Quit Your Job, But Don’t Quit The Arts

Perusing my archives, I came across a post about something Adam Thurman of The Mission Paradox blog wrote regarding the poor work environment in the arts. While people, including myself, were talking about this issue long before Adam wrote his piece, it is kinda depressing to think that it really took the upheaval of a pandemic for the arts and culture industry to listen and respond seriously to the insistence that things must change.

The link to Thurman’s blog is no longer active, but it was mirrored on the Americans for the Arts site .

At the time I wrote it, I only quoted his third point:

3. Don’t let them use your passion against you. Consider this:

Imagine you were a lawyer. What if I told you that there were some law firms (not all, but absolutely some) that didn’t get a damn about their employees? What if I told you that some firms were designed to bring in people and get as much out of them as possible before they burned out?

Would you believe me?

Of course you would. Hell, because it’s the legal profession you would expect such behavior.

Here’s da rub:

Some arts organizations are the exact same way. Just because the end product is art and not a legal brief doesn’t mean the place automatically values their employees. Just because the place is a non-profit doesn’t automatically make it a nice place to work.

But I also wanted to excerpt from a couple other of his points:

1. It doesn’t have to be like that. I know you’ve probably convinced yourself that all the garbage you deal with is just the cost of being in the field.

It isn’t. If the group you work for is being run poorly it is because people are ACTIVELY making choices that allow that to happen. It isn’t just a matter of circumstance. It’s an outcome of choice…

2. You are not the savior.

You’re smart. You see the problems in the organization. You care. You want to play a part in fixing them.


But not everything wants to be fixed. Some organizations have been run so poorly, for so long that they really can’t fathom another way. Don’t make it your responsibility to save them for the path they have chosen….

Perhaps most importantly since people are seriously considering getting out of arts and culture altogether, and it is wise to make that a subject of serious thought:

5. But don’t quit the arts. Quit your job, that’s fine. Just don’t do it without a plan (use that Year in Step 4 to develop it)

If you can’t find a job as an arts administrator in a great organization . . . maybe you get out the field for a while. That’s ok. You can come back.

But the arts need you. They need your skill, your experience, your energy. So maybe you join a Board of an organization, maybe you volunteer. Maybe you start your own organization.


This thing you love, the arts . . . it is your world too. It’s your world just as much as it belongs to any poet, any dancer, any actor.

It’s vital you remember that because along your path you will be confronted by those who alternate between seeing you as completely irrelevant to the artistic process on one hand and the great oppressor of artistic ambitions on the other.

That’s garbage.

You belong. Find your place. Use your skills. Help get great art into the world. It can’t happen without you.

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/)

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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