Arts Management Research Paper

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Arts management is a relatively new field in management research but one that is attracting increasing attention. At one level—the most predominant thus far—arts management is concerned with the activities of organizations such as museums, galleries, orchestras, dance and theater companies, opera houses, and groups promoting the arts in culture. Researchers and practitioners are concerned with the structure of these organizations, the way they acquire resources, and how they expend them. In addition, the types of programming offered by various arts bodies, how they are selected, and how they are received by the public have been subjects of study. As we will see in the following discussion, all of these issues are being influenced by environmental changes affecting the arts community.

In addition to work at the organizational level, the activities of individual managers within arts organizations have come under increased scrutiny. While the popular view often features the heroic figure of a conductor or director, in fact, responsibility for much of the success of any arts institution rests on the work of administrators who handle marketing, sales, logistics, finances, human resources, and all the other necessary support functions. Each of these functions has its equivalent in the private sector but still must be adapted to the arts milieu. For example, human resources must often deal with high profile performers who appear with the company for a short time under quite specific constraints. Within any arts organization, a balance exists between administrative requirements, some of which may be imposed by outside bodies, and the aesthetic judgments inherent in presenting performances or exhibitions. How the relevant managers resolve these tensions has become a major topic in the study of arts management.

One reason for increasing interest in arts management is the considerable growth of the arts industry both in its own right and as an important element in marketing cultural resources. As arts organizations undertake larger and more ambitious programs, the variety and degree of managerial skills required for success increases. A second cause for examining arts management stems from the decline of government subsidies for the arts. Although the level of government funding varies widely, the percentage of support coming from government bodies has generally decreased leading to greater reliance on revenue from admissions and sales, corporate support, and fundraising efforts. Even where government funding is available, competition for these funds has sharpened considerably. Increased difficulties in securing necessary resources means that arts organizations must operate more efficiently thus making greater demands on their managers. While the first two factors affect virtually all arts organizations, a third, increasing internationalization, mainly concerns larger institutions. The need to present high-quality work has increased interaction among arts organizations around the world. Whether it is an exhibition of a prominent artist drawing on the collections of numerous museums or a tour by a dance company spanning several countries, greater coordination in marketing and logistics demands higher levels of management skill and program integration than purely domestic endeavors.

Despite this increasing interest in management issues in arts communities, there is relatively little solid work to draw upon. Those who are engaged in managing arts organizations or who staff agencies that provide them with resources write much of what is available. While this work is valuable in describing current practice, it seldom proceeds from a coherent theoretical base thus making its application across a broad spectrum difficult. One area that has made a major contribution to the literature on arts management is that centered on not-for-profit (NFP) organizations. Many smaller arts organizations are nonprofit both by design and circumstance and thus have attracted attention from those interested in this area. The issues of governance, leadership, volunteerism, and, more recently, marketing have all been investigated from this perspective, though little of this work is directed toward arts organizations, per se.

One of the key issues in the arts as well as in the larger NFP arena concerns increasing pressures to adopt standard management practices. Concerns with efficiency and effectiveness along with the demands of funding agencies and donors for more coherent and transparent procedures have convinced many arts organizations to initiate reforms in their administrative apparatus. Such moves have encountered resistance from the managers themselves as well as other stakeholders (Sicca & Zan, 2005). Many participants, especially volunteers, fear that more emphasis on managerial processes will detract from the original goals of the organization. A common complaint is that preparing and administering grant proposals uses managers’ time and energy that they might better spend on program delivery. Similarly, placing an emphasis on moneymaking exhibitions rules out more speculative programs featuring unknown artists or experimental presentations. Although all but the smallest arts organizations recognize the need for more professional management, many are uncomfortable with the consequences of this shift. Even larger organizations that have successfully adopted more managerial approaches regularly decry the compromises they have had to make.

