One of the questions I am asked most often by board members of arts organizations is, "What should we be looking for as we hire a new executive director for our organization." There are numerous skills and qualities an executive director of an arts organization should possess, but my experience over the past 28 years suggests the most important quality is the ability to balance many needs, demands and requirements.
Successful executive directors must balance the needs of:
- The artists who wish to express themselves; this expression forms the core of the mission of the organization and must be respected.
The successful executive director also must balance short term financial needs with long term financial goals. It is easy to look five years ahead and determine what financial profile the organization wishes to enjoy, and even to delineate the level and type of activity the organization must mount to reach these financial targets. What is far more difficult is navigating the short term financial constraints so that we can reach the longer term. Do we reduce our investment in art now so that we can survive? Do we shrink our marketing budget? Reduce staff size or budgets? Cut artist salaries? Does this help us reach this idealized financial profile we aspire to? Or do we go for broke today, hoping to keep creditors satisfied while we build for the future?
And the executive director must balance the needs of the board members, who want financial accountability, artistic success and a modest level of fun or satisfaction that comes from volunteering for an organization one cares about with those of the staff who see the board members as their bosses and who often believe that board members owe a good deal--especially a good deal of money--for the privilege of sitting on the board.
In almost three decades of running arts organizations, I know that I have gotten these balances right at some times, and wrong at others. One is constantly calibrating how to best pursue the organization's mission while maintaining the level of support needed to do so.
It isn't easy.
Every Friday, HuffPost's Culture Shift newsletter helps you figure out which books you should read, art you should check out, movies you should watch and music should listen to. Learn more