About two years ago, I went to the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit. It was a gathering of about 150 arts professionals, hosted by Yo-Yo Ma, and focused on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. I was one of the only people there who had worked in an industry other than the arts, and one of exactly two people who had an MBA. Several people asked me why I ever thought about pairing my artistic interest with business training. I told them that art and business are equal partners, not adversaries. In an artistic organization, you need business skills just as much as you need artistic talent. And in all organizations, business people have a lot to learn from artists.
This was puzzling to a lot of people, and that’s when a lightbulb went off for me. How could I bring the arts and business, and more specifically people who work in both disciplines, together to learn from one another? At the end of the Summit, everyone had to create a card to describe their career goal for the year. Here I am with my card:
“I commit to helping artists find the business people within them, and to helping business people find the artists within them.”
My life and my career have never been a binary choice between the arts and business. They’ve always been a package deal for me. And I wanted to find a way to work that mission into my career. I started my career twenty years ago in company management of Broadway shows and national theater tours. It has been a long and winding road since then. In all of these experiences, I say without hesitation that my work in theater has been the best business training I’ve ever had.
I so fervently believe this that when people ask me “how can I enhance my business skills?”, I tell them to go produce a live performance.
Here are the business skills we wield to produce a live show:
- Meeting a preset, non-negotiable deadline (that curtain is going up on time no matter what—the show always goes on)
- Staying below a strict budget, and likely a very small or non-existent budget to start with
- Intense collaboration with a motley crew of colorful characters who all have different needs wants, and goals—hello competing priorities!
- Publicity, marketing, media planning, and content creation
- Financial management and accounting
- Operations and logistics
- In-person customer service
- Bargaining and negotiation, as well as legal contracting
- Impeccable time, people, and stress management
- Recruitment and staffing
- Oh, and then there’s that little matter of the show actually being high-quality
- And, lest we forget, if any one of those balls drops, you bear all of the responsibility because you don’t have any backup
Are you kidding me? What other industry requires that much of a single person? No other industry. The production of a live show is the epitome of deft business skills in action.
I was beyond fortunate to have this kind of experience in the arts in my early twenties. It has informed and shaped my career and life as an adult, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These skills are transferable to so many other industries, and a variety of roles within organizations and companies. The arts, and our active engagement with them, have many more gifts to give us than we realize.
My great hope and purpose in coming to work at PatronManager is to help arts managers create an environment of financial sustainability that allow your art and artists to shine, and to make your work accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The arts have never been more important than they are today, and our responsibility to produce them has never been greater. If you have ideas for us, please don’t be shy. I want to hear them so that we can help each other bring them to life.