But is arts management really that different from management in other types of organization; are the challenges found in the arts industry and the context in which they operate specific enough to require a separate approach to understanding managerial experience? From the limited literature available, the answers to this question appear to be yes, no, and yes. The first answer is affirmative because the arts as an industry have their own set of drivers and constraints just as banking, automobiles, and telecommunications do. Indeed, one might argue that the context is even more distinctive since the products offered by the arts are more discretionary than those offered by banks, car companies, or telephone systems. Attracting and retaining audiences has always been among the most important concerns for the arts.

The answer to the question is no to the extent that management functions in the arts mimic those in other industrial sectors. While marketing normally receives the most emphasis in the arts, finance, accounting, human resources, information systems, and operations and logistics all demand attention. To the extent that standard techniques can be applied to the issues found in the arts, little difference in management behavior exists., Even this conclusion, however, has only limited validity. To take but one example, the difficulties inherent in moving valuable and fragile objects that are basically irreplaceable have given rise to specialty firms in arts logistics. The basic function of delivering the appropriate goods to the correct place on time is complicated by specific problems of insurance, security, and preservation.

Finally, arts management is unlike that in other industries because the goods—or more accurately the experiences—it offers have distinct characteristics. Even where there may be a permanent record of the experience—for example, a recording of a symphony or a copy of a print—the main purpose of arts organizations is to provide a time-limited exposure to a work of art. The value to the consumer is the impression of the moment and the memories that remain. This makes demands on the institution that are quite different than those required to produce a bicycle or sell an insurance policy. The resistance of some arts organizations to more managerial modes of operation stems, at least in part, from the recognition that ignoring these differences will undermine the mission of their organization.

Issues In Arts Management

As the field of arts management begins to develop, a wide range of issues from both policy and technical points of view has emerged. In the bulk of this entry, we will discuss several topics which have attracted attention from theorists and practitioners alike. Some of these, such as marketing, have already generated a fair amount of work. Others, such as the role of volunteers, are just coming into focus. Still others, including strategy and decision making, have received considerable attention from management researchers but have not yet been applied to arts management.

One of the themes that emerges from this discussion is the contrast between smaller, community-based arts organizations and their larger, more professionalized counterparts. All industries include a range of entities from large to small, but the distribution in the arts weighs heavily in favor of smaller organizations built on the ambitions of like-minded enthusiasts. Although their budgets are often miniscule and their programs limited, they play an important role in the industry by providing a training ground for artists and a venue for patrons and by bringing arts to the local community. A substantial gap normally exists between large and  small arts institutions so that the smaller, community-based operations seldom evolve into large, complex structures. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between the problems and solutions available to each category.

As with any industry, a myriad of managerial issues exists that may be addressed. In arts management, the material available even for topics of central importance limits us. Keeping these constraints in mind, we will address the following issues in the remainder of this research-paper: stakeholders, leadership, governance, strategy and decision making, and marketing and volunteers.

Arts Organizations and Their Stakeholders

One way to understand arts organizations, both on their own terms and in contrast to other types of organizations, is to examine key stakeholders. Any organization has contact with various groups that have some claim on their functions and resources. The claims may be direct, as in the case of employees or customers, or indirect, as in the local political structure, which may benefit from the presence of such an institution. While all stakeholders normally benefit from the organization’s success, each gains in a different way. This can lead to conflicting demands for the allocation of resources and efforts. This type of conflict is not necessarily more acute in arts organizations than it is in hospitals, for example, but it does have some characteristics that are distinctive and that lead to specific management issues. In other words, the collective characteristics of stakeholders make demands that require distinctive adaptations by managers in arts organizations (Rentschler, 2002).

For many organizations, the board of directors or its equivalent is an important stakeholder, but in arts organizations, the board’s composition and its role often have quite distinct features. In most organizations, the board functions as a representative body with specific oversight functions. Some boards try to balance the claims of various stakeholders, but others are dominated by one or more interest groups. The degree to which the board acts in one or the other of these capacities will have a considerable impact on the manager’s role in the organization. Where the top managers and the board share goals—in effect acting as a single, coherent stakeholder—the competing demands of other stakeholders will be diminished, if not dismissed. Where division replaces cohesion, we can expect greater levels of competition for resources and, hence, greater conflict. The function of boards in arts organizations is complicated by the presence of members who belong to other stakeholder groups such as artists, funding agencies, patrons, donors, and volunteers. This type of representation may further complicate the role of the organization’s top managers.

