subject was Emily Ondracek-Peterson from Metropolitan State University in Denver. She presented the results of a survey conducted with conservatory graduates asking what parts of their training had prepared them well for pursuing a career and which areas they felt their conservatory preparation had fallen short.

The pool she drew from for her interviews and surveys were string players from five top tier music conservatories that had graduated since 1995 so other people’s experiences may vary.

She covered a lot of ground so my notes are probably lacking regarding some of her results.  To summarize, she essentially found the focus was on preparing students to perform at a high level in orchestras and as soloists. There wasn’t a lot of instruction on how to teach or establish a studio even though nearly every music conservatory graduate ends up teaching to some degree, regardless of whether they get a place in an orchestra or not.

Respondents were dissatisfied with the lack of training in other genres, improvisation and collaboration with musicians of other genres or artists of other disciplines.  Respondents also found that they spent a lot of time in the support work related to performing – contracting, doing taxes, accounting, self-promotion, etc., but that the necessity of gaining these skills was rarely discussed during training.

As she spoke about conservatories training first tier musicians, I wondered if there was any benefit to teaching students to be second tier musicians in order to make room for training in career management skills. They would have a high level of excellence, but would be prepared in other areas. My suspicion is that conservatories would say that sort of approaching is okay for other schools, but would be a waste of their time and the time of their highly talented students.

I am surely not the first to have this thought. People who have attended a conservatory for music, dance, theater or visual arts can better attest whether some of the instruction they receive is better dropped in favor of different type of training. Regardless of how much instruction you receive in school, there are always going to be skills you will need to acquire and grow after graduation.

The question is, what do divert focus from during your formal training that you may need to make up for after graduation? Some students may prefer to be prepared to manage their career so that they have a better idea of how to support their pursuit of technical training after graduation.

Given the level of competition in their field, how will they have to adjust their ambitions as a result of this decision?

I had more to say on this subject than I expected so one more post on a variety of shorter thoughts tomorrow.  It will tie back to this entry because the answer to how a graduate might adjust their ambitions might be found in entrepreneurial pursuits.

I do want to note before I finish today that despite reading so often how music schools are doing a disservice to their students by not preparing them with career management skills, it seemed like the discipline most highly represented at the SAEE conference was music. There wasn’t anyone from the very top tier music conservatories at the conference that I saw, but it did seem that people from the music field are beginning to take some action to address these concerns.

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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