I came across an interesting article in The New Republic, by way of Arts and Letters Daily that suggested that a shift in business school orientation partially contributed to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. At one time universities focused on training graduates to manage manufacturing businesses and often had mini-factories on campus to give students practical experiences.
The focus since about 1965 has shifted to finance and consulting. While this has been largely beneficial for the economy, (until they started creating bad financial products), it is one of the reasons why the country has become weaker in manufacturing. That has been pretty bad for the country.
“Harvard business professor Rakesh Khurana, with whom I discussed these questions at length, observes that most of GM’s top executives in recent decades hailed from a finance rather than an operations background….But these executives were frequently numb to the sorts of innovations that enable high-quality production at low cost. As Khurana quips, “That’s how you end up with GM rather than Toyota.”
At first this was just an interesting theory to me, but then I realized that this describes exactly what people are afraid will happen if arts organizations are “run more like a business.” The fear is that decisions will rest entirely on return on investment and will be divorced from the manufacturing process as it were.
There was a time I would not have imagined that any arts organization would have a disconnect between the administration and the artists. I assumed that the administrators would be passionate about the arts with which they were associated. Why else would someone work so hard for so little pay?
Nearly five years ago, I cited observations that orchestra administrations were disassociated from the performances and performers. Given all the conflicts and closures since then, I don’t think the overall environment has gotten any better since. I also don’t assume that this situation is necessarily unique to the orchestra world.
In the last week I have heard Michael Kaiser on his Arts in Crisis tour and Andrew Taylor debating the utility of the arts management degree. In both conversations there was an obvious focus on training arts managers well. But the necessity for training boards well was mentioned too.
It seems to me that maybe the need to advocate the intrinsic value of the arts is necessary internally in addition to external constituencies. Perhaps one of the dangers of emphasizing the economic contribution of the arts to the community is that it creates greater expectations for boards and administrators that the art and its creators be ever more economically viable as well.