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Engaging Effectively with Broad Segments of the Population. Impressions from the Arts Administration Programs in the USA and the AAAE conference 2015

Prof. Dr. Birgit Mandel, president of the Association for Cultural Management at Universities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and director of cultural management studies at Hildesheim University, visited two arts management programs in the USA and attended the main conference of AAAE, the Association for Arts Administration Educators at Universities and Colleges, that took place April 16-18, 2015, in Portland. There, she realized several aspects of managing arts that contradict the European presumption of the arts sector in the US.

Life of young people with heavy physical diseases that is changed by involving them actively in art and design work for Nike sneakers, or how poor children can be treated by (sponsoring) money raised from this design competition – the AAAE conference of arts administration programs started with this story, told by the director of a children´s hospital in Portland and the marketing director of the Nike, also based in Portland. For a German observer this example raised a lot of critical questions, whereas the colleagues from the US were enthusiastic about this encouraging example of private engagement for social issues by means of arts and culture, providing a win-win situation for all involved parties.

1. The majority of Arts Administration programs focuses on the non-profit sector

There is a wide range of not for profit cultural institutions in the US, so due to the fact that there is hardly any public money for arts funding, arts and cultural expressions are not only driven by the free market. Indeed, American citizens support a wide array of public and non-profit cultural institutions and projects. Although the National Endowment of the Arts is the official federal-level public funding agency, currently investing the extremely small sum of about 120 million dollars, there are additional public sources, which make up a total sum of roughly between 2 and 3 billion dollars. Moreover, there is a wide range of civil society and private contribution initiatives to support the arts.

Accordingly, most Arts Management programs in the US are specialized on the non-profit arts and cultural sector. Corresponding programs started in the 1960s and 1970s, initially to support the professionalization of initiatives underway in arts organizations across the country, and this academic field has grown extensively since the mid-1990s. „It is essential that arts administrators understand arts and cultural policy in order to play a role in improving the quality of life in their communities, to be active participants in civil society, and to be effective speaker for the place of the arts in society“, that’s how the main mission is described by AAAE.

2. Few public subsidies for the arts need to be compensated by a wide spectrum of fundraising activities

Different from a country like Germany where “sheltering” and financing the arts is considered to be a public task, with an annual public budget of 10 billion Euro altogether, only 5 % of the budget of the US non-profit arts and cultural institutions are public money while a high percentage of income is made by ticket revenue, which makes up 60%. Another big part of the budget is gained by different ways of fundraising - be it firms, foundations or individual donations.

One interesting way for museums in the US, for example, to get high class artefacts for their exhibitions, is inspired by the tax law for arts buying: If an art buyer lends a new acquisition for 90 days to a museum, he doesn´t need to pay the very high taxes for art buying. That is why, e.g. the museum at the Eugene University Campus was able to show paintings by Monet or Gerhard Richter.

In general, arts and cultural managers in the US spend most of their time looking for diverse sources of funding through effective marketing and fundraising initiatives.  As raising money also includes building relations with a wide range of civil society institutions, foundations, or private firms, arts managers always have to convince people why the arts matter to have a chance to survive. Being clear about the mission of an arts institution or project and knowing about the effect that involvement with the arts can have on people´s life is most important. That is why audience development, community engagement, and cultural community building are of such great importance.

3. Community engagement as one of the main topics in research and teaching

One of the main issues of the non-profit sector as well as of scientific research is how to engage communities and neighborhoods in the arts and cultural life. A widespread concept is that of “creative place-making”, involving artists as well as local schools, amateur arts groups, or community centers in arts projects to show that the arts institution is a public space and meeting place for the population.

“A culture of community engagement and community service will be a hallmark of successful arts organizations in the 21st century. By mid century in the United Stated citizens of European descent will comprise less than half of the population.” (Standards for Arts Administration Graduate Program Curricula, p 7) The aim to reach a diverse audience for arts institutions is a key issue, as the population of the US is changing especially due to the increase of migration from Central and South America and from Asia and becomes even more diverse.

4. Curricula in arts management in the USA

The standards of AAAE name the following areas as substantial for arts administration education: “Community Engagement, Financial Management, Institutional Leadership and Management, International Environment for the Arts, Legal and Ethical Environments for the Arts, Marketing and Audience Development, Fundraising, Policy for the Arts, Production and Distribution of Art, Research Methodology, Strategic Planning, Technology Management and Training” (Standards for Arts Administration Graduate Program Curricula).

Practitioners are included as trainers and the programs often have strong connections with the local arts and cultural institutions to develop projects together with students and local arts initiatives within the community.

As most universities in the US have an intensive campus life and provide all kinds of facilities for students and for the surrounding population, including arts and cultural institutions, students of arts administration programs have the chance to be actively involved in curating and managing the campus museums and theatres.

5. High tuition fees put a lot of stress on arts administration students and educators to guarantee a successful career in the uncertain cultural job market

Only about 5 % of the budget of the public American universities I visited derives from the state. Nearly the whole budget needs to be acquired from students’ tuition fees and philanthropic donations. That’s why tuition expense puts a lot of pressure on students to be successful in gaining a scholarship and to work effectively on their career to get a well-paid job in order to pay back the educational debts after they graduate. It also requires that university administrators and professors market their programs in a successful way to attract sufficient students and, even more importantly, to provide high quality teaching and research to gain a good reputation. In most arts administrations programs, about one third of the students are international, mainly from Asian countries, who are able to pay these high tuition fees. Altogether there are about 120 programs of arts administration in the US – half of them are members at AAAE - which produce about 3500 graduates per year.

It is not possible in the US to complete a PhD without being enrolled in a lengthy PhD program. So far there are two specific programs designed for PhD students in arts administration/management in the USA (Ohio State University and Florida State University), and a handful of other PhD programs in closely related fields.

Since 2000, AAAE in collaboration with its members began to develop educational standards in order to assist programs in structuring and reviewing their curricula. These standards emphasize the importance of intensive knowledge and experience in the arts as well as political and ethical issues. One of the topics in this year´s AAAE conference was to renew these standards as they are understood as a “living document” that needs to be changed due to the changes in the field and society in general “to ensure that what we are teaching is relevant and meaningful”. Latest changes are concerning a more international and intercultural perspective on arts administration. For German speaking countries, for example, there are no such standards documented, as the diversity of programs in terms of content and scientific approach is considered to be valuable and any kind of standardization should be avoided. Nevertheless, the standards of AAAE are formulated in a very wide and open way and are helpful not only to inspire curriculum building, but also as a document for contextualizing and legitimizing the discipline “within colleges and universities where there is minimal understanding of the field of study of arts management” (AAAE p8).

Another big issue of the conference was the question of how to convince the arts and the scientific sector that arts administration programs are an important qualification and that academically trained arts managers can make a difference to auto didactic managers. It was surprising that in the US with its long history of arts management programs that started in the 1960s at universities, and with AAAE already founded in 1975, there is still a lack of awareness of the specific values of these programs. That is why one of the conference sessions was dealing with “Advocacy and recruitment strategies for sustainability in arts administration education”. Common evaluation studies of graduate´s careers and common communication strategies were suggested.

Most arts administration programs are more teaching than research oriented. The AAAE conference concentrated on trainings issues in Arts Management and even the passage on research rather means techniques to find out about potential markets or research in terms of evaluation. Topics at this year´s conference, titled “Educator´s impact. Framing Arts Administration Education in a dynamic field” involved topics like ”Non-traditional approaches in applied learning and next generation education”, “Internships and experimental learning”, “Training smart decision making in leadership” or “Training emotional intelligence and interpersonal examination”. The Conference speakers and participants discussed in a very pragmatic and practical way about e.g. how to teach students to become entrepreneurial, how to make them understand intercultural issues, or how to involve the arts (e.g. performing Jazz music) into trainings for creative management processes. Compared to German conferences, where questions of how to train future cultural managers in terms of didactic and methodology are rarely discussed, although these issues are an important aspect with regard to the future of the arts sector and arts organizations themselves.  As AAAE was created to “advocate formal training and high standards of education for arts administration”, Research is not an important topic – also because many teachers rather have a practical background.

6. The need for closer international cooperation in an increasingly international and global world and for intercultural competence

Many arts administration programs in the US organize regular study visits for their students abroad, to get to know different systems of cultural policy, administration and management, to learn differing ideas of arts and culture, and to gain intercultural understanding. The conference had a special strand on international comparison and exchange with presentations by the presidents of the European Network on Arts Administration training (ENCATC), the Asian Arts Management Association (ANCER) and the Association of Cultural Management at Universities in German speaking countries.

The Asian network ANCER was only founded this year is Singapore, it by now exists as an open support platform. Encatc was founded in 1992, right at the beginning of the development of cultural management training courses in Europe. The network connects educators of university programs as well as independent trainers from all over Europe. The network is financed by EU grants. The Association of Cultural Management for Germany, Austria and Switzerland is a network of academic lecturers and researchers. It was founded in 2007 to represent and advance the discipline of cultural management in research and teaching. Compared to AAAE and to ENCATC, the association is more research oriented. It produces a scientific journal twice a year and an annual conference that deals with a specific topic. Both are also open to English speaking scientists and educators.

7. Not only managing arts institutions but having an impact on cultural policy. Changes in role models of future arts managers

As programs prepare for managing the arts in a sector with hardly any public subsidies, future cultural managers in the US have to be very precise about their mission, convinced of the impacts arts can have on people´s life, and able to articulate the societal relevance of the specific arts and cultural programs they enable. Arts managers are the main advocates of the sector and may well be able to change policy. Like in German concepts of training future cultural managers at universities, education focuses less on economic tools and more on content and policy.

It may well be that, internationally, Cultural Management today is less about making arts institutions or enterprises more efficient and more about actively influencing cultural life, cultural policy and societal changes.

Author/Source: Author: Prof. Dr. Birgit Mandel
Management Topic: Education & Development
Cultural Area: Public+Academic Sector
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Jun 09, 2015