Cards Against Humanity: Arts Management Expansion Pack

Posted by Brea Heidelberg, Apr 15, 2015 0 comments

Cards Against Humanity is marketed as a party game for horrible people. It is essentially a politically incorrect, dark humored game of mad libs. Gameplay with Cards Against Humanity is very simple. Each round someone asks a question from a black card and each player responds with his or her funniest white card. There are holiday, 90’s nostalgia, and science expansion packs available. While there is currently no official arts management expansion pack, arts management education is preparing an increasingly diverse student population to handle the smorgasbord of circumstances, from hilarious to heartbreaking, that arts administrators tackle every day.

Arts management education is in the midst of a few revolutions that speak to various elements of one main question: how do we become better as a field? There are a variety of opinions about what better actually means and how we will know it when we see it. Does it mean that we become more specialized?

That all functions related to the service and management of artists and the arts are handled by arts managers rather than a hybrid of arts managers and business managers? There are also distinctions being made about what is meant when we say the field of arts management. Are we talking solely about a field of practice or is there room to build capacity for arts management as a field of inquiry as well?

Let’s play a round from the new expansion pack to delve further into a small aspect of arts management education.

Question: How do we train arts administrators?

Potential answers:

  • A trial by fire, and if they survive then we assume that means that they love fire and we keep it hot FOREVER.
  • By kidnapping artists in the middle of the night and then forcing them to manage others like them, preferably while their brushes/dance shoes/instrument/sheet music sit just out of reach under a fortified glass case.
  • In a traditional academic setting, of course (said while wearing a suit jacket with elbow patches, smoking a pipe, and stroking a goatee).

The debate about the best way to train future arts administrators rages on (or leaks, depending on your circumstances and disposition). Earlier generations that were forced to learn about arts management without much guidance tend to put a lot of stock in learning that way; it worked for them, right? Some believe that artists are best equipped to be arts managers. Others feel that artists shouldn’t have to go too far down the management rabbit hole; they shouldn’t have to take their focus away from their art. Finally, there is some push for arts management to come fully into its own as an academic discipline, as credentials can play an important role in the professionalization of a field. Each option is valid in a variety of circumstances.

Answer: D.) All of the above, which means that by the time you have checked off all the boxes of getting a degree, becoming proficient at an art form, then gaining experience being an arts manager for that art form, you will have two full years of working before you hit retirement age.

No matter where you fall on this debate we all have some serious work to do with regard to getting recognition and respect for the work we do. Each of the above options has merits – but each comes with some issues that are part of the current arts management (education) revolution.

Under the trail by fire method of education there are a host of opportunities to learn about arts management first hand. However there is a push for better work-life balance and pay. Human Resources as a practice is not often handled specifically or systematically in small and mid-sized arts organizations. While a shift toward consideration of the physical/psychological/financial health of arts managers helps everyone, it is particularly important for those that are not pursuing traditional academic degrees. Helping artists transition from practicing artists to practicing arts managers requires specialized professional development that honors their experience and helps them transfer their artist skills into a managerial context. Finally, traditional academic settings offer the same host of issues always provided by academia: socioeconomic barriers to entry and a need for greater diversity in admissions and retention practices.

The most interesting thing about this debate is that people interested in being arts managers don’t appear to be bothered by it. People with a passion for this work are doing it however they can. There is a diverse population of undergraduate and graduate arts management programs that are being offered in traditional, online, and hybrid formats. There are also professional develop programs that are being offered outside of academia (Americans for the Arts) and in conjunction with academic institutions (National Arts Strategies) that have the ability to reach a wider and more diverse pool of arts administrators. As individuals that have received any one or a combination of the aforementioned types of training are moving up in organizations, there is more attention being paid to the professional development of interns and entry-level administrators. More people are asking questions about how to reach out and provide support to those that used to manage the arts in professional isolation, including rural arts managers, managers of color, and emerging arts leaders. More people are acknowledging that the educational and training needs of arts managers varies. Most importantly, more people are asking questions. These questions include: What skillsets do arts administrators need? What should be learned in a formal environment vs. in a practical/organizational setting? and Who is qualified to teach future arts administrators?

Regardless of how you would answer the many questions arising about arts management education, the most important thing is that these questions have been asked and are now being asked more frequently. There are some difficult, messy, and potentially contentious conversations on the horizon for arts managers and arts management educators. However, I believe that most arts managers and arts management educators are willing to come to the table with the same frame of mind needed to play Cards Against Humanity: a quick wit, a dry sense of humor, and a willingness to get creative.

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