Virus Side Effects. Systemic Change. Looking Ahead.

A Few Quick Observations

One of the many side effects of the pandemic has been to push artists and arts organizations to explore alternative methods of connecting to audiences and communities. Of course, most of the technology-focused methods already existed, but these were not necessarily seen as a desirable way to present programming. I did take a few virtual museum tours and watched various concerts and performances on my computer, but in the end, I did not find myself deeply engaged. However, that’s more of a mindset problem on my part and not the fault of arts organizations.

It makes strategic and tactical sense to keep connected to audiences. However, now that the virus conversations are shifting to reopening, the restriction placed on the numbers of people permitted at performing arts events is going to call on additional creative responses by arts leaders. For many, the public re-engagement timeline is being pushed into 2021.

Since reopening strategies for performing arts organizations seem limited, the tactic of cutting expenses by laying off staff is gaining steam. Assuming the layoff trend continues broadly across multiple sectors in the economy, then arts organizations and arts leaders will face the daunting task of trying to reopen in a recession and convince audiences it will be safe to gather together again.   

These and other challenges (e.g., a fall-off in donations, cuts in public and foundation funding, a second or third outbreak of the virus) have yet to surface fully, but artists, arts managers, and boards will no doubt be busy modeling new scenarios continuously for the foreseeable future. And, while there have been dire predictions about what may be ahead, devoting time to building layered contingency plans will be beneficial. The uncertain circumstances facing artists and arts organizations dictate planning well beyond thinking about “Plan C.”

The Artists Perspective

I thought the post on by Raja Feather Kelly offered some insights about the plight of artists in these tumultuous times. Also, reflecting on the plight of unemployed arts managers, technicians, and designers could be a good discussion topic. Kelly notes,   

No one is asking me what I need right now. As one of these artists who everyone is out here fighting to protect and save and bring home, no one is asking me what I need. Why aren’t there surveys, call-in lines or Google docs, where these “artists” are being asked for what they need. Artists have always needed money. Always. Not just for making our work, but for supporting our lives.

So I asked my colleagues, What do you need? Who’s got your back? And, What’s next?

The dialogue that ensues is interesting and provides a few insights that I think are very valuable. The link to Kelly’s post is below.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity Issues

The repercussions of the killing of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis continue to be felt around the world. Whether any lasting change is produced by the demonstrations and public outcry remains to be seen. The systemic issues of racism, inequality, and what seems to be a perpetual lack of agency across communities of color is once again front and center in America. I find It disheartening that this horrendous cycle of the deaths of Blacks at the hands of law enforcement officers continues. One can hope that this time there will be an outcome that demonstrates that the systems in place to make changes will actually work.  

Meanwhile, arts organizations can continue to do their part in addressing racial and ethnic diversity problems that also continue to persist. I was reading Tobie Stein’s new book Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts, and I thought the timing could not be better to incorporate it into arts management courses. This well-researched study is filled with a wide range of resources, facts, and insights that students and arts managers will find helpful in changing their thinking and how they can create more diverse arts organizations. It is going to take focused and deliberate action if an arts organization wants to achieve Access, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI).  

Transformative leadership, which disrupts the status quo, must be focused on dismantling discriminatory practices [of] historically White performing arts organizations through a dedicated budget, hiring culturally diverse consultants and facilitators who conduct antiracist training, as well as question, help reframe, and build new recruitment and retention strategies together with culturally plural staff and board leadership.  (Stein, p. 135)

The topics covered in this book are made all the more urgent by the pandemic and the resulting employment crisis facing artists and arts organizations. Incorporating the strategies proposed by Stein and her contributors can help arts organizations re-evaluate and alter their practices to make systemic and historic change.  

Looking Ahead

Speaking of changes, I’m in the process of relocating this summer. Selling a house, buying a new home, and moving will necessitate my taking a break from posting until late August. I’m still hard at work on the 6th edition of Management and the Arts, but the move means the new book will not be out until 2021. In the meantime, I suggest you check out the book I co-edited (and wrote a chapter in) as a resource for your classes or your work – The Routledge Companion to Arts Management. When you land on the webpage, scroll down and take a look at the topics covered in the 29 chapters of the book. Hopefully, you’ll find one or more of them of interest.

Thanks again for subscribing to these postings and try to have a good summer.

Bill Byrnes


Has Anyone Asked Artists What They Need?

Raja Feather Kelly – May 11, 2020 –

It’s Monday, May 4, 2020 at 6:20 pm and I start a text chain with 10 artists I find in my phone. I’m at home, I am bored, and I am in this sort of limbo with myself. Dusty Springfield has been on repeat. In my head. My love-letter-slash-sad-love-song to New York City right now: I just don’t know what to do with myself.

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