Another important stakeholder group in arts organizations consists of those who consume their products. As funding in the arts industry has become less dependent on government, its reliance on fee-paying customers has increased, potentially handing them more influence as stakeholders. The arts industry is unusual in that an overlap often exists among the most important consumers and major financial contributors through donations or fundraising. This higher profile often earns such individuals seats on the board either in their own right or as representatives of larger groups of consumers. Of course, commercial organizations give more weight to the opinions of their larger customers, but the integration of a specific class of consumers into the administrative structure characteristic of arts organizations provides a distinct challenge for managers, especially those at lower levels where a patron may be at once a customer and part of the top management team. Large, professional arts organizations focus much of their time and attention on this class of consumers. For smaller, community-based arts organizations, a three-way overlap may exist among consumers, managers, and funders, as the most enthusiastic supporters serve simultaneously as directors, clients, and donors. These organizations almost guarantee internal alignment, but response to external changes is likely to be slow.

Though government-funding agencies have become less important contributors to the arts, they still occupy an important place among stakeholders. In many jurisdictions, governments at various levels are still the single biggest source of cash, providing the funding base on which arts organizations build their budgets. They also, directly or through their agencies, provide support for specific projects. As stakeholders, the various funding agencies generally demand higher levels of transparency than in the past. Much of this is framed in terms taken directly from commercial organizations (Sicca & Zan, 2005) with their emphasis on efficiency and rational decision making. In many jurisdictions, governments are pushing arts organizations to become more entrepreneurial in order to aid economic development (Burton, 2003). This implies that government investment must be justified more in terms of economic return than cultural relevance. Somewhat of a paradox exists here: As governmental bodies have become less generous, they have also become more demanding in terms of business plans and governance procedures. This, in turn, has contributed to the perceived need for greater professionalism among managers in arts organizations.

While many of the stakeholders discussed so far have their counterparts in profit-seeking organizations, NFP groups have an additional constituency—volunteer work-ers—which is virtually unknown among commercial organizations. Volunteers receive a number of benefits from their association with the arts: a sense of belonging, contact with artists, pride in the organization and its achievements, or simply the social contact that it provides. Where volunteers play an important role as an unpaid workforce, they may have considerable influence over policy. Volunteers are generally seen as a conservative force in NFP organizations since the benefits they derive are defined by the current status of the institution. Any change, especially a radical or controversial one, threatens that connection. The needs of volunteers can have a significant effect on the roles played by top-level managers.

The stakeholder group that most distinguishes arts organizations consists of artists (we include performers in this term). All stakeholders have specific interests, but artists often express their concerns not only as a distinct agenda but also through an alternative logic of evaluation. The needs of most stakeholders can be met by fulfilling organizational commitments, whether this is in terms of financial success, operational outcomes, or social functions. These concerns often affect artists; they wish to have their work purchased or to stage a particular production. At the same time, many of these needs invoke aesthetic criteria, which cannot be clearly articulated and on which considerable disagreement often exists. With limited resources, what type of painting should a museum collect? What operas should be staged? Obviously, these questions, while important to other stakeholders, are crucial to the artists concerned. Top managers, such as program directors or curators, can address these issues either by advocating for one particular view or by attempting to balance competing claims. However they choose to approach these decisions, there is an additional set of criteria that is often far from clear cut and yet impinges heavily on their deliberations.

The stakeholders for arts organizations may include other groups such as financial institutions, professional associations, and unions, but those mentioned earlier are normally the most important in shaping managerial roles. We base our contention that managers in arts organizations face distinctive challenges on two characteristics of their stakeholder base. First, individuals’ motives for attachment to arts institutions are more diverse than that for most organizations, especially the commercial firms now held up as models of efficient operation. Second, the agendas prosecuted by these groups are often not only contradictory but also invoke criteria that are not comparable. If we add the potential overlap of some stakeholder groups (e.g., patrons with boards, volunteers with artists), the complexity of the arts manager’s task becomes clear.


