Friday, February 27, 2015

Slow Death by Administration

Pay attention to Stephen Soderberg's post about the growth, no explosion, in degree programs, through specialized MBAs, in Arts Administration or Management, here.

There are a couple of things going on behind this that I'd like to emphasize, albeit with less of Stephen's diplomatic grace:
  • The first is that growth in such programs comes directly from the pressure on higher education to create ever more asses-in-seats, fee-bringing programs, regardless of any actual, real world need for graduates of such programs. 
  • The second is credentialism in fields that have gotten along perfectly well without formal credential systems for a good long time. When I first came to Germany I did a lot of English teaching, to bankers and brokers in particular, feeling part of a noble-enough tradition, going back at least to James Joyce, of liberally-educated native speakers teaching individualized courses in their own language for too little pay, as an interim working situation which found a natural optimum for student and teacher alike and was sufficiently profitable for even the greediest language school; but already at that time, a quarter century ago, the first signs were emerging that institutions in the UK, many of them private, were introducing credential courses in FL teaching. I haven't encountered any evidence that language teaching has gotten any better as a result of the credentialing.  I'd like to see evidence that credentialed music administrators are more effective.*  
  • The third is that these programs are overwhelmingly filled with students taking out massive personal loans. And these are loans that are incredibly hard to pay back from the small salaries in the small number of position available. 
  • And the fourth is: where is the normative arts administrator position that demands a normative arts administrator training? and where is the performance deficit or expected growth in such positions that would demand producing more from cookie-cutter training programs? Every single position of the sort, in my experience, has a distinctive profile of requirements. Some require more artistic experience, others require great writing skills, others are primarily PR, others personnel management, others bookkeeping/accounting, others fund raising, or contract writing, lobby work, or general management skills. Many of them demand only modest management skills, but an amiable personality and familiarity with the local community. In almost all cases, someone trained or with work experience in one of these specific areas would be more useful for the job than someone with pseudo-academic traveling papers. 
  • And finally, Point the Fifth, there is the unmistakable trend that growth in administration/management in the arts leads to less spent on actual artists and artistic content. Yes, we do need competent, knowledgeable, friendly, and (com)passionate arts administrators to help make the magic happen, but the magic remains the object, not the institution.

* As another piece of credentialism, hasn't the invention of the professional music theorist — and with it, dedicated music theory tenure track lines — been a net loss to composers who would otherwise have been considered for the gigs? Yes, it's a day job for composers, but it's a often a very good day job and composers do have a pretty good historical record as theory teachers.  (Inasmuch as some composers who had been actively seeking a more secure role for composers in academe — I assume we all know that essay that was originally titled "The Composer as Specialist" — were also active in the invention of the academic theorist, it's another example of composers acting in their own worst interest.)


Bright Academy said...

I'll add to this (in support) that, these programs almost unilaterally de-emphasize practice, meaning none of a program's graduates have any idea what they're up against in the field.

I wrote a bit about that here, in specific regards to one program's emphasis on Arts Policy (pertaining to public art) which has f-all to do with actually running an arts non-profit.

It was Phil Niblock who started his concert series where artists curated other artists. I got into arts admin because i wanted to learn what was going on behind the scenes to facilitate my own work, but I stayed because I felt it was important to shepherd a culture that respects artists and doesn't serve itself as a system.

Alas, my 15 years of credentials *in the field* are no competition for a 20-something with a degree in arts admin policy.

No great loss, I'll focus on the part I'm interested in: Making Music.

And in the interim, I'm done with grants, organizations, and the whole non-profit arts admin blather...I'm going private! It's less headache and the time I spend working on projects won't be wasted gambling on grants, etc. I'll be responsible for my own successes and failures. I think this is the wave of the future for arts in the US.

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