December 21, 2015

There are lots of topics beginning with C for an Arts Management book. My choices were: CEO, Co-leadership, Communication, Conflict, Control, Creativity,  Crisis, Cultural Leadership & Cultural Policy. The most quirky topic (and probably one that only some who lives in Melbourne, the coffee capital of Australia could write) is entitled Coffee:

“I can say with some certainly that ‘coffee” (or your social beverage of choice) will not be in the index of any management textbooks. But it should be because our job is about relationships and there is research to show that when people hold a warm beverage, they tend to feel closer to the person with whom they are conversing (Moss, Callanan & Wilson 2012, p.24).

In an article about how to design offices to get more communication and connection, Waber, Magolfi & Lindsay (2014) tell the story of a company which wanted to increase sales but didn’t know which behaviours would help. The researchers used sociometric badges to map what 50 sales executives did throughout the day and the results showed that when a salesperson increased interactions with co-workers on other teams by 10%, their sales grew by 10%. The next question was how to design the office space to get sales people to run into colleagues. Answer: coffee. They had one coffee machine for every six people so they stripped them out and put in fewer bigger ones and created a large cafeteria in place of a smaller one that few people used. Sales rose by 20%.

 MTC had a café when I arrived and had done for a number of years. The story was that the Artistic Director (normally the calmest of men) couldn’t operate without at least 2 macchiatos before 9am and as the building was stuck in an industrial wilderness without a coffee shop to be seen, the company decided to get an expresso machine. From that decision flowed a space in which fresh good food could also be obtained. It was a space in which people from different departments caught up; where special events such as cast arrivals and staff departures were held; where great savings were made on productivity because people were happy to come to MTC for a meeting knowing its reputation for muffins and handmade sausage rolls; where actors (usually poor) could get a cheap healthy fresh meal.

At two points during my time with the company, the question of whether we should have the café at all arose. Both times the question was driven by money. The first case was about operational costs – we subsidized the café. When the company was in debt and we were desperately looking for expenditure cuts (as well as new income sources), this was an obvious area to consider. So I did – and rejected the idea. The café was now so central to the culture of the organisation, that the damage would have far outweighed any short term modest financial gains.

The second time was when we were short of money to finish off the refurbishment of the Sturt St Headquarters. The University property people raised the question of the café in every design meeting but each time I pushed back with the challenge to them to find other savings and the challenge to myself to raise enough money in our capital campaign to pay for it. And in the end we got it. A small space admittedly but light and airy with herbs and an olive tree growing outside and the off-cuts of the beautiful jarrah floor from the Southbank Theatre foyer to provide ‘free’ decoration.

The point is that investing in collective staff benefits is worthwhile as long as they work to bring people together, to reward them, to underpin conditions, and if they are valued in turn by the staff.

In an article about how to get people who don’t work for you to do things for you, Craumer (2013) includes an important coffee-related piece of advice. Pick up an extra coffee for the person who’s helped you out….or take fruit to the project meeting or sweets to the presentation. As she says: “It’s simple, but true: we like to be fed” (p. 188). And it’s not just the provision of coffee that’s important, it’s who provides the coffee. In article that’s about women in leadership, Ladkin (2010) describes a variety of positive and negative cultures and how they can enable women’s participation. In one positive case it was the simple gesture by a male manager who not only offered her a coffee but went off to get it plus one for his secretary.

Of course, there are moments when it’s a better use of your time if someone else gets the coffee while you get on with the meeting. I had series of very smart assistants who had a schizophrenic job: half the time they were negotiating copyright licenses and the other half doing less than glamorous work such as filing – and getting the coffee. The important point was that it was made clear from the position description and the job interview that providing such services was part of the job so there were never any sniffles that such work was below them.

Having supported MTC’s coffee culture for years, I finally gave it up. It was a combination of being a coffee snob and (I’m sorry if this is going to insult my American readers) one too many trips to the USA and their bad coffee. When I got back to work and announced this change in behaviour I was expecting either pity (“you poor thing, was it hard?”) or sarcasm (“how are you going to survive the next management meeting?”) but I what didn’t expect was hurt. The staff in the café who’d all learnt how to make my special coffee were upset and disconcerted that I’d given up. They thought that it was their fault.

This was a useful reminder about Grey’s (2005) ‘unexpected consequences’ of management decisions but more importantly, it was a reminder that although it feels lonely at the top, if you’re doing a halfway decent job, people who work for you care about you.”