Given the changing environment of the arts industry and the variety of stakeholders engaged, the role of leader is crucial to the organization’s success. Within the limited literature on arts management, the topic of leadership has been among the more prominent. Part of this work has focused not on the individuals or groups who lead specific organizations but on the leadership roles taken by organizations as a whole. Typically, such work has identified institutions that have broken ground either in the specific programs offered—for example, an innovative series linking poetry with music—or through new approaches to operational issues. The latter has often focused on specific ventures in fundraising or marketing, as these are crucial functions, especially for the large, professional arts institutions. Since these articles are aimed at describing successful (or not) innovations, they have little theoretical content. Their existence, however, illustrates their importance as models for managers in other arts organizations of all sizes.

In terms of leadership in arts organizations at the individual level, two main questions are posed: Who leads and how do they lead? The first issue stems from the dual rationalities that influence decision making in arts organizations. The tension between operational and financial realities and aesthetic or artistic concerns exists in all arts organizations, and finding one individual with the right mix of qualifications and skills is difficult. In smaller groups, a single individual usually handles these demands by attempting to balance competing claims. In larger organizations, the same solution may apply, but more frequently, an individual in a leadership role represents each of the separate streams. For example, the conductor of an orchestra may choose the repertoire, select the soloists, and decide how much practice time is devoted to each piece. At the same time, the general manager decides how to market the program, what the budget will be for each performance, and the type of support staff required. A successful performance cannot be mounted without both fulfilling their roles. This may lead to conflict, but it does allow a clear division of tasks aligned with individuals’ interests, skills, and qualifications (Voogt, 2006).

In some arts organizations, the equivalence of the artistic and administrative functions is institutionalized. The two positions have equal weight and report separately to the board or some other higher authority. In other institutions, one or the other has greater official power. In either case, the two must arrive at some arrangement that allows for the fulfillment of both functions. Historically, the artistic or aesthetic director had predominated and it was up to the administrative head to provide the resources to support this artistic vision. Late in the 20th century, however, the decline, and even bankruptcy, of numerous arts organizations placed greater focus on the prudent employment of available resources. Finley, Gralen, and Fichtner (2006) provided an interesting example of this transition in a Canadian orchestra. They observed, however, that it was not only a shift to a more managerial approach that reinvigorated the group, but also the reengagement of many of its stakeholders. The dual leadership role found in so many arts organizations is not simply a grudging concession to administrative pressures but a reflection of changing demands from stakeholders.

Whatever leadership arrangements are adopted, individual leaders may enact them in different ways. The literature on leadership includes descriptions of numerous styles found under various circumstances (Yukl, 2006). Table 97.1 outlines four of the most common styles along with their applicability to arts organizations. Charismatic leadership relies heavily on the vision of a single individual who is able to convince others, using their personal characteristics, to follow the leader’s dictates.

arts-management-issues-in-the-21st-century-research-paper-t1Table 97.1      Leadership Styles                             

Often, myths grow around such leaders, providing a compelling narrative for both those within the organization and new recruits (Ropo & Sauer, 2007). This style tends to be unstable since the failure or disappearance of the leader leaves a huge void in the organization with no easy succession. The charismatic style is appropriate for new organizations with a passionate founder as leader. It also emerges when organizations are in crisis and require a strong, single-minded individual to override internal divisions. Both of these situations are common in the arts organization.

The transactional style of leadership depends on an exchange relationship between leaders and followers. Both expect to gain from the arrangement. This is a common style of leadership in large organizations governed by routine. In terms of the arts, institutions that have secure funding and a well-accepted mission are most likely to exhibit this style. Museums and performing arts companies supported by the state often fit this prototype although other, older organizations may feature it as well.

