June 15, 2011

Training - an investment in the future of a healthy arts infrastructure by The Art Management Network

An interview with Brett Egan, Director, DeVos Institute of Arts Management, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D.C

Dirk Heinze: The Kennedy Center has just received a $22.5 million commitment from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation for the newly named DeVos Institute of Arts Management.  lease tell our readers the story behind this pledge. Why was this commitment made particularly in the field of arts management?
Brett Egan: First, I should clarify the commitment. The first $2.5 million will
support the Institute’s operating funds over the next 5 years. The remaining
$20 million will constitute an endowment to indefinitely provide the Institute with annual support.
Betsy DeVos recently stepped down from the Board of Trustees at the Kennedy
Center, after having served for many years. Part of the conversation surrounding her voluntary departure was the exploration of a mutual interest for their Foundation to fund the Institute in a meaningful way. Several conversations between Betsy and Dick DeVos and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser established their interest in training arts managers across the U.S., based on the idea that there are simply not enough professional development training opportunities for arts managers outside of universities and major cities
in this country. And even in those places, available training is still fractional
in respect to the amount of arts activity taking place—not only for arts managers, but for board members as well.

We and the DeVos Foundation are convinced that, especially in a moment of financial crisis, arts managers and board members need to be part of a community that shares best practices to help preserve their organizations.

As a culture, we spend a tremendous amount of money and resource educating and training artists, and comparatively little, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, to train the managers that keep our artists employed, that run our organizations and keep them healthy. I think that the DeVos Foundation, like the Kennedy Center, views arts management training as an equally important investment in the future of a healthy arts infrastructure.

We are starting programs, for instance, in Detroit, MI; in Miami, FL; and in
Upper Manhattan, NY. These are places where the national economy in the
U.S. has taken a particularly hard hit.

We have observed that in moments of financial crisis, arts managers and
their boards get scared, understandably, and in turn, start to scale back on
programming and marketing. Our message is, of course, that temporary cuts
may be necessary, but cuts alone will not get us to a place of turnaround, and
that the most important weapon in our turnaround will be to continue to
offer ambitious, exciting programming and to market that programming

If we begin to cut our programming, and the marketing that supports that programming, we will have fewer ways to excite our audience. Our audience will have less reason to buy tickets and make contributions. And this will lead to increasingly fewer resources to create and market exciting programming the next year. In this way, we try to warn against “saving yourself to death”. That is our message at this moment. And the DeVos Foundation commitment has allowed us to take that message to a different scale.

DH: What implications have the problems cultural organizations in the U.S. are facing after the financial crisis had on the various training programs you offer? How exactly is it possible to make your students and fellows fit to become cultural leaders, to design better programs?

BE: We run different types of programs for arts managers at different career
stages. This includes everything from internships and fellowships at the
Kennedy Center, to group Capacity Building seminars in multiple regions, to
tailored mentorships for more senior arts leaders. What I can say for our Capacity Building programs, which deal with five core curricular subjects—fundraising, marketing, strategic planning, artistic planning, and
board development—is that we are not in the leadership training business.

We do not offer, per se, training in leadership skills. What we do is try to
strengthen arts organizations’ ability to plan. We are trying to inculcate a
culture of planning. And we are trying to provide a safe space for that process
to take place in a community of like-minded people.

Our work operates on two tracks. First, we examine a macro strategy, or what
we might call a global strategic view: We look at the life cycle of an organization and how the major pieces of a strategy fit together.  Why exciting programming is required and how it is achieved, why aggressive marketing is required and how it is achieved, how this combination builds family around
an organization, a family whose support—both in contributions and attendance—in turn allows the organization to produce more programming of greater scale and scope, and so on. We focus on this cycle as a long-term strategic approach to organizational health.

On the second track we try to provide targeted, practical, and technical assistance in key areas. In marketing, for instance, we look at the strategic use of very specific new technologies in social media. We also examine technologies that try to gauge the effectiveness of subscription programs and facilitate
decisions on whether or not to continue investing in renewals or acquisitions. We look at how to market not only our programs, but our institution as a whole. In fundraising we might look at, for instance, how many organizations at an earlier career stages have not yet built regular, institutionalized
methods to raise money, such as creating memberships. We look with them
at how to evaluate this issue, asking questions such as: do we have the capacity to do so now, how do we start, and so on.

DH: You mentioned one of the curricular subjects of the training you provide is artistic planning. Would you describe which experiences you provide?

