What in the world has management got to do with the arts?


The words "arts" and "management" sit uneasily together for some artists, who don't like the business-y sound of talk about "artistic product". Yet the arts have become increasingly professionalised over the past decade, with structures and procedures being set in place, where previously there was a certain amount of chaos.

In fact, arts management - working within a wide variety of arts organisations and institutions - is becoming a viable career option. In the past, enthusiastic graduates with an arts or humanities background might have drifted into managing a theatre company or administrating a gallery; now you need increased specialisation, with business and management skills, before you're considered ready for such positions. The result is a stronger commercial awareness among Irish arts organisations.

As Siobhan Bourke says, "even to complete the annual application form for Arts Council funding requires a lot of financial and commercial knowledge, as well as marketing skills. "Every area of work now requires higher qualifications and training; the arts are no different. One positive result has been the increase in the flow of information about arts participation, although the standard of analytical research could still be improved."

The need for arts managers has been created, in part, by increased State spending on the arts and the Arts Council's policy of regionalisation; the many arts and heritage centres around the country need administrators, while the Arts Council's regional arts officers represent the arts community on county and city councils.

"You have to really love this work to go into it," Bourke says. "It won't make you rich, but it can be great fun and very rewarding. There is very little career structure, however; it's difficult to progress beyond a certain level. After all, there are only so many directorships of national institutions."

An important aspect of the work of the general manager of an arts organisation is media relations. "In order for the smaller organisations to get feature coverage in a newspaper, it's essential to find an angle," Bourke says.

"The risk involved in doing anything in the arts is so huge that you need to find ways to get the maximum exposure. Supplying editors with good photographs is the first priority. "I don't believe in hounding editors - that can be counter-productive. You need to build up a reputation and get people on side. But I also tell students on the UCD arts administration course not to get too close to journalists. It just creates difficulties for both sides.

"You need to identify the right audience for your work, which is a basic marketing skill. Rough Magic, for example, wants to reach an informed theatre audience, so we concentrate on getting coverage in the quality broadsheet newspapers. We know that arts coverage is perceived as being important to the `AB' market" - meaning more well-off, professional people. "The chattering classes need to have an opinion on the latest show . . ."