Org Culture More Important Than Artistic Reputation

A couple weeks ago Aubrey Bergauer hosted a LinkedIn conversation with Karen Freeman from Advisory Board for the Arts (ABA) to discuss what mattered most to arts professionals as they sought jobs in the arts. Freeman discussed a survey ABA conducted where they asked people to prioritize between different situations in order to drill down to what really mattered. An example Freeman gives is would you rather have great pay, but so-so benefits or a lower pay rate but with better benefits.

Among the criteria people had to prioritize were things like artistic reputation, work from home, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), shared governance, professional development, etc., They had over 1500 respondents from organizations around the world, though with a slightly larger representation by U.S. based groups.

Freeman shared four findings among the many that she found most interesting. The first one revealed that respondents felt their current organization had medium healthcare benefits, good management, good job security, middle of the road flexibility with work hours, fairly good progress in diversity and equity and selective transparency. Freeman notes that a majority of respondents felt their organizations operated at the highest level of artistic quality which she attributes akin to a Lake Woebegone view that everyone is above average.

The second finding is perhaps the most interesting one because it provides insight into what arts organizations can do to retain employees (~13:30 in the video). In terms of what people valued most, Inclusive Culture was valued most and Other Office, which encompassed office space and technology fell at the lowest end of the range. Inclusive culture encompasses transparency, accountability, inclusive decision-making along with diversity, inclusion and equity.

Second most important was flexibility which includes flexible hours and work from home. Next is advancement, including opportunity to advance and supervise. Next is Manager which involves good manager, professional development and internal recognition. Health care and leave came next. Second to last was artistic reputation and community import.

This raises some interesting questions. There are already surveys that indicate trumpeting artistic excellence, while important, isn’t a top draw for audiences. Now we see it is almost at the bottom in terms of what organizational staff value. So perhaps it is time to examine the amount of emphasis being placed upon it.

I should note though that it isn’t clear how many of the respondents were creators and performers. Those groups may rate artistic reputation much higher than administrative staff.

Skipping to the fourth slide (~19:25) provides a little insight. When broken down by job role, people in the C-suite (aka highest paid person’s opinion) care most about artistic reputation (even more than artistic department) along with job accountability, manager quality and transparency. C-suite place least emphasis on job schedule flexibility, work from home and DEI.

When broken down by generation (~16:40), the starkest differences were that artistic reputation was most important to baby boomers and DEI was most important to Gen Z respondents.

Freeman also mentioned that they ran some simulations to make up for some potential flaws inherent to the surveying methodology they used to get the above results. In those simulations, when choosing between higher pay or artistic reputation, 54% of people would take the job with higher pay at a place with no reputation for artistic quality.

A second simulation they ran provided the choice between a place that had high pay, but hierarchical decision making, low transparency and accountability, and performative DEI against an organization with better culture on all these dimensions, but lower pay. In that case, 63% of people would take a job with the better work culture at the expense of better pay.

This was some new data for me insofar as what I thought were the start of trends are far more deeply held values than I anticipated. If you are similarly surprised, take a look at the video.

Welcoming and Belonging For All

Last week I received an email from Arts Midwest noting that September 9-18 is Welcoming Week, an international effort to provide a welcoming experience at all levels. This includes government and social policy and action to make communities more welcoming to organizational efforts to provide a sense of belonging in workplaces and other social interactions.

The concept of creating more metaphorical doors through which people can engage with arts and cultural organizations is a frequent topic here so I wanted to call attention to the effort and some of the resources that are available. In addition to the Welcoming America website, Arts Midwest created a page of resources focuses on how arts organizations can create that sense of belonging for employees and community members with whom they interact.

Arts Midwest is also hosting a webinar on Wednesday, September 14 4 pm EDT/3 pm CDT/1 pm PDT on the topic with a focus on “how arts can transform, deepen, and enrich immigrant inclusion work. ”   Sign up if you would like to learn more.


Making Venue Upgrades Pleasant For Everyone

I don’t remember exactly how, but I became aware of a grant program administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA) called “A Place to Perform,” which supports the efforts of arts groups to access performing arts spaces.