Organizations require transformational leadership when experiencing significant changes. The transformational leader convinces his or her followers that, for the sake of the organization, they must look beyond their own interests. Transformational leadership differs from charismatic leadership in that the focus is not so much on the leader’s personality but on the problems that the organization faces. One can easily see this leadership style is applicable in arts organizations where constant change in programming or internal structures is necessary to meet a shifting environment.

The final leadership style, participatory, tends to be found in smaller organizations with fewer hierarchical levels. This style, which stresses the involvement of managers and lower level participants in decision making and implementation, can often be found in smaller arts organizations where choices of program are consensual rather than directive. Arts organizations that rely heavily on volunteers in administrative roles often select leaders with a participatory style, in part because of the general ethos, but also because no single individual has the time to manage all aspects of the organization. The normal shift to a transactional style makes the transition between voluntary and more professionalized structures difficult. Volunteers are unused to a directive style and resent the loss of influence inherent in the participatory style.

Which style an organization’s leader will exhibit depends on the individual’s personality and the preferences of those who make the appointment. The match between the organization’s requirements and the leader’s style, however, will affect the leader’s success. A transformational leader would disrupt a large, stable organization—for example, a state art museum—to no purpose. Similarly, a small volunteer dance company would likely find a transactional leader insufficiently motivating. Some evidence exists that arts organizations, especially larger ones, have developed a greater awareness of the appropriate leadership skills, but history, personal connections, and artistic reputation still play the predominant role in the selection of most leaders in the arts.


The governance structures in which leaders operate heavily influence the roles that they play in their organizations. The NFP literature distinguishes between governance and management, defining the board’s role as setting overall policies while management is concerned with the day-today running of the organization within the guidelines set by the board. Much of the literature, however, indicates that, in reality, power and responsibility are not divided so neatly. Bradshaw, Murray, and Wolpin’s (1992) study of NFP boards recognized four distinct patterns of governance: CEO-dominant, board-dominant, staff-dominant, and collective governance. The most common pattern in larger and well-established NFP organizations is CEOdominant governance, in which the board simply ratifies the decisions made by the CEO. Smaller and newer NFPs, especially those driven by volunteers, are more likely to have board-dominant governance, with the CEO providing information and support only. Staff-dominant governance is evident in professional bureaucracies such as hospitals, while collective governance, in which consensus is the ideal, is observed in self-help or advocacy NFPs.

Within the arts community, several factors impact on the form of governance adopted and the role the leader(s) play in running the organization. Throughout history, the head of the artistic side of the organization, the conductor, head curator, or chief choreographer has played the most visible role, with the board providing support rather than oversight. This is especially true in larger, older organizations. However, when the institution employs a variety of artists, the administrative head of the organization may gain ascendance over the artistic director. An interesting example of this can be seen in Joseph Volpe’s long career as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Although James Levine, as the principal conductor, wielded considerable influence, the variety and complexity of the company’s productions meant that the continuity provided by Volpe as administrative head was crucial.

In organizations where the staff dominates governance structures, where the CEO tends to coordinate experts rather than direct his or her immediate subordinates, varieties of specific expertise are applied to diverse functions. Thus, in large museums, which normally cover multiple areas or periods, specialists with detailed knowledge advise the CEO on acquisitions, displays, and exhibitions. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for the CEO or the board to make such decisions without significant input from managers at this level.

Smaller arts groups are generally run by a collective, either at the board level or stretching down through multiple layers. Which form of governance is adopted is influenced by the age of the organization, its mission, and, occasionally, by legal requirements. A board containing many of those most committed to the cause often governs newer organizations. As functions become routinized, this may shift to a collective form, especially if there is specific personal commitment to the organization’s mission. For example, an artists’ cooperative, once established, might well adopt a collective form of governance. Legal considerations may influence governance structures when questions of responsibility or liability arise. Even though the governance structure will be shaped by the organization’s mission, age, and size, it will also interact with the leader’s style. Different styles of leadership fit with specific models of governance. As the organization evolves and its circumstances change, the two interact, sometimes going through a period of conflict, before reaching equilibrium.

