I attended the annual conference of the Association of Arts Administration Educators for the first time, having now taught arts entrepreneurship for three semesters and seeing a course in arts management and another on arts policy on the not-too-distant horizon. This was not only an opportunity for me to share the work we’ve been doing on arts entrepreneurship in the Pave Program, but a far larger opportunity to learn what colleagues across the country (and some internationally) think about what is important to teach, learn, and research in arts management and administration and cultural policy. Here are some highlights from the formal programming:
At the first of three plenary sessions, Janet Brown of Grantmakers in the Arts discussed the organizational need for operating reserves and the implications for funders to provide enough general operating support to enable organizations to build that reserve. She reminded us to remind our students to:
- Take a long view on budgeting
- Don’t underestimate overhead and fixed costs
- There’s no guarantee that if you build a building people will come to it
- Boards are not saviors
- And finally, “Strong balance sheets make for artistic freedom”
Maria Rosario-Jackson of the Urban Institute discussed her work on arts and culture indicators of community vitality. Upon finding a gap between what the cultural sector was getting in terms of data and what people in communities thought important, she asked the important question, “WHO GETS TO DECIDE?” Margaret Wyszomirski, in the same session, discussed the challenge of operationalizing a definition of “vitality,” and observed that the indexes that use vitality as an outcome tilt significantly toward the nonprofit sector. The implication being that by discouting or not counting what in Europe is generally understood as “The Creative Industries,” vitality is not being measured accurately or effectively. Jessica Cusick shared how outcome measures are used on the ground in the municipal policy space via the Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan.
A session on arts management pedagogy chaired by Ximena Varela focused on case study methodology, which will be an important component of our graduate management curriculum currently under development.
A report from the SNAAP data project indicated that the employment rate for people with arts degrees is the same as for all college degrees, but job satisfaction, at 87%, exceeds that of the national average for all college grads. Drilling further into the data, there was a startling and unfortunate statistic about salaries of arts administrators. There is a very large gender gap such that the average salary of male arts administrators is in the $60-70K range whereas female arts administrators earn an average salary in the $40K-$50K range. The implication appears to be that there is a glass ceiling for women in arts administration executive positions rather than unequal pay for equal work.
Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal delivered the second plenary entitled “Engage This!” in which he reminded us that “we don’t engage with products…we engage with ideas” and that the arts sector should “stop waiting for things to happen and go out and make them happen.” If 80% of all the content on the Web was created in the last two years, then people are making stuff (web content) like crazy.
Brea Heidelberg, a newly minted cultural policy PhD from Margaret Wyszomirski’s program at OSU shared her research on the NEA funding “seal of approval” and Roland Kushner shared some preliminary results from the data mining he is able to do through the Local Arts Index related to the crowding in and crowding out of private giving by federal funding. This is a rich source of data that I will no doubt be turning to in the future.
One of the highlights of the conference was the hour I – along with 80 other attendees — spent in one of James Turrell’s skyspaces, “Dividing the Light.” It seems fitting that my professional transition into the community of arts management educators was marked by an experience combining light and public art.