Craumer, M 2013, ‘When the direct approach backfires, try indirect influence’ in  Hill, LA & Lineback, K ‘Managing your Boss’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Mass, 185-8

Grey, C 2005, A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying organisations, Sage Publications, London

Ladkin, D 2010, ‘Creating an aesthetic of inclusivity: a new solution to the ‘problem’ of women leaders’ in Kay, S & Venner, K.(eds), A Cultural Leader’s Handbook, Creative Choices, London, 32-39

Moss, S, Callanan, J & Wilson, S 2012, The Moonlight Effect, Tilde University Press, Melbourne

Waber, B, Magnolfi, J & Lindsay, G 2014, ‘Workplaces That Move People’, Harvard Business Review, November, 92(11):69-77



December 14, 2015


I’ve been really gratified over the last week by the positive responses from people who have started reading The A to Z of Arts Management. Whether it’s young arts managers or people who have been doing it for years, people seem to be getting some inspiration or confirmation about their work from the book.

The listings for the letter B include Boards, Buildings and Bullying and this week, I’ll give you a snippet from the long section on Boards. This section is called “who are they?”

 “The people on arts Boards are “the men and women who operate in an emotionally laden space, requiring them to raise funds, advocate for the organisation, liaise at the highest levels of government, and remain loyal beyond reason, all predominantly pro bono” (Rentscheler 2015,p.9).

Whilst Artistic Director Ralph Myers(2014,3) Believes that theatre boards in Australia mainly consist of ‘suits’ i.e. wealthy white men (and the occasional woman) , Rentschler’s (2015) research on a broader range of arts organisations in Australia concludes that gender diversity is pushing 50% with ethnic diversity up to 25%. She notes that this is very different from the corporate world where boards are “often monocultural and monochrome”. The irony of this result is that she didn’t uncover any hard evidence that “diversity of and by itself leads to better board performance” (p.100). Some other qualities which she found presumably do have a more direct linkage to effective performance such as expertise in the areas of law, finance, marketing, management, research and fundraising  (p.101).

Having noted that passion or interest in the arts isn’t generally one of the selection criterion for boards, Rentschler says that “passion is a driving force in people’s appointment to an arts boards” , noting at the same time that this passion can occasionally be a destructive for arts organisations (Rentschler 2015, p.119). “Without passion“ she says  “there would be little to attract capable people to the hard grind of serving on an arts board” (p.120). I don’t necessarily agree with this point. I’ve joined boards because I was asked to help rather than because I particularly cared or knew much about the art form. I’ve seen people join arts boards because of a desire for status and  power, a commitment to volunteerism or community, a desire to fill in retirement hours,  peer pressure, a call from help from a friend, career development as well as because they care about the art form. A commitment to shared values about the general importance of the arts and to effective governance  may be all that’s required in addition to pragmatic skills such as those listed above.

The expertise of Board Members is particularly important for small to medium sized arts organisations that may not have such skill in-house or even be able to afford to buy it such as legal or financial advice. The challenge in these situations is to get the balance between governance and management right when board members end up doing what is actually the work of staff. While it may be necessary in the most under-resourced arts company, it is often a difficulty for board members with specific expertise when organisations have professional staff. I have seen the frustration of both board and staff members when the board person who has been appointed (amongst other things) for their marketing kudos expresses opinions that don’t fit within the strategic plan of the marketing director. When the board member’s expertise is a specialisation that the company doesn’t have such as the law, the application of the board members skill is much easier.

Fishel (2003, p. 15) makes a good point when he says “[t]he paradox is that the board needs to get a close-up understanding of the operation in order to be able to stand back and play a productive role at a higher level….But the closer the board gets to the operations, the more anxious the senior staff become about unwelcome interference.”  He describes the process of getting involved in the detail as “seductive”.  However, I think there is a more prosaic reason behind this problematic outcome. Most arts board members are managers and professionals in their own right.  In fact, funding organisations in Australia for example, have pushed for this set of skills on boards. Board members are more likely to know more about managing companies than creating art so they fall back on commenting on the things they know best.

As well as ensuring that you have a range of skills on your board, Rentschler (2015, p.141) suggests that you have a range of strategic types including the mission driven, the commanding (political and connected), the shape shifting (catalyst for change) and community minded. Whilst it’s easy to do a matrix and get your collection of skills and diversity right, it’s not quite so easy to determine what personality types you’ll end up with.

