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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Desperately Seeking Relevance: Arts Administration Today

Like all arts, music has thrived on (or despite) its patrons, whether church or nobility or bourgeoisie or folk, and there is no disputing that there has always been a waxing and waning relationship between artist and patron affecting content. But artists, in particular musicians I think, have never before had to face anything like PBA-meets-NRH: professional business administrator meets nouveau riche hobbyist. Yes, of course there has always been a need for administration of the business side of music, from the Hurokian impresario to the entrepreneurial (a.k.a. "starving") musician left to his or her own devices. People have to live, whatever their true interest and calling & however their contributions are valued.

The difference today, at least in art music's economics, is that the distance between patron and administrator has all but disappeared behind boardroom doors; audience has become converted (out of ignorance or cynicism) into a conveniently nebulous customer-who-is-always-right; and, before and during the design of next year's product, musicians are required to confer with the marketing department about the results from the latest focus group in order to make any necessary improvements before the next product release.

This situation, which now seems to be accepted status quo, created the perceived need for a New Business Model. So the Master of Music (and other arts degrees) hopped into bed with the Master of Business Administration and started to reproduce: among other degrees, the MBA in Arts Administration. While I can't produce a smoking gun to connect MBAs with classical music's recent problems (one needn't have an MBA to screw up an orchestra or cause an art gallery to go belly up), it is at least interesting (correlation does not imply causation but only a fool would ignore it) that the list of problems in orchestras and other music and arts programs have increased EVEN AS Arts Admin degree programs have exploded – almost entirely within the U.S. It beggars the imagination. Seriously – go to these two links and contemplate the maps:
Out of 76(!) graduate programs in arts admin, 65 are in the U.S.; and of 42(!) undergraduate programs, 37 are in the U.S. Within the U.S. these programs are concentrated almost entirely in the East and Midwest, which just makes it all the weirder.
And what happens when the freshly or not so freshly minted MBA goes into the real world where he or she works with (often: is pitted against) local or national business leaders who got where they are by imposing their own interests and agendas on others? Then what good will that course, "Choosing and Managing Your Board of Directors," do for you – even in the unlikely circumstance that your professor has had demonstrable real-world experience. Will you take a principled stand on behalf of the arts, or will you concede that yes, it would be an excellent idea to have Madonna and Paul Simon sing Lied von der Erde?

I'm not arguing that administration of the business side of the arts is unnecessary. It certainly IS. I'm simply asking: Is pumping a continuous supply of MBAs into the arts' infrastructures really the way to go about addressing the undeniable problems involved in arts support today?

Daniel Wolf has also written on this in his web site, Renewable Music. Go to: "Slow Death by Administration."