Administration by Degrees

I was going to write on another subject today and had some reference material all lined up. Something has been grating on me for awhile now and I decided I would address it today. For a number of months now Drew McManus has been critical of how well arts administration programs are preparing people for careers in that field. It started back in November with his original posting, followed by a rebuttal by Andrew Taylor, to which Drew replied. He has made additional comments on this theme since then. Today he quotes Klaus Heymann as saying

“There are too many arts administrators that know about the arts but are terrible managers and there are too many that are good managers that don’t know enough about the arts. Arts Administration programs need to provide much more practical experience for their students in order to better prepare them for the realities of the classical music business.”

As a graduate with a degree in arts management, this sort of thing raises my hackles a bit. I can understand that some people are just bad managers despite their degrees and that classroom education really can’t prepare you for the practical realities of running an organization. However, I am of the mind that arts groups will be better off with someone at the helm who is aware of the business environment in which their organization is operating. Historically, I feel there have been too many institutions being lead by well meaning individuals who didn’t really didn’t understand good governance and business practices. Certainly there have been many individuals who have been fantastic managers without formal training, but they have been few and far between and getting rarer as the times make more specific demands of people and allow less margin for error.

However, after some investigation of arts administration programs, I have to say Drew might be right.

Florida State University where I earned my MFA is a good example of this. I got my MFA from the Theatre School. The requirements were 42 credits in classroom and practicum work and then a year long internship at a theatre for 18 credits (60 total).

The FSU Visual Arts School has an MA Arts Administration degree program as well. It is a 39 credit program but doesn’t even have a required practicum listed. Part of my degree program required me to take some surveying courses offered by this department and in speaking with the students there, I didn’t feel there was enough focus on practical applications.

The FSU School of Music has recently started offering an MA in Music Administration program. It is a 39 credit course load and does require a 9 credit internship.

Here we have 3 arts administration programs at the same university holding students to vastly different standards for a Master’s degree.

Andrew Taylor’s Bolz Center also has a two year arts administration degree. It doesn’t specify number of credits and the cirriculum is being changed, but it appears near 40. They offer an optional internship.

The University of Alabama has a 60 credit, 2 calendar year (no summer breaks) MFA program where you spend 9 months on campus and then 15 months straight getting practical experience at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Wayne State University has a similar 60 credit MFA program where the students essentially run the theatre company for three years alongside taking classes.

University of Oregon has a 39 credit hour program which does require a 3 credit internship. Drexel’s is 45 credit hours and also requires a 3 credit internship.

Southern Utah University (home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival) was the only place which offered a MFA in Arts Administration of 60 hours (as opposed to in a specific area like Theatre Administration)

I agree with Andrew Taylor that it is a matter of the quality of instruction rather than how much instruction you get. Certainly getting an MFA is no guarantee of ability. I think the current batch of MFA grads from FSU are getting better classroom training than I did. (Though none will ever get the practical experience in crisis management I got.) I wonder if people who intend to apply their degree to running an organization (as opposed to self-illumination or teaching) should be going after the additional 21 credits for a MFA.

I am curious to know why theatre programs seem to think their students need the extra year and the other disciplines don’t. Certainly, there is the chance that theatre people have conspired to wring a year or so of talented work for the meager expense of an assistantship salary. But I have always thought theatre managers had it together more than managers of other disciplines.

Sure, it may be egotism talking or my attempt to rationalize the value of my exhausting work for paltry wages, but I think there is something to it. There is a lot of classroom work and practical experience necessary to gain the skills to be effective as an arts manager in the current climate. Doing 20 hours a week as part of a practicum or assistantship fit in around your class schedule is certainly going to give you insight, but it isn’t likely to require enough problem solving and critical thinking to really prepare you for a job in that area.

An side note on a related program I came across. The Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam has an Institute for Music Business. (It is an excellent music school. Probably because the winters are so cold, there is nothing to do but practice. I’ve been there.) The institute isn’t so much a degree program (though they plan to start one) as an attempt to: “enhance communication and facilitate a mutually beneficial partnership between The Crane School of Music and the music products industry, bridging the gap between music education and music business.” One of their initiatives is to prepare their graduates for careers.

It isn’t clear if this means giving all their graduates the skills to properly promote themselves and cope in the real world or just educating those who are interested in the business end (or perhaps both.) From what I have read recently, it might be extremely valuable for students to learn the former so they will be aware of the realities and expectations that face them upon graduation.

Anyone have any thoughts or observations about any of this?

Which Reminded Me Of…

I was reading Adaptstration today in which Drew McManus was talking about seeing an orchestra program which was specially designed to show off the technological advantages of HDTV. It reminded me of another article I read back in February where students from MIT were dreaming up ways that technology could enhance an arts attendance experience. One of their ideas was to project a hologram of a conductor in Germany in front of an orchestra in Miami and have them make music with half the world between them.

When I originally read that article in February, it reminded me of some musings I had years before on the future of theatre. With the trend of people deciding to receive their entertainment at home, theatres would have to adapt by presenting their product across the same delivery channels. Arts on television currently doesn’t have much of an audience. However, I was thinking that an emerging holograph or virtual reality technology could provide the answer.

My wild idea was that people could choose to plug in to watch a live performance from home. However, they could not only choose to watch from an audience’s point of view, but also from the point of view of each character via a small camera mounted over the ear like a body mic. In this manner, they could experience what it was like to be up on stage in front of an audience, what it was like waiting in the wings or rushing around to enter from the other side of the stage. Some costume changes might have to be censored out depending how much they revealed.

There would be, of course, the added thrill of taking the point of view of one of the actors who about to be kissed by the celebrity sex symbol so that you feel you are being kissed yourself.

This is the advantage of live creative arts over film. Movies might be able to provide people with the point of view of being in the actual movie. But because films are shot out of order and there are long periods of inactivity for those involved, they can’t provide real time behind the scenes insights and interaction.

When I first envisioned this idea, I figured technology might make it viable by the time I was 70. However, it appears the bright minds are moving ahead faster than I gave them credit for. Be interesting to see how soon it is a reality.

Storming the Barriers

Since I was talking about the PARC survey yesterday, I thought I would continue today with a discussion of barriers to attendance and give a few thoughts about dealing with these problems.

The top three cited barriers to attendance were: Hard to Make Time to Go Out, Preference to Spend Time in Other Ways, and Cost of Tickets. However, there were some interesting lessons from nearly all the barriers.

In regard to Cost of Tickets, the survey found (bolding is mine):

We draw three conclusions about cost of tickets. First, as might be expected, the cost barrier is associated with household income level. In short, households with lower levels of income are more likely to cite cost of tickets as a barrier to greater attendance. This relationship is strongest in Sarasota. The relationship is weak in Boston, where a quarter of respondents from the wealthiest households still say that cost is an inhibitor for them.

Second, the tendency to claim cost of tickets as a barrier to performing arts attendance is substantially unrelated to education level, age, or whether there are children in the home…Oddly, the positive sign indicates that respondents with more education (who are also those respondents who tend to have higher incomes) are slightly more likely to cite ticket prices as a barrier than their less educated counterparts. While the low level of Somer’s d implies a weak relationship here, we nonetheless suspect a complicated
association among income, education, and the attitude toward cost of tickets in explaining attendance at performing arts events.

Third, unlike most other barriers, cost of tickets is cited by a greater percentage of attenders than nonattenders or frequent attenders. This generalization is not true in Sarasota, where frequent attenders are most likely to cite cost as a barrier, but it is a clear finding in the other four communities.

I found it very interesting to learn that people who attend often and have higher levels of income and education are more likely to cite cost. It almost makes me think that people who enjoy attending performances might come more often if the price was lowered except for the barrier of hard to make time to go out.

The study found that hard to make time to go out was “Overall, attenders and frequent attenders are almost as likely as nonattenders to say that hard to make time to go out is a substantial barrier. The main factor that makes this a big barrier for more people is the presence or absence of children in the home. Whether the children are younger or older, respondents in households with children are much more likely to say that time keeps them from the performing arts.”

These results might suggest that a daycare (or nightcare) center might remove this as a barrier for some people. The Utah Shakespearean Festival ran one in conjunction with their performances when I worked there. Satisfying older children might be more difficult. While programming can certainly be aimed at entire families, adults occasionally want to be engaged by more mature subject matter.

In a related question, family obligations was cited as a big barrier to attendance by those with children and hardly at all for those without. The ages of those indicating it as a big problem fell between 25-44 which may partially explain why mean audience age tends to be around 50. That is the time when the nest empties and people can indulge their inclination to attend.

Parking, as one might imagine was cited as a bigger deterrent in cities where parking was a problem. Unsafe and Unfamiliar location was cited as a big impediment less than 10% of the time. However, the researchers noted that the least educated, least wealthy and oldest respondents were more likely to rate this as a substantial factor. “Washington, D.C., is notable because more than twice as many nonattenders cite this factor as a barrier than attenders. This suggests that the issue is substantial enough to keep some people away who otherwise might be inclined to attend performing arts events.”

Some of the results here were very interesting to me. It was no surprise that older attendees might be turned off by unfamiliar or unsafe locations. However, the results also suggest that people with the most education and most to lose if they were mugged or had their car stolen were less aware of the danger than those with less material wealth, but apparently more practical education in the matter.

The response of Insufficient Publicity or Information About an Event was very interesting. The survey found that the older the respondent, the less likely they were to cite lack of information as a barrier. This suggests to me that dissemination of information over the internet, email, cellphones, pagers, etc may be important to attracting younger audiences. Younger demographics don’t get their information from print media as much as their elders do. Certainly, they aren’t listening to the same radio stations as the long time patrons are.

While advertising electronically and moving ads to the hip stations won’t automatically bring youthful hordes to the seats, these channels can support a campaign that communicates the value of attendance to this demographic.

One of the other big response categories was related to enjoying other things. The survey makes a sort of “no duh!” statement that “a big reason why some people do not attend the performing arts is that they prefer to do other things.” It is one of those questions that has to be asked if you are going to administer a valid survey, but which doesn’t yield earth shattering answers.

The response that there was “No One to Attend With” wasn’t a major factor overall in not attending. It was a big problem for those with lower education and those who did not attend. Lack of Appeal and Feeling Uncomfortable and Out of Place as barriers were also tied to education level and non-attendance, though the relationship to education level was slightly weaker. This information made me think that an offshoot of the docent program Drew McManus suggested might be helpful for this demographic. In addition to providing a relaxed format of education, assembling a group who are all nervous about attendance could be enabling as it eased their anxiety and provided a source of companionship for the future.

Good for the Goose, Better for the Gander

I was looking back at the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) study on the value of arts in the community. I had written about a portion of it back in March.

One of the findings of the study was that people felt the arts had more value to their community than it did for them as individuals. In the cities surveyed, between 79% and 85% of attendees strongly agreed with this idea as did about 33% of non-attendees. This idea that my neighbor needs the help more than I do was recently discussed in a brief Scientific American article which found that people often rate their moral, social and religious behavior better than their neighbors and also feel that they are less biased and fairer in their judgments than the next person.

An additional discovery the PARC study made was that 2/3 of those surveyed strongly agreed (it shoots to 9/10 if you include “agree” responses) that arts education was better for children regardless of the respondent’s age, education, lack of attendance, children at home or income status. However, only 1/2 strongly felt arts had any value to adult lifelong learning. Those who attended most felt most strongly about the value. The difference might be caused by the same personal bias. Since most respondents were adults, they might feel it is better for the kids than for themselves.

The study is very interesting in its exploration of a number of other factors such as: quality of life (more educated, stronger agreement. Though in D.C. more income also had a correlation); pride in the community (higher income in Sarasota strongly agree, older folks in Boston strongly agree, but less than half of respondents in Austin strongly agree); preserves cultural heritage (majority, regardless of attendance, income, education, etc strongly agree); contributes to local economy (lowest percentage of strongly agree. Except in Sarasota, majority did not strongly agree.)

These results show that it may not be wise to make blanket assumptions about how segments of the local population view the arts. In some cases, you can’t even make assumptions about perceptions based on survey results from another city.

It is also interesting to note that the public doesn’t perceive an economic contribution of the arts. I have read a number of articles that felt the practice of discussing the arts in terms of their economic contributions would devalue the arts by positioning them as a tool for economic growth rather than a source of education, self-improvement, inspiration, etc. In most cases, the articles were referring to the way arts organizations present this information to funders, especially government bodies that allocate monies toward funding.

While I found myself agreeing with this idea, it occurs to me today that perhaps the problem is that we have been saying it too much to too few people. I quoted Ben Cameron last week where he listed economic contributions as a value of the arts that the public needed to have presented to it. Seeing the survey data, I wonder if the arts need to spread the word to the public and stop focusing the message strictly to funders. The stats have probably been chanted at legislators for so long they won’t endure as a justification of funding for too much longer. However, the community may not have been exposed to the discussion of economic value enough. The arts community may have put a lot of time and energy into communicating with too narrow a portion of of its constituency.