It looks like it was a weekend for griping about performing arts. Ken Davenport at Producer’s Perspective opened the floor on an atypical Saturday post asking people to share their gripes. He promised to make it a monthly ritual if he got more than 10 responses and he easily passed that mark. A summary of the comments in one sentence would be – “How can they charge such high prices for tickets, yet pay me so little if I can shoehorn my way into a position at all.” There are a few complaints about audiences thrown in for good measure. The general source of the comments seem to be people living in and around New York City with a few people coming form other places. The tenor of most of the comments will be familiar to you if you work in the arts at all and are familiar with the New York City scene. Those aspiring to careers are following the same path those before them followed. This includes tales of people both inside and outside the business wanting them to work for fun or for experience.
My initial thought was that Broadway won’t change because it doesn’t have to and that people need to look elsewhere for their experience. While a similar situation is just about as institutionalized outside of New York City, those organizations are at least marginally aware that they need to find a better way to run their business and interact with their employees.
Which brings us to the second post I came across. Barry Hessenius posted an entry on his blog noting that essentially every job description for an executive director and senior management of an arts organization seems to be taken from the same template without any effort to acknowledge the actual specific needs of their organization.
He provides a tongue in cheek translation of this:
“The successful candidate will be a strong leader with excellent management and interpersonal skills. S/he will have the proven ability to build productive relationships with a broad range of internal and external constituencies, and have the demonstrated ability to work collaboratively with the various segments of the community. S/he will be an experienced supervisor with the ability and willingness to mentor staff and encourage staff development. S/he will foster an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration among staff and volunteers throughout the organization. S/he will have a strong working knowledge of programs, production, board relations and operations. S/he will have excellent financial management skills and a track record for achieving budget goals…”
“We want someone smart enough to help us figure out a cool vision for our future (that one is stumping us); someone who will attract great talent to the staff (though we can’t pay the staff very much) and whom the staff (despite working conditions that are hardly ideal) will love and follow anyway (someone who will hopefully get them to perform above their potential, because actually we’re understaffed by all reasonable criteria). We want someone who can make various factions of the board (currently somewhat dysfunctional and at each other’s throats) work harmoniously together and take on an ever greater workload (or in the alternative someone who will assume the board’s workload for them because it’s highly unlikely they will do much more than they are doing right now – which isn’t that much). We try not to micromanage, but we still do. We’re looking for someone who can get the best out of us, but someone enough like us so we are comfortable with them; someone who will push themselves, but not necessarily push us too hard. Did we mention that we want someone who can raise a lot of money? “
I have only excerpted a small portion of his translation so you will want to visit the entry to read the whole thing. I have also excerpted a portion of his sample job description. Trust me when I say you don’t need to go to the entry to read that. You have seen it many times before. I did a verbatim Google search on a couple phrases from Barry’s sample and found a number of job listings using them. I understand a desire not to reinvent the wheel, but if you are looking for the same person as everyone else, most organizations are bound to be disappointed. There are only so many of those paradigms to go around. The truth is, most organizations are indeed looking for someone a little different from the rest.