Just As I Was Wondering About How Things Turned Out

Last week I was flying into to Indianapolis to attend the Midwest Arts Xpo conference and I idly wondered how things had turned out at Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields after their job posting controversy back in 2021.

If you don’t recall/weren’t aware, the job description said the museum was ““…seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.’”

The implication that diversity efforts would be limited to activities that didn’t alienate the existing white audience was not well received by the greater arts and cultural community.

Coincidentally to my musing, last week the museum announced that Belinda Tate who had served as executive director Kalamazoo Institute of Arts since 2014 would be the new director starting in November.

According to the article, even after the 2021 controversy saw the resignation and replacement of the CEO & President, an uncomfortable culture remained which hopefully Tate and current CEO/President Colette Pierce Burnette, who started in August 2022, can successfully work together on shifting.

Since Venable’s departure, Newfields has also faced allegations that it had facilitated a “toxic” and discriminatory work culture at the museum, according to an open letter from Kelli Morgan, its former associate curator of American art. In the letter, Morgan described a “racist rant” from one board museum member.

Tate must contend with the legacy of Venable’s polarizing vision for the museum’s programming which, according to his critics, prioritized blockbuster exhibitions. Oft-cited examples include a show devoted to Bugatti cars and the Winterlights festival, which involved stringing flora in the garden with colorful lights during holiday time and charging $25 for entry.

You’re Not Hiring Them To Fit In

There was a short piece in Fast Company today that discusses hiring employees in similar terms to what is required to broaden and diversify audiences – You have to hire for the company culture you want rather than hiring someone to fit existing work culture.  Basically, you can’t expect the changes you want to happen by forcing new hires to conform and fit in. Effort needs to be made to support and acknowledge the change new hires are bringing to the organization. (my emphasis)

I’ve found that companies genuinely committed to improving their workplace cultures also have another set of priorities. They look for candidates with a proven record of curiosity, innovation, and making change inside organizations.


To attract changemakers, organizations should demonstrate a genuine commitment to fostering this kind of internal innovation. In company events and full staff meetings, highlight employees who have called out problems, suggested solutions, and improved how the organization operates. One company even rewards employees for making new and interesting mistakes, showing that it supports employees taking risks and trying out new things.

Committing to changing organizational culture needs full investment because it is the right thing to do rather than the thing people expect the organization to do. It has been noted that a lot of the diversity and equity leader hires that occurred in the wave after the George Floyd protests have started to disappear, frequently due to the lack of internal support and delegated authority provided to those hired. Companies would loudly announce their commitment to change, but because there was no accountability, layoffs and resignations followed.

Leaders I/S/O Organizations Who Know Things Have Changed

I had a post appear on ArtsHacker today about hiring executive leadership in the context of the social changes which have occurred since the start of the Covid pandemic. My post primarily focuses on a piece Seema Sueko wrote for American Theatre, which I would highly encourage people to read.

Sueko was serving as a field advisor for a search firm specializing in executive searches in the arts and culture field. She discusses how she initially assumed that search firm would work with their clients to identify all the social, political and economic changes that occurred since their last hire, determine how the organization would need to change, and then what qualities the new leadership would need to possess to move the organization in that direction.

Finding out that was not the case, she surveyed 4-5 other search firms that also worked with arts and culture organizations and found they operated in much the same way.

She lays out some great ideas about how organizations can do a better job with leadership hiring. Many of the suggestions would probably please candidates to no end such as the hiring committee going through mock interviews and receiving feedback on how to do a better job.

As I write in my ArtsHacker post, I thought her best idea was one about creating an introductory video of a facilitated conversation about the job:

I recommend that the search firm record a Zoom meeting with the search committee where each committee member introduces themselves, followed by a facilitated conversation about the job opportunity. This video could be shared with all the candidates to level the playing field and capture some of the culture which can’t be conveyed through a written document. Such a video would also have the added benefit of demystifying and humanizing the search committee, which, I propose, will lead to more substantial interviews with candidates.

I am not sure about the current status of hiring for executive roles in arts and culture is at the moment. Readers may know that I changed jobs in November 2022. Around February-March 2023, the very first place I interviewed for when I started my search a year earlier contacted me to say the search had failed, board membership had changed and would I like to interview again.

While this certainly not indicative of the whole industry, I suspect it might not be far off the general environment. A lot of people have chosen to leave the field and hiring committees might be finding it difficult to identify good candidates because they are looking to hire for an environment that no longer exists and candidates are looking to join an organization that has acknowledged the work and change that needs to occur.

N.B. – regarding the post title. With all the social media abbreviations, has the old print classified “in search of -/i/s/o” entirely fallen out of use or do folks use it on dating apps?

Taking A Look At A Good Old Fashion Case Study

The blog for Master of Management in International Arts Management had a case study post by Donna S. Finley and Vijay Sathe examining how the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and Alberta Ballet (AB) had revamped their business model in an attempt to stabilize their finances.

Feels like it has been awhile since I covered a good old fashioned case study.

One of the first things that Finley and Sathe discuss is that both organizations recognized they were already essentially serving the bulk of their core markets and that growth would only come from identifying new market segments:

At CPO, audience research led to the identification of two new audience segments: those attracted by the flexibility of single-ticket sales, and those seeking to enjoy classical music in non-traditional environments in a variety of venues within and outside of the city.

At AB, research revealed numerous new audience segments that all indicated a strong desire for before- and after-performance receptions, dining opportunities, special events for youth to meet dancers and purchase products and memorabilia, and alternative, more personal and customized venue experiences.

While these are programming and ticketing choices that have been identified as areas of opportunity for a large number of arts and cultural organizations, there was an additional area of growth Finley and Sathe mentioned that left me wanting to know more:

At CPO, new and unusual settings were found and facilitated both the renewal of traditional repertoire and the introduction of new works. New business focused on joint community programming initiatives, whereby revenues and expenses could be split between CPO and a community group such as the Rotary Club or the South Asian Association. The Orchestra found an immediate new revenue opportunity within services it had historically undervalued.

I was curious to know how this manifested. It sounds like Rotary or South Asian Association were co-sponsoring or partnering with CPO on producing new and traditional works in novel locations, but I wanted to know more about how the programming was executed, what attendance was like, if there was revenue sharing between CPO and the community organizations. Basically, all the stuff an arts administration and policy nerd gets excited by.

Another major point touched upon in the case study was both organization’s attempts to stabilize the cycle of engaging in capitalization campaigns, spending the money, then engaging in another campaign, all in the face of decreasing donations and funding. Especially while faced with the impacts of Covid. One of the things they did was outsource administrative functions to third party services providers with far more expertise which apparently saw a great deal of cost savings. When I first read the post, I thought perhaps both organizations had consolidated their back office functions in partnership with each other, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Unfortunately, they also realized savings by cutting artists contract weeks:

“…reducing musician weeks from 46 to 40 per year and dancer weeks from 42 to 36 per year; and, at CPO, reducing staff salaries by 20% while simultaneously introducing an incentive pay component with upside potential based on the entrepreneurial success in tapping new markets.”

The description of the entrepreneurial programs of both organizations were pretty general. (Granted, the title of the article does include “abridged.”) Apparently, for CPO the success of those efforts “more than made up for the 20% decrease in their base salary as part of the cost-cutting measures.”

What caught my eye was an apparent admission that for both organizations:

“… The artistic side, comprising the Artistic Director and their respective teams of artists, made its plans and decisions in isolation – disconnected from all or most aspects of the business operations.”

As a solution, both organizations are working toward streamlining their planning and reporting structures