Recently, I left arts admin.
My day job is no longer in the field. After giving my entire life to arts organizations for more than 15 years, it was time for a change. I didn’t do it with a lot of fanfare in part because I know I will always be connected to the industry. I am still an arts marketer.
Anyone who is an arts admin knows that it is a difficult profession, COVID or no COVID. We do it because we’re passionate about the organization’s mission. Maybe we’re a former artist or grew up in a family of artists. Maybe we just love art and want to ensure it is accessible to everyone. Whatever the motivation is, we’re not in it for money or fame. However, and I think I speak for the majority of arts admins out there, we’re exhausted.
I’ve spent the past decade writing, speaking, and traveling to empower arts admins through knowledge to be more effective. I was on a mission to make the industry better. Often, it felt like I was screaming at a brick wall.
After the high of a successful speaking engagement was over, the intense low of seeing so many organizations continuing to sabotage themselves with antiquated philosophies and methodologies was downright crushing. I felt the actions of my industry personally and deeply.
Why are arts orgs still so resistant to change? Why don’t arts orgs understand that their industry “best practices” are generally not the best or most effective ways to do things? Why do arts orgs hire execs because they say they want change but then create an environment that fosters the exact opposite?
When faced with difficult situations, arts orgs tend to grasp more tightly and double down rather than be more open to let new ideas flow. This stems from fear and anyone who knows who knows Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo knows that this is toxic.
I’m not saying that there aren’t forward-thinking arts admins out there. There are a ton of us. But it is a monumental task to change an entire industry.
Working in a different industry has reinforced that it is the choice of arts organizations to resist change. It is our choice to take the safe route and look to our own industry rather than outside for methods and tactics. It is our choice to say we want change but then not back it up by our actions.
I still use the term “our” when speaking about arts organizations because I will always be a part of the industry. I am and will always be an arts marketer. I am still teaching a university-level arts marketing course, I’m still doing webinars and workshops, and you’ll still see me at conferences. Those things won’t change.
Old habits are hard to break. Clearly, I’m still trying to learn how to break them and I can only hope that arts orgs are trying to move beyond them as well.