Into The Arts And Out of ‘The Real World’

Last week Vu Le made a Twitter post alluding to the fact a lot of corporate leaders will shift to leading non-profits, but you basically never hear of a non-profit leader making a career transition to lead a corporation.

That made me think of a story Howard Sherman had linked to, (apparently back in October, it didn’t seem that long ago), reporting that cultural organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area were courting people who didn’t have previous experience in the industry due to the high level of turn over.

There is quite a bit more nuance to the story than you might expect, especially given the context I created with Vu Le’s post (which remains a valid point, regardless.)

The piece opens mentioning an art administrator who asked for a higher salary upon applying for an arts job and was given it.

A bit later, it mentions that revamping job descriptions and interview questions to include diversity, equity and inclusion was helping to draw people to museum work.

“If you look at our job descriptions, they look like manifestos,” said Lori Fogarty, director and CEO of the Oakland Museum of California.

Each museum applicant who makes it to the interview round gets two documents describing the institution’s work on anti-racism and equity, and that’s not just informational.

“We ask questions about how values of anti-racism and equity actually show up in your work and how you would apply these values to your position,” Fogarty said. “What we’re finding is this is a big reason people are applying to the museum.”

Similarly, revamping job descriptions to remove degree requirements that are not necessary to perform the work and allowing the flexibility to work from home are cited as changes that are making culture jobs more attractive to applicants.

However, there was one part of the article that grabbed my attention (my emphasis):

Even with the arts’ lower salaries compared with many other hours-heavy industries, such as tech, employers say they’re still finding applicants, some of whom are transferring from one position to another within the field or coming from another industry entirely.

“Applicants are easier to find than before COVID,” said the Ballet’s St. Germain-Gordon. “I’ve interviewed people trying to get into the arts out of ‘the real world’ mostly.”


At the same time, the social justice movement has led some veterans of the arts — a field known for its long hours and low pay — to rethink their life priorities in other directions. Some have decided to leave the field altogether.

Michelle Lynch Reynolds, for example, left her role as executive director of Joe Goode Performance Group in September and does not plan to get another job in the arts. She says the problem wasn’t with her company but with the industry.

“My career felt emotionally tied to my identity as a creative individual,” she said. “That is personal, but it’s also systemic. There’s an entire culture built on the idea of, ‘This is what you’re living for.’ ”

Part of me was wondering if this was a “grass is greener” in the easy non-profit world and the folks moving into the field are in for a rude awakening or if the arts and culture world has performed a sufficient degree of self-reflection and will provide a better work environment for experienced new hires and new entrants to the field.

Around next October I would be interested to hear how things have been going, whether in SF or other parts of the country where a similar shift is playing out. Near the beginning of the article the authors mentioned that the inclusion of people from outside the arts and culture world might introduce some productive change. If new entrants are coming in at the early- to mid-career level positions, the ultimate outcomes may differ from when someone moves from the corporate to non-profit world at the executive level.

I Wish I Was Going With You Approach To Customer Service

This morning I attended a brand reveal for a Marriott hotel slated to open half a block from my venue in/around January. This particular collection of hotels is highly customized to the community in which it resides so there was a lot of detail discussed in the 1.5 hours of the actual presentation.

One thing that occurred to me during the presentation was that you should only pay for brand design that you have the budget to execute. The amount of money they are going to spend executing the branding vision is going to be significant.

When the designers started talking about the brand values that would be embodied, a couple struck me as concepts to be embraced by arts and culture organizations.

One was – we are not docents, we are friends-in-the-know. The other was – we are not interested, we are invested.   These statements seemed to embody the nuanced difference between good customer service and great customer service.

If you had two people working at the front desk and they each provided the same information to guests, but there was something you couldn’t put your finger on that made one of them seem superior to the other, something akin to these two concepts are likely to be present.  The better service comes from someone who isn’t just doling out information, but makes you feel they wish they were going with you or want you to have the same great experience they had when they were there.

So now I am letting these ideas percolate in my brain as I look around at our operation and think about how that can manifest at different points in our visitor experience. (Though I suppose we shouldn’t give people the impression we wish we were accompanying them when they ask directions to the restrooms.) Of course, however we decide that should be embodied in our building should be present where ever we are representing the organization outside out facilities as well.

Let me just point out that these are not entirely new concepts. In terms of marketing, they are a variation on Trevor O’Donnell’s “Gal In Starbucks” test from six years ago that I have written on a number of times. This is something the arts and culture industry should have been working toward for a few years now at least.

Colorado And The Case Of The Hidden Salary

I have noticed Drew McManus will get me riled up about an arts administration topic and then suggests I write an Arts Hacker post about it. Last week was no exception. Last Thursday he posted about how he had gone back to requiring employers posting positions on Arts Admin Jobs to include a salary range.  He had done so because there was a growing demand among job applicants and others within the non-profit world to have salaries included.

But that Drew also noticed an editorial on the Chronicle of Philanthropy (registration required) was making waves for suggesting that omitting the salary was in everyone’s best interest. And boy did that garner a spirited response from readers.

With good reason since part of the rationale seemed to be along the lines of someone being grossly underpaid at $40,000 would be too intimidated to apply for a job more appropriately paying $120,000, so it is better to keep the salary hidden….you know, for their sake.

There is a lot more to the effort than just some opinion pieces. As I note in my Arts Hacker post, Show The Salary started in the UK and is an international effort that probably extends even further than my research turned up.

There are definitely signs that there will be immense resistance by companies and organizations to list salary ranges. While there are a number of states and municipalities which have rules against requiring or discriminating against applicants who don’t provide their current salary, only Colorado requires employers to provide salary and benefits information in their employment listings.

As a result, a number of companies who allow employees to work remotely are specifically saying Colorado residents can not apply for open positions. Nike says residents will need to move from the state before performing any work.

Since there are a significant number of positions open in the arts right now, including at the executive level, there is an opportunity to create a strong precedent and expectation of listing salary ranges. Such a simple move is likely to exert a lasting influence and shift in the general work culture among arts organizations going forward.

There is more detail about the whole topic in my Arts Hacker post so check it out.


Time To Include #ShowTheSalary In The Hiring Process


Manspreading Of Buzzwords

Apropos to Monday’s post on Jargon vs. Lingo, a link came across my social media feed yesterday featuring an interview with Anand Giridharadas by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College of London on the topic of philanthropy .

There is a moment right around the 23:00 mark where Giridharadas refers to a situation where the “…manspreading of certain languages which render native speakers in various institutions illiterate.”

Basically what he says happens is that advisors or consultants come in and start challenging practices, wielding terms like “leveraging synergies” and “boiling the ocean” to make it seem like the shorthand language you use internally to accomplish things is not sufficient to achieve success.  Giridharadas says this allows people to come in from outside and make people feel inadequate in their familiar home environment. It shifts the power dynamic by establishing their expertise while positioning natives as no longer credible.

He points out that people who have achieved relatively high levels of success in industries like education, arts and aviation don’t tend to decide this expertise can be applied to other industries, but people in the commercial business world will feel they are qualified to direct the efforts in other realms. Giridharadas specifically mentions charities, non-profits and the arts as industries often feel their commercial skillsets will transfer to.

Now none of this is to say that non-profits and the arts don’t have issues like insularity and diversity, equity and inclusion, among others that need to be fixed. But with some exceptions, the solution to these problems can be achieved with plain speech and the native jargon of the organization without the necessity of introducing buzzwords.

Mazzucato also made an interesting point about the commercial world employing a paradigm adopted from a now outdated physics worldview. She says economics finds it convenient to employ Newtonian view of equilibrium to justify a laissez-faire policy–the idea governments shouldn’t interfere because the system will self-correct. However, she notes that physics has moved on to the quantum physics model where there are higher degrees of uncertainty and randomness. These are factors probably a more appropriate paradigm for economics since individuals, social structures and behaviors do not easily conform to the predictability of an equal and opposite reaction.

To be clear, she is not saying economics should look to the quantum model to figure everything out. She just makes the point that scientific models have shifted as observations about the world have been tested and economics seemed to glom on to a convenient metaphor/model that conformed to a desired outcome.