Strategy and Decision Making

One of the key functions of both individual leaders and boards is making decisions concerning the strategic direction of the organization. The volume of research on types of strategies and their determinants and execution is large and expanding; however, relatively little of this work has addressed the concerns of arts organizations. In one sense, this is understandable since smaller arts organizations, and even some of the larger ones, tend to react to emerging conditions rather than develop long-term plans. Smaller organizations tend to lack the resources for the requisite analysis and larger ones often do not see the need. With increasing financial pressures, many arts organizations are taking a more proactive view in planning future efforts. This not only provides consistent direction but also sets out interim goals. Arts funding bodies now want to know how a particular project fits with long-term goals before providing the necessary resources. These two developments are leading to more active strategic planning and more research into the area.

In the performing arts, programming comprises a set of decisions that is crucial not only to the success of the organization itself, but also to writers, creators, performers, and companies whose careers depend on these choices. A recent study of programming decisions in French theaters indicated that less than one-third were made with strategic goals in mind (Assassi, 2007). Others were influenced more by the reputation or availability of those involved. Even in the cases where strategy was a consideration, it was not clear whether the choice was part of a comprehensive plan or was simply based on the shape of a particular season. This study points to two important issues in applying strategic analysis to arts organizations. First, it would be very useful to know to what extent decision makers rely on strategy to guide their choices. This would depend, obviously, on whether such a strategy had been articulated and accepted. Second, this study poses the question of how arts organizations make strategic decisions. The various combinations of leadership roles and governance structures previously described allocate the power for making decisions to various individuals and groups. An understanding of the mechanisms actually used in making important decisions would allow comparisons among arts groups of different sizes and complexities as well as facilitate comparisons across artistic and national cultures.

A number of models for strategic decision making have been proposed over the years, but four have gained prominence. The rational model implies that possible alternatives are evaluated through a given set of criteria such as audience appeal, cost of installation, or availability of performers. The choice that ranks highest will be selected. The political model sees decision making as a bargaining or negotiation process among groups with varied interests and power bases whereby the final selection is determined by trade-offs among those involved. In incremental decision making, strategies emerge not as the result of a long-term vision but as the residue of numerous small choices made over a time. Organizations which employ this approach rarely make significant or abrupt changes of direction. The garbage can model of decision making sees both solutions and problems existing simultaneously. A strategic decision is made when an internal or external opportunity links an existing solution with a problem (Cray, Inglis, & Freeman, 2007).

A small study applying these models to arts organizations discovered examples of all but the incremental approach (Cray, Inglis, & Freeman, 2006). The models seem to fit processes in arts organizations as one would predict. For example, a state-funded museum used a political process when adopting a program that would make some of its holdings available to regional museums around the country. A local music group built on the success of its annual festival to champion the building of a dedicated music facility. Since the need for this facility had existed for some time, this was an excellent example of the garbage can model. As these were operational rather than aesthetic decisions, it is not surprising that they fit models developed for other types of organizations. Where aesthetic concerns were involved—for example, in the planning of an orchestra’s annual program—a second set of criteria were added to the rational model. Along with considerations of budget, logistics, and audience appeal, the conductor’s personal preferences concerning the works were an important consideration. The orchestra’s manager expressed one set of criteria while the conductor expressed another, in line with the dual-leadership model mentioned above. This research suggests that standard forms of strategic decision making apply to arts organizations, but with significant modifications when artistic issues are concerned.


For most arts organizations, marketing was the first managerial function to professionalize. As early as the 1970s, managers recognized that increased competition from other forms of entertainment required more structured and aggressive marketing techniques. For larger organizations, this eventually led to the establishment of marketing departments and integrated marketing strategies. The decline of government funding in the 1980s and 90s as well as the emergence of electronic marketplaces that required specialized technical expertise hastened these developments. More recently, an emphasis on creative entrepreneurial marketing approaches that seek to differentiate a specific arts organization from others in its field has emerged (Fillis, 2004).