BE: I should clarify that this is not a discussion of artistic planning specifically dedicated to the process of artistic directors. Our focus is not what the programming should be, but what we should be thinking about while we are planning our programming and on what time frame we should be thinking.
We know the dangers of failing to plan artistic programming far enough in
advance.  We have seen that organizations which plan their seasons only six
months in advance or even, in some cases, only one month in advance, suffer
in their ability to attract artists and audiences. Of course, this varies widely
by culture throughout the world. But, most importantly, the ability to fundraise is compromised, and even in places where there is a very high level of governmental subsidy, we all know that the ability to fundraise or form strategic producing alliances can enable artistic directors to produce work of greater scope and ambition. Our basic message here is that we want arts organizations to be planning programming well in advance—three or four years in advance if they can. In some areas like opera or orchestra, this is absolutely
essential, of course, to attract A-level talent. But even for smaller organization
like dance ensembles, chamber orchestras or regional theatres, our argument is that we need and want our artistic directors thinking four or five years in advance, so that executives or board members have time to produce, to fundraise, to market, to build an audience, to educate. This is really the
focus of our work on the artistic side.

Because our programs stem from our experience at the Kennedy Center, the teaching starts from a presenting or producing standpoint. But these strategies
are not dissimilar from those evolving from a curatorial standpoint, such as
that which we might encounter in a museum or a historical society or even a
library. We always want the art—no matter whether it’s on stage, in an exhibition hall, in a garden, or on the street—to be the driver for the conversation. But the focus of the Capacity Building seminars is almost exclusively on how to better the conditions in which the executive and board members can
produce, in collaboration with the artistic director, work of increasingly larger scale and scope, work which is in line with, and that celebrates, the artistic mission of the organization.

DH: As you know, an arts manager can build a career in the private, public or nonprofit sector, as well as in so many cultural areas. How do you recognize the specific demands and career pathways for these sectors during the education?

BE: That is a very good question. We focus on not-for-profit organizations, on helping them raise money for what they need to do. While the curriculum, as I said in response to your last question, has been built from the viewpoint of a producing organization like the Kennedy Center—an organization that produces and presents dance, music, theatre, etc.,--we do interact with advocacy organizations, service organizations, historical societies, even gardens ⌧ organizations that fall outside of the traditional “presenting” model. We do feel
that the curriculum is relevant to the needs of these types of organizations.

Regardless of the artistic product, they all have to raise money utilizing similar means. They all have to lobby the community on behalf of their organization. They all have to build excitement and enthusiasm for their offerings.

And many of the technologies used by presenting organizations can be useful for non-presenting organizations. Especially when we understand that in order to incite people to give to our organizations—whether an opera or a service organization—we must first program content that is surprising and exciting, market that programming aggressively, and continue to build a family of supporters to surround that work.
For instance, at first pass, service organizations that represent communities
and produce research don't have much to offer potential donors. In fact, they
are forced to compete for funding with arts organizations who are their own
clients. So for such an organization the question is: How do we compete
when we don't have concerts, stars or fancy parties to bring people to? We
want non-producing organizations to adopt those strategies, to begin thinking like a dance or theatre company: What is it that we have, what we can use to excite our donor base? We work, for example, with arts schools that typically don't have such artistic output. But we are still asking the same
basic questions: how can we create a family of funders, of ticket buyers, of
clients, that surround our organization and that, through their financial
support, enable us to produce better research, better advocacy, and better

In this way we look at the same basic mechanisms for non-producing or nonpresenting organizations that we are looking at for traditional presenting organizations. This is not meant to be a perfect analogy, but there is enough cross-over that a zoo, a botanical garden, a museum, or even a public institution that has to raise money can take something away from the program.

B R E T  T   E G A N

In December 2009, Egan joined the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as
Director of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. In this capacity, Egan directs
the Center's programs in arts management training and consulting, comprising of capacity building programs in eleven American cities and similar initiatives in several countries worldwide. Additional programs under Egan's
direction are the Arts in Crisis Initiative-which has served more than 800 organizations in the United States; International Fellowships, with 42 participants from 28 countries; an international cultural exchange program administered on behalf of the Department of State; the Kennedy Center Fellowship, a
nine-month program for mid-career arts executives; various independent
consultancies; and three websites, including ArtsManager.org, an online
service for arts managers and their boards. From 2006 to 2009, Egan served as
Executive Director of the New York-based modern dance company, Shen Wei
Dance Arts, a Kennedy Center resident company and principal contributor to
the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Beijing.

S I D E   S T E P S  

* This interview was taken from the 98 edition of the Art Management Network Newsletter (July/August 2010, page 3).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails