Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
July 22, 2010
Constance DeVereaux “Arts Management: Sociological Inquiries.”
European Sociological Association
University of Lisbon, Portugal
September 2–5, 2009
College Art Association.

In the preface to Sociology of the Arts: Exploring Fine and Popular Forms (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), Victoria Alexander reminds her readers that “scholarship . . . necessarily constructs an arena in which combatants from different perspectives battle over each other’s claims” (xiii).The role of scholarship, so defined, has had a rather negligible, and virtually non-existent, place in the traditional development of arts management as a field. It has evolved, instead, through a process of apprenticeship and practice (which in itself may be worthy of scholarly inquiry). Even so, as a relative late-comer to academia and to recognition as a formal discipline, arts management has attracted few researchers from its own ranks. The study of arts management qua arts management, i.e., as a specifically circumscribed field, has a short history, and advocacy over true research is the norm, so that diversity of perspectives is often hard to find. Thus, those scholars who wish to engage in scholarly debate were fortunate that an inaugural arts management research stream was established at the 9th annual meeting of the European Sociological Association (ESA), held in Lisbon, Portugal, September 2–5, 2009.

The conference, entitled Arts Management: Sociological Inquiries, covered topics across a wide range, from theoretical, epistemological, and normative considerations, to issues of institutional practice, governance, and the role of arts managers as agents of change. For this author, who participated as both presenter and observer, the range of presentations demonstrated a healthy diversity of perspectives while at the same time proving the value of sociological inquiry and a shared intellectual tradition in contributing to a much-needed conversation about the development, the importance, challenges, practices, and theoretical implications of arts management.

As its theme, ESA’s 2009 meeting posed as its central topic the question: “European Society or European Societies?” Its aim was to consider whether it remains important or even reasonable to view European society through the lens of the nation state given the development of alternate perspectives that strive both toward enlarging the concept of a cohesive European entity and toward an identity based on more particular concepts. These latter include gender, race, religion, region, language, or other perspectives that move cohesiveness into a condition of increased divergence. While such themes are potent areas for sociological inquiry, the central question has significant resonance for the field of arts management as well, given its concerns with issues of identity, with the tensions that arise around cultural differences and preferences, and with the way that culture and identity are manifested through art production, exhibition, and distribution. Sociological and extended intellectual inquiries around such issues have high value for future practice in the field and for training new practitioners.

The arts management stream—jointly organized by Volker Kirchberg of Leuphana University in Germany and Tasos Zembylas of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria—featured twenty-one papers representing over thirty presenters in standing-room-only sessions. Given the depth and breadth of interests among members of the ESA, sociological inquiry into the arts was well-served by the arts management stream. This dedicated series of panel sessions brought together a wide array of researchers around salient issues. It should be noted that the ESA also includes a section, Sociology of the Arts, which has much crossover interest, among members, with the arts management research stream.

By far, the majority of presentations looked at some aspect of the function or role of arts managers. Several papers offered a broad view of these through the lens of specific cases. Smiljka Isakovic (Megatrend University of Applied Sciences, Belgrade) treated the social impact of top managers in the performing arts. A paper examining coping strategies of practitioners in the cultural management sector in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s (Sofia Tchouikina, Centre for Independent Social Research, Russia) had particular contