THE BLOG
10/14/2014 09:05 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Needed: Arts Management Mentors

There is a great deal of discussion about the need for building tomorrow's audiences if the arts world is to survive. In response, most arts institutions devote substantial efforts to arts education and audience development programs. These programs, in the main, are laudable and important, and we do need to focus our attention on educating the future audience members, volunteers, donors, board members and subscribers.

But there is another activity that must be pursued in tandem: We must work actively to train the next generation of arts leaders. It is not surprising that the leaders of the largest arts institutions in this nation are over 50.

Few arts institutions have a true second in command who is being groomed to take the leadership role. This is not a matter of negligence. We simply cannot afford someone whose job it is to shadow the chief executive. We devote our very scarce resources to experts in each functional area: marketing, fundraising, etc.

This is not to say that we lack a number of highly talented, entrepreneurial younger arts managers who will, one day, make great leaders for arts institutions. But these talented individuals' ascension to the top jobs in the field would be made so much easier, and their institutions would fare so much better, if they were provided with opportunities to benefit from strong, experienced mentors.

It is often clear when a younger arts manager is going to be a great general manager and senior arts managers must take time to mentor these individuals by providing them projects that will expand their knowledge and experience. We must also encourage them to build skills in new functional areas: talented marketing executives, for example, must build financial and development skills if they are going to be chief executives.

And we need to introduce these protégées to areas of management that do not necessarily fall within their current job descriptions -- union negotiations, programming, board interaction, etc. -- and to bring them into discussions about the challenging situations that face all senior executives from time to time.

In the challenging environment in which all arts organizations find themselves, we need to ensure that our brightest young managers are fully prepared to take the reins of our major institutions. They must know how to support artistic leaders, create strong marketing campaigns, engage board members, raise funds from numerous sources, control costs, work with the press and the myriad other tasks of the chief executive. And they must be comfortable exerting authority while empowering others to do their best work. It is a complicated job that requires knowledge, tact, finesse and courage.

Those who have been arts managers for many years are the best prepared to mentor younger managers. Just as ballet masters coach young dancers, we need our senior arts managers to mentor their most promising employees.

When we focus on the steps we need to take to ensure the health of the arts in the future, let's keep in mind the need to develop the leaders of the future as well.