A Place to Perform is an initiative of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta  created after the theatre space of the 14th Street Playhouse became unavailable to a wide range of Atlanta’s nonprofit performing arts organizations. Historically, A Place to Perform has provided grants to nonprofit arts organizations to assist them financially in gaining access to performance venues so they can produce performing arts experiences for the public throughout the metro Atlanta region.

This struck me as a great idea. Throughout my career I have frequently worked with groups who were looking to take the next step up from where ever they had been performing before. Often it was because they were attracting audiences that were too large for the spaces they used in the past or they wanted to do a show with higher production values.

Thinking about these experiences, it occurred it me that a program like the one for Greater Atlanta should also offer additional funding or include the services of some sort of guide/stage manager/technical adviser to help groups make this sort of transition.

A problem the venue staff of places at which I have worked repeatedly encountered with groups trying to make a transition from a space with smaller audience and technical capacities was a disconnect between what they envisioned and how to accomplish it.  Now granted, we often ran into the same issue with some repeat renters who seemed to start from square one year after year, but at least we had notes from early shows upon which to build.

With brand new renters it often difficult to just get to the point of creating an accurate estimate for equipment and especially labor.  Having a lighting and sound change, a curtain flying in while a set piece flies out and microphone packs being transitioned to other people can mean 10 people paying very close attention to what is going on where you had three at the smaller venue you were at previously.

If a grant program paid an experienced person to sit down and talk through your vision with you and then communicate that to the venue or even fund the person to coordinate those details through the run of the show as a stage manager or production designer, that would help the whole experience run smoother for everyone.

And yes, there is nothing keeping groups from including that in their grant application –except they don’t know that it will be helpful to have a consultant. Best approach might be to have something in the grant application and any applicant Q&A sessions encouraging people to think about whether they might need help and including it in their budgets.

This is not to say that venue staff can’t help. Every place I have worked, the staff has been willing to provide advice and patiently work with new groups. In a couple cases, staff has provided planning documents and templates which cut days off the rehearsal process.  The biggest problem has always been surprise additions which ends up over working the staff and raising the final bill for renters.

Interesting Thoughts On Arts Management Styles

Andrew Taylor made an interesting video/post about dominant arts management styles on his blog recently.  I am always wary about personality type tests and categorizations, particularly because so many are based, developed and administered using questionable methodology. I do think they can be useful as a tool for self-reflection and consideration if they are subsequently discarded and not used to define oneself.

In this particular case, Taylor is applying Ichak Adizes’ PAEI management framework to arts managers. PAEI stands for Producing, Administrating, Entrepreneuring, and Integrating. Taylor is careful to note that this frame:

“…is not to suggest there’s just four kinds of people in the world or the working world. The purpose is to suggest that each of us brings a dominant concern to the work; a dominant way of paying attention; and a dominant understanding of what it means to be productive in the workplace.”

Because everyone employs a mix from each of these areas, to get a sense of what your dominant approach is, Taylor says you might look at how you react when you are under stress and things around you are going poorly. Also, if there are things other people do in a work environment that drive you nuts, they may be operating in a mode opposite to your dominant approach. He gives the following examples of how each of these styles might manifest in practice:

Do you double down and get the work done that’s in front of you? Are you a producing energy?

Do you pause and think about what’s the better system to manage this process? Rather than getting it done now, let’s get it done right? Making you an administrating energy?

Do you focus on a distant future and say, Well, maybe what is in front of me now is really not the useful thing. Maybe there’s something bold and new and different I should be thinking about?

Or is your impulse to check in with others and your team and see how they’re doing and what they’re doing and how they’re finding focus in their own energy in this moment?

Taylor says that the extreme of each of these can be very damaging for an organization: The Lone Wolf Producer that moves forward with the work without concern for whether it serves the needs of the organization; The Administrating Bureaucrat that focuses on things being done according to the rules and best practices, halting progress; the Arsonist Entrepreneur who consistently burns everything down in order to create something new in the ashes; the Super Following Integrator who focuses on serving whatever needs the group expresses today.

I am skipping over quite a bit here, but the video and accompanying transcript are really relatively short so if your interest is piqued, it is worth the time to check out his post and ponder the insights you may receive.