What About Those Who Simply Don’t Know What They Don’t Know?

Posted by Stephanie Hanson, Jun 18, 2011 1 comment

Stephanie Evans

Stephanie Evans

I like structure. It helps me think clearly, feel organized and productive about my day, and create balance in my life. Then I entered the field of arts management: a sector that by it’s very nature and design is possibly one of the most unstructured career paths you could enter into.

Yesterday, I co-facilitated the discussion session "Demystifying Professional Development: Benefits of Classroom vs. on the Job Learning" with Ramona Baker (Principal at Ramona Baker Consulting and Director of the Masters Program in Arts Administration at Goucher College) and Letitia Ivins (Assistant Director of Civic Art at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission).

The idea for this session came out of the 2009 Emerging Leader Survey, where we asked survey participants what their concentration of study was. The 554 responses broke out as follows: 37%  - Arts; 15% - Arts Administration; 8% - Business; 40% - Other. 40% - Other? 

Who are these people?

How did they find their way into the arts administration field?

Does a diversity of education and experience serve our field in a positive way? Or do we need to develop a stronger set of standards for learning, especially as our field is changing?

We began our session by asking participants to visually map their career trajectories. It was not surprising that each career trajectory was different and somewhat unstructured.

When I think of my own (relatively short) career track in this field, I realize that it is also somewhat unstructured. I came upon each job I’ve had by way of volunteering for the organization first, and then getting offered a job. It became clear in our discussion that an individual entering the arts administration field (whether by accident or on purpose), needs to have a strong sense of self in knowing what skills they need to build in order to be successful and advance their careers.

While there is a set of core competencies set by the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE), no two degree programs are exactly alike. Therefore, arts administrators need to do some thinking about what gaps to fill in their knowledge base before deciding what professional development path is the best one to take.

What about those in our field who simply don’t know what they don’t know? Without a clear educational path or career trajectory, how do we ensure that we are all learning the fundamental skills we need to responsibly manage arts organizations in our communities and contribute to the growth of this sector? This is where mentorship can really make a difference, and was a topic we discussed at length.

One of the most surprising outcomes of the discussion was our discovery that very few session participants reported that their supervisors were teaching fundamental skills to their employees. I believe this needs to change. We need to be better about cross-training our employees, so that, for example, everyone in the organization knows how to work with social media instead of simply giving that job to the youngest staff member or volunteer.

There was strong consensus in the room that diversity in our field is a good thing. It benefits us as individuals, organizations, and communities to have a variety of diverse opinions, educational backgrounds, and ideas. However, we have a responsibility to provide and develop core competency skills, and make sure that each individual knows what they need to learn to be successful.

1 responses for What About Those Who Simply Don’t Know What They Don’t Know?


June 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm


Good post -- and a key issue. i think the capacity to learn more -- and, as you rightly state, to understand what you need to learn -- is the most important attribute for any arts leader in any era, and especially in the rapidly changing time we're in now. Yesterday's unique, highly compensated ability can become tomorrow's routine or even totally unnecessary skill -- think of how at the dawn of the auto age, every driver needed to be an expert mechanic. Now we don't even need to know how to open the hood. But we will always need judgment, creativity, growth, and the ability to learn from each other. No matter who your professor of arts administration is (or was), and where you got your degree (if you even got one).

You, Stephanie, of course, are a great example!


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