Another challenge for boards is how much arts expertise there needs to be amongst their members. At the beginning of the life of many arts companies, the board will consist of friends and peers. The pattern usually goes like this: an artist works on a volunteer basis and then receives a modest project grant or donation. This may mean that another organisation has to auspice the grant and if the artist wants more in the future, they need to establish a legal entity of some form which will require a board. The initial board members will often be friends, family or fellow artists who all share a passion for the work. Over time, there will be a need to bring some specialist knowledge to the board such as finance or marketing or legal skills. The new board members will have in interest in the art form but not usually the same passion as the original members. Their interest will be more about organisational effectiveness and governance than necessarily the art. The new board will want more policies and reports than the old board. And finally, there will be the moment when the Chair challenges the Artistic Director on why a certain project is being undertaken, the Artistic Director looks around and realises that there it’s turned from a room full of mates to a room full of strangers.

At this point, there are three choices:

  1. Bring some artists onto the Board
  2. Spend more time educating the board about the art
  3. The Artistic Director and the Chair spend some reflection time together to develop a new relationship.

It might be also be indicative that the founder Artistic Director may need to contemplate their own future and whether they have achieved all they need to with this particular organisation.

There isn’t agreement about  whether artists should be on Boards of arts organisations.  An artist/CEO,  Richard Mills (2003, p. 15) said “artists can be a damn nuisance on boards” . MTC hasn’t had an artist on the board for years because Artistic Directors have said that they don’t want to spend their lives being second guessed by people who wanted to work for the company. I’ve heard of examples where this has indeed been the result with conflict between Artistic Director and artist board members over the direction of the company and choice of repertoire. My sense is that the Artistic CEO has been appointed to provide the vision for the company and that’s the vision that should be heard most clearly.

However, I should also offer a contrary view. Artistic Director Ralph Myers  wants more artists, maybe even a majority of artists, on Boards. He’s particularly concerned because of the lack of the artists’ voice when it comes to choosing the artistic leader (see below for more discussion).   Summerton & Hutchins (2005) point out that when the company is artist-led and a vehicle for the artist’s talents, a Board without artistic expertise may not feel able to challenge artistic matters. Whether having more artists on boards would actually change that situation or just make it more complex is moot.

In summary, the qualities that arts organisations look for in board members include:

  • Business experience of some sort e.g. specialisation in marketing or law
  • Ability to judge whether the organisation is achieving its mission
  • Capacity to read financial statements
  • Time to be able to attend not only Board meetings but sub-committees and opening nights and fundraisers
  • Donation – moving towards an US model where Board members are expected to donate (or open doors).

As an arts manager, what I want from a Board is:

  • A Chair who listens, can run a meeting, is available when I need them
  • Board members who give of their expertise when asked but don’t try to tell my staff how to do their job
  • A Board that’s prepared to take the hard decision when an Executive has to be fired
  • People who will donate when we need it and if they can’t afford to, solicit people who can
  • People who can through mentorship and leadership teach me how to be a better manager
  • Being able to have discussions in confidence with the Chair (about future ideas, other management staff, performance of the board, personal directions)
  • Board members who can give time and ideas when needed
  • People who will resign when they realise that they can’t contribute enough.”

There’s lot’s more in the book on Boards because they are such an important part of the operations of any arts and cultural organisation.


Fishel, D 2003, The Book of The Board, Federation Press, Sydney, 2003

Mills, R 2003, The Australian, 4 July, p. 15

Myers, R 2014, ‘The Artistic Director: On the Way to Extinction’ 2014 Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture http://belvoir.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2014-Philip-Parsons-Memorial-Lecture-by-Ralph-Myers.pdf  [Accessed 9 January 2015

Rentschler, R 2015, Arts Governance: People, passion performance, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon


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.

The A to Z of Arts Management

November 18, 2015

The A to Z of Arts Management: Reflections on Theory and Reality contains commentary on an array of topics that I hope will be of interest to managers, leaders and board members in the arts and cultural industries. For each of the next 26 weeks after the book’s launch on 4 December 2015, I’ll provide an extract from one or two topics I’ve written about under each letter to whet your appetite for the book itself which is available in paperback or electronic form from Tilde University Press.

Here’s the wonderful cover of the book – a production photography taken by Jeff Busby of a Melbourne Theatre Company production of Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage. You can see some of Australia’s finest actors at work:  Hugo Weaving, Natasha Herbert, Geoff Morrell, Pamela Rabe. I chose the image because I wanted to celebrate MTC’s work and because I love the chaos of the scene – an experience that many arts managers will recognise.