Huffpost Arts
Michael Kaiser Headshot

My New Year's Project: An Arts Management Treasure Hunt

Posted: Updated:

Arts management is still a very young field. Thirty years ago there were very few professional arts managers, university programs were few and far between and virtually nothing had been written about the tenets of the field. Today there is still not a solid body of arts management theory though there is far more written and many undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in the field are being offered.

This does not mean that there aren't very accomplished arts managers who are leading great orchestras, dance companies, theater companies and more. In fact, I am continually astonished by the talent and creativity of arts leaders, providing strong service to the community while maintaining fiscal stability.

I have spent the better part of thirty years trying to learn about the best in arts management practices and I frequently write about specific leaders and organizations that are doing great work; I hope these stories of accomplishment are inspiring. But the pool of organizations I know and work with is severely limited.

I recently received an unsolicited email from Ted Pappas at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, a regional theater company that has been in the black for eight consecutive seasons. The company, fully unionized, gives 240 performances a year and has not one penny of debt! The work is adventuresome and the audiences are large; in fact, the budget of PPT has grown to over $6 million.

When I read this email, I realized that I need to visit Mr. Pappas and learn more about the way he and his colleagues accomplish this feat. I am sure there is much to learn. This consistent level of success is never an accident.

This got me thinking. How many other PPTs are out there? Who else has a compelling story of service to their community matched by strong administrative capabilities?

I invite you to write to me at kaiser@kennedy-center.org. I want to hear about the work you do and the way you do it. I want to know about the nature of your performances, exhibitions, classes and publications and the way you plan, market, find resources and manage your board, staff and volunteers.

And don't be surprised if your story appears in a future blog or book or if I turn up on your doorstep one day. I promise it will not be unannounced! In fact, I am fully committed to launching a learning tour in the coming year of the nation's best-managed arts organizations.

I am convinced that great theory can be gleaned from great practice. Observing the way the best arts managers do their work will, at least, illuminate the best practices in our field and, at best, will lead to a far richer body of arts management theory. I know I have much to learn (many of my readers indicate by their comments I know exactly nothing at all!) and I am anxious to learn from the best.

I can't wait to hear from you.

Happy New Year!