Arts advice from top managers
Posted: December 4, 2012
The Winchester Star
Winchester — When an arts management class at Shenandoah University invited speakers in the field to a recent forum, they hit the mother lode of top leaders in the country to attend the events
Both Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Terrence Jones, president and CEO of Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna, agreed to speak last week on the Winchester campus.
“This is what we do for the field of arts management,” said Kaiser about coming to SU. “We have a responsibility to the field.”
Jones reinforced Kaiser’s comment. “We need to give back and help students.”
Kaiser has been at the Kennedy Center for 12 years, and Jones will retire this month after 17 years at Wolf Trap.
Students submitted questions prior to the forum, and Dr. David Edelman, assistant professor and director of arts management, served as moderator.
Advice to grads
The first question was what advice would they give recent graduates.
“Get a degree because you love it. Then you have a good chance of succeeding.” Jones said. “Get to know people, make connections, go to conferences, use resources, and don’t be afraid to call supervisors.”
Kaiser recommended getting a job, any job, in the arts. “It is a very mobile field. Don’t worry about title or salary.”
There is a shortage of good arts managers, he added, and it is better to work in a small organization when starting out.
Technology in the field
As far as technology in the field, they both explained how it has changed the way things are presented.
“We are starting to figure it out,” Kaiser said. “Technology makes art available to everyone. Performances can be shown somewhere else and spread through computers.”
But the flip side is that this will compete with attendance at the live performances, he added.
“Technology should not drive the arts,” Jones said. “Art is first and if technology can enhance it, then that is good.”
Social media is often used to communicate what it is with so many options, he said. “We are finding ways to connect such as tweeting notes from a symphony and posting on YouTube.”
The arts are trying to keep abreast of the latest trends, he said. “It is important to stay on top of it and hire young people coming with good ideas.”
The future of the arts is bright, according to both speakers, who have experienced difficulties during the recession with cutbacks and less fluid cash
Kaiser sees a bifurcation of demand and interest when looking ahead. Part of it looks old-fashioned while the other segment is tied to technology, he said. “Tech allows us to reduce costs with more access to so many forms of substitute art. People can hear it without going.”
Both have seen a reduction in funds during the recession but have seen individual donations continue and in some cases increase.
“Arts has a role to play and is the great communicator,” Jones added.
Environmental sustainability is a natural area for the arts, he added. With initiatives at Wolf Trap, including Go Green nights with lighting, thermostat and recycling projects, they reduced the landfill costs 50 percent.
Kaiser feels this is a caring, broader world that includes caring for resources. “The sustainability field is challenging but can save and help the mission.”
Boards in control
While both organizations have ties to the federal government, the speakers said the boards are in control.
“The funding is from the federal government and the building, but there is no role in what we do and chose not to do,” Kaiser said about the Kennedy Center. The board of 59 members is appointed by the president and Congress. “We get the board excited about what we do and unembarrassed to involve friends, not as a favor but as a passion.”
At Wolf Trap, the National Park Service provides services, but does not get involved in arts decisions.
“We have a great board of prominent citizens that doesn’t challenge artistic mandates,” Jones said. “There is no struggle with management and arts. We are always striving to do more and find ways to save money and not cut arts.”
Degree or not
Whether a degree is needed in the field, there is no definite answer.
“It depends on the individual and if ready to go in the field. Degree programs are great but not required for the job, but having these programs is the key to arts surviving,” Jones said.
Programs sometimes teach more vocabulary than how-to-do, Kaiser said. “There is a need for a high degree of actual work. Connection to work makes it all worthwhile.”
An understanding of the art form will build a better understanding of artists, he added.
“I took dance classes to see what it was like,” he said. “I was miserable, but it allows the conversation to be different.”
Jones advises students to “experience as much as you can. Immerse yourself in a wide variety of art forms.”
Kaiser said it changes the way he views staff when he sees them going to different art productions.
The free website artsjournal.com is a source he said students should read each day. “We have to look at what is going on around us.”
Both speakers stressed the educational components of their institutions.
“My biggest accomplishment has been the physical center for education at Wolf Trap,” Jones said. “I helped put a face on education at Wolf Trap. The team I built in my 17 years will continue the work.”
Kaiser also extols the arts education program at the Kennedy Center. “We have a network across the country in all 50 states with thousands of teachers and schools.”
Volunteers are crucial to programs such as these and are the “lifeblood” of survival, Kaiser said.
They are harder to attract these days with people working longer hours and more women are employed outside the home, he said.
“Recognizing volunteers is important. Reward them, make special offers, and make them feel a part of the family and valued,” he said. “When they feel engaged and loved, they will encourage their friends to volunteer.”
Jones agrees it is an important role and always stops to talk to ushers.
“Create a family. Part of the excitement is for them to be there,” he said. “You need friendly faces to greet customers.”
Disappointments were discussed as definite learning experiences.
Kaiser advises to be cautious in taking on a project without sufficient funding, such as a marketing campaign he started during a tenure at the Kansas City Ballet. “Don’t do it if you can’t afford it.”
It is not always the whole project that is the disappointment but elements of it, Jones said, citing an example once of not communicating well enough with an artist. “Be very clear about the project. You need to see and know the artist.”
Final advice to students is start looking for a job in February even if you don’t graduate until May. Often seasons at these types of venues end in the summer, Kaiser said, so it is best to get a head start.
This arts management program is the only conservatory in Virginia offering this program and the sixth-largest conservatory program in the country, according to Dr. Bryon Lee Grigsby, senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs.
Ricki Marion, adjunct assistant professor of arts management, is the instructor for this class and previously worked five years in development at Wolf Trap. She has nine students in the class, and there are 25 majors in the program.
Her students were surprised when the two speakers agreed to visit, she said. “They made a list of dream people to come, and these were the top two names. They were thrilled when they both agreed to come.”
In her sixth year at SU, Marion said the students received good information and made contacts.
Both graduate and undergraduate students are enrolled in the required course.
Two students in the arts management program — Joshua Colbert, 23, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., pursuing a master’s degree, and Spencer King, 20, of Arlington, working toward a bachelor’s degree — are forging a career in the field and considered the forum an opportunity.
Colbert said he is getting an arts education combined with business skills. “This is exactly what I want to go into.” The cello performance major as an undergraduate said he couldn’t “do performance for a living.”
King’s parents are employed in the nonprofit world, and he considers this major a good fit for him. “The program helps create a diverse set of skills useful for the nonprofit or corporate world.”
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