December 7, 2015

The A to Z of Arts Management

After years of thought and writing, my book on Arts Management was finally launched at the Tonks Bar (yes, it is named after me) in the Southbank Theatre on Friday 4 January 2015.

I decided to write it because the arts are so important to our world that they deserve the best management they can possible have. And because I’ve both succeeded and failed in the management process, I thought that sharing the lessons learnt might help future generations of arts managers as well as those who currently do the work.

This is a slightly odd textbook because while it captures the best research and commentary on arts management, it’s full of my opinions about what works and what doesn’t. It’s called The A to Z of Arts Management because that enabled me to talk about any topic that I had an opinion about. For some letters there were lots of topics. For example, M was easy: Management, Manners, Marketing, Media, Meetings, Mindfulness, Mission, Money and Motivation whereas some letters were a little lonely such as J for Job Satisfaction. Some, such as X and Z were even more challenging – more on that later.

Its sub-title is Reflections on Theory and Reality because that best captures what you’ll find in the book. I suspect that far too many sentences start with “When I first started at….” But that is ultimately the point. In every organisation I learnt a lot and want to share that learning.

For next 26 weeks, I’ll share some thoughts from each letter of the alphabet.


A was easy because there’re a lots of topics that include “art” in the title as well as some that don’t don’t. I’ve touched on Artists, Arts, Arts Organisations, Arts Leaders, Arts Managers, Audiences and Authenticity. Of course, if you have any ideas about what I should have written about, let me know. There may be a second edition if enough of you take the risk to actually buy it now.

This week’s section is about Art. In the book it’s not a long section because so many better writers have written about the value of the arts. I quote one of them and then tell my own modest story because each of us, regardless of our literary skills or rhetorical capacity, need to be able to convince people that the arts matter. Here’s an extract:

“Tusa  (2007a, p.8) captures with grace and passion the contradictions and strengths, the paradoxes and weaknesses, of why the arts are important:

“The arts matter because they are universal; because they are non-material; because they deal with daily experience in a transforming way; because they question the way we look at the world; because they offer different explanations of that world; because they link us to our past and open the door to the future; because they work beyond and outside routine categories; because they take us out of ourselves; because they make order out of disorder and stir up the stagnant; because they offer a shared experience rather than an isolated on; because they encourage the imagination, and attempt the pointless; because they offer beauty and confront us with the fact of ugliness; because they suggest explanations but no solutions; because they present a vision of integration rather than disintegration;  because they force us to think about the difference between the good and the bad, the false and the true. The arts matter because they embrace, express and define the soul of a civilisation. A nation without arts would be a nation that had stopped talking to itself, stopped dreaming, and had lost interest in the past and lacked curiosity about the future.” P. 8

I don’t need to spend too much time convincing you, dear reader, of the value of the arts. But as we know, not everyone “gets it”.  There are the instrumental arguments about the arts  – the economic impact, the stimulation of tourism, the redevelopment of urban spaces, the stimulation of creativity in children, the contribution to the ideas economy. All of these are true but art is valuable for art’s sake.


After giving a presentation about the arts leadership to a group of mainly middle aged men who were not people who attended theatres and galleries as a normal part of their lives, I was asked why they should care about the arts. Most of them were married with kids and I asked them to imagine their child’s life without the bedtime stories they told them, without the nursery rhymes, without the songs and craft making on Playschool[1], without the dancing that children automatically do to music with rhythm, without the colourful drawings that are stuck on their fridge. In countries like Australia, every aspect of a young child’s life is full of the arts. And then I asked them to imagine their child bought up under the Taliban – with no music, no dancing, no kite flying, no singing, no painting of the human figure, no historic sculptures left to look at and wonder about. Whose life is richer?”

Tusa, J.2007, Engaged with the Arts,  I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London”


[1] A long running Australian television program for children.