Systemic arts – What if we took a holistic approach to managing nonprofit arts organizations?

I am pleased to announce that my post has been featured on the Americans for the Arts blog as an Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS) post!!  You can check it out here>>

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I have always thought of symphony orchestras, or any large musical ensemble, to function somewhat like clockwork.

As a musician, one quickly realizes that the success of the symphony (e.g. high-quality performance, beautiful tone, expressive phrasing, etc.) is dependent on the sum of its parts. The performance of every individual must be sensitively adjusted to compliment the rest of the ensemble in order to produce one cohesive musical story.

The internal intricacies, typically unseen by its admirers, must be functioning properly and working together in order for the larger system to operate properly.  In the case of a clock, even the grandest, most impressive-looking ones may cease to operate with broken or damaged parts.  Similarly, symphony orchestra management can be most effective when all of its departments are working well and moving forward together.

Source: Tai Toh on flickr.com

What if we, as nonprofit leaders in the arts, took a systemic approach to orchestra management? Rather than focusing on issues separately and only when we are forced to deal with them, one might adopt the mindset of always doing what is best to maintain the overall health of the organization in the long run.  Perhaps we should start asking ourselves: How does the health of the organization affect the community it serves or the field as a whole? How can you help your art-form continue to be resilient in an environment of constant change?

I have thought about the idea of holistic management for a while and now a new book, appropriately named Resilience, is making me think that it is not only a good way to manage arts organizations, but may also be a better way of living life.  In no way am I an expert at this and I am still learning, but I wish to be the best arts manager I can be.  I believe in the importance of symphony orchestras in society and hope to inspire others to continue to engage in their performances and events.

  • What do you do in your daily life and work to make sure you’re seeing the larger picture?
  • What mechanisms have you built-in to ensure that your organization has the ability to “bounce back” in the face of hardship?

More ideas to come… for now, I welcome your thoughts and comments!

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Thank you, Professor Andrew Taylor for inspiring me, as well as other emerging art leaders at American University, to embrace new ways of thinking about the arts and career readiness around the concept of resilience.

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