June 27, 2016

It’s been weeks since I’ve uploaded a segment from the A to Z of Arts Management. Like any busy executive I have an array of excuses but like any buys executive, the truth is that I’ve simply given more attention to other things – marking essays, looking after family, worrying about the forthcoming Australian election and its impact on the arts.

Now that the marking is over, the family is getting better and we’re in the last week of the election campaign, I can get back to business.

The topics under R are Resilience and Risk and here’s an extract from the latter:

““Risks involve ambiguity and uncertainty.

Risks result in a kind of learning available in no other way.

Risks may entail a loss of control and an acceptance of vulnerability.

Risks accompany abandoning the old, but abandoning the old makes way for the new.

Risk on the part of individuals are the only way to improve our world.

Humility invites risk; pride discourages it.

Risk are inevitable“ (De Pree 1997, pp. 146).

Arts and cultural organisations face three types of risk – firstly, the creation of art; secondly, the business risks to support that creation; thirdly, the uncontrollable risks of just operating in the world. Every other organisation has to face the second and third type but only our organisations embrace the first.

I started this section with De Pree’s quote because it’s a reminder that when you work with artists that’s what they are doing every day and in a much more profound way than the risks a banker or an engineer might take. Which isn’t to minimise their risk – of stockmarket and building crashes – but an artist is trying to create a totally new and unique experience that is going to explore our humanity. As Tusa (2007b, p.5) says “Programming art is totally, innately, constantly, gloriously unpredictable” and the capacity to take personal risk separates the potential artist from the actual artist (Bilton & Leary 2010, p. 59).

So as an arts manager, I have to take risks that are going to minimise the artists’ risks of failure. I have to risk agreeing to spend more money on the set if there’s the chance that it’s going to make for a better production – but not if it’s simply going to change the angle of the floor and add to the chance of injury. I have to risk not recovering the cost of that interstate actor if they are the best actor for the part – but not if they only as good as a local. I have to risk commissioning some new writers even if the historic odds are that two out of three commissions don’t work because the one that does may be the one that tells us all something new about our world.

There is a paradox built into the nature of non-profit arts organisations. On the one hand, they take risks with every show and every exhibition. However, restraints imposed by government and private funding may see management trying to play it safe. A classic requirement from government is often a balanced budget which can make it a challenge to take artistic risks. However, risk taking is essential. Sometimes the artistic risk pays off and even it doesn’t one hopes that ultimately audiences and funders would prefer to support an organisation that is innovative and exciting than one that isn’t (Maifeld 2012, p.217).The way to solve the challenge of risk is to give attention to risk, to monitor it, measure it and not be afraid of it.


Bilton, C & Leary, R 2010 ‘What can managers do for creativity? Brokering creativity in the creative industries’ International Journal of Cultural Policy, 8(1):49-64

De Pree, M 1997, Leading Without Power, Shepherd Foundation, Holland, MI