In becoming more professionalized and more integrated within the strategic framework of the organization, arts marketers have drawn on developments from mainstream marketing. The most prominent of these now is relationship marketing. As arts organizations have become more dependent on income from exhibitions and performances, there has been a shift away from attracting customers to specific events and toward establishing an ongoing connection between the institution and the individual (Rentschler, Radbourne, Carr, & Rickard, 2002). It is not enough to attract a patron to a performance of Faust; the object is to convert an occasional customer to a continuing supporter of the organization as a whole.

One mechanism for developing a continuing relationship with patrons is through various forms of “friendship” programs (Bussell & Forbes, 2006). These programs show some characteristics of loyalty programs in that they offer discounts and privileged access to certain events. However, they go beyond loyalty programs, which aim mainly at ensuring continuing consumption, by fostering separate organizations, usually operated by their members, whose goal is to support a specific institution or the arts in a certain region. In addition to the support they provide for a particular institution, such a group offers social benefits to its members, which helps make the organization a focal point in their lives. Many friends’ organizations include volunteer and fundraising activities, which further involve participants. Another aspect of relationship marketing focuses on contact with principals of the organization. Select individuals, including important donors, energetic volunteers, and others who make a significant contribution, attend functions with performers, directors, composers, and upper level managers. Creating this type of personal connection has long been standard practice for important donors, but the application of relationship marketing techniques has expanded and routinized the practice.

One of the main reasons that arts organizations have emphasized their marketing efforts has been changes in government funding. As Lee (2005) argued, it is not a decline in government funding (which in some cases has actually increased) that has altered the face of arts marketing but rather the shift to a market driven allocation of resources. Arts organizations can no longer claim public support simply because their efforts are innovative or of high quality; they must demonstrate that there is an audience for their efforts. This may involve contributing to social functions such as education or demonstrating commercial value by drawing in tourists from other areas. This changes not only the marketing focus but also its intent. Arts marketing often has the dual intent of bringing in patrons and, at the same time, assuring funding agencies, either directly or through the reactions of their stakeholders, that their artistic production is valuable—however that term is interpreted. This makes the marketing function more complex simply because messages must be crafted to influence multiple audiences simultaneously.


One characteristic that differentiates arts organizations from private sector firms is the presence and importance of volunteers. Volunteers may serve at all levels of the organization, from those who distribute programs at performances to members of the board. Indeed, as mentioned in the section on stakeholders, the same individual may serve both of these functions and more. The implications for arts organizations, as for many other NFPs, is that a proportion—often quite a large proportion—of those providing labor to the organization have little formal connection and receive no monetary rewards. Given that this part of the labor force plays an important role in furthering the organization’s goals, managing volunteers assumes major importance for many arts organizations.

Since volunteers lack a monetary incentive, there has been considerable interest in what motivates them to donate their time and effort (Clary, Snyder, & Stukas, 1996). Many volunteers cite altruistic values as their main reasons for donating their involvement. More recent analyses, however, have focused on the social interaction that occurs between volunteers, the organization, and others in the volunteer group. People may volunteer to act on their values, perhaps a belief in the importance of culture, to learn new skills, to develop psychologically, to gain social benefits, or to build self-esteem and confidence. While there is little research in the arts area to tease out these varied motivations, it is clear that any group of volunteers may include individuals with quite diverse reasons for their activity. Keeping them engaged and productive is far from a straightforward task, especially since the volunteers themselves usually do it.

Dealing with volunteers is complicated by the dynamic nature of their relationship to the organization (Bussell & Forbes, 2007). Volunteers may join an organization to fulfill one need—for example, increased knowledge—and once that need is satisfied, they either restructure the relationship by focusing on another need or exit the organization. At the same time, life circumstances such as job commitments, age (many volunteers are either students or the retired), family obligations, or interests may shift over time. Volunteers also change as they gain information about the organization and its operations. Most arts organizations continually recruit volunteers in order to replace those who leave. This approach is inefficient, as those with little relevant experience or skill replace trained, knowledgeable personnel. Even though the personnel are unpaid, the costs of turnover are still substantial. A more dynamic model of engagement suggests that monitoring and reacting to changing motivations can prolong the attachment of volunteers and enhance the value of the relationship for both sides.

Relationships between volunteers and organizations are dynamic at another level. Volunteers may eventually become employees, especially in positions that require little technical training, such as ticket distribution or the management of volunteers themselves. Volunteers who begin simply by contributing time to an arts institution often find themselves as donors—sometimes substantial ones. The principles of relationship marketing described earlier are more and more being applied to volunteers both to strengthen the existing relationship and to convert it to something more valuable. This requires a certain balance by senior managers since too much attention paid to those with a financial attachment to the organization may demotivate those with less to offer.

The diverse nature of volunteers and their motivations means that several layers of management may be involved in dealing with them. The mechanical function of allocating tasks and coordinating performance falls to those at lower levels of management. Where volunteers serve higher level functions such as board members, senior managers will consult them on a regular basis. All volunteers, to some extent, expect access to the artists engaged by the organization. The higher the level of commitment, the more immediate and personal the degree of contact should be. Managing this interface, especially with artists who are not permanent members of the organization, can be a delicate task.

Conclusion: The Development Of Arts Management

The discussion of various topics offered in this research-paper is not comprehensive, but it does offer an overview of some of the important issues in arts management. The limited literature available makes it clear that managing the arts does differ in important aspects from activities in commercial firms and even from practices in other NFP organizations. Multiple overlapping stakeholder groups, the relationship to customers and clients, the subjectivity of aesthetic criteria, and the changing environment of the industry itself are all factors that impinge on both the structure of arts organizations and the management of activities within them. Even concepts such as relationship marketing, which have been imported from the profit-making sector, have been modified to meet their special needs. One of the more important tasks for researchers and theorists is to document in a systematic way the extent and character of these differences. Piecemeal evidence describing these arrangements continues to appear, mainly through case studies and limited surveys, but a few attempts have been made to consolidate these results into a coherent schema that would provide a solid base for further development.

One major issue that has emerged in this brief discussion is the contrast between large and small arts organizations. The bureaucratic nature of large institutions with guaranteed funding, a sizeable permanent staff, and high visibility poses quite different managerial challenges than those encountered by community-based groups with little or no paid staff, a fickle audience, and permanent deficits. The human resource function, for example, revolves around unions and contracts in one type of organization and the care and feeding of volunteers in the other. At the same time, both must attract and support artists if they are to succeed. Understanding the separate realities faced by managers in these varied organizations as well as the continuities between them, is an important task in developing the field of arts management.

Another dimension on which to compare arts institutions is across national and cultural boundaries. While there are many reports on how the policies and practices of a particular nation affect organizations, virtually no true cross-national or cross-cultural research exists. Given the variations in funding, tastes, history, and interorganizational collaboration that exist even in neighboring countries, managers will obviously react in different ways to these stimuli and constraints. This set of issues will take on increasing importance as the level of collaboration among large institutions around the world grows. The literature provides almost no investigation of how cultural differences impact on these joint efforts. It does seem ironic that the effect of societal culture on the management of the culture industry has received so little attention.

Even though the field of arts management, like all new areas of inquiry, has grown in a rather haphazard way, the ultimate aim of researchers in arts management must be the explication of a theoretical base that will guide both managers and further research. Developing such a theory will be difficult. The variety of factors that impact on managers as well as the numerous forms that arts organizations assume implies a series of complex interactions that can only be expressed in an abstract formulation. In the short term, given the limited amount of solid research available and the parochial aspect of much of it, middle range theories will be more feasible and more appropriate. In the longer term, a more general theory would facilitate research not by constraining the questions asked—an outcome quite at odds with the nature of arts management—but by summarizing available information and highlighting the many gaps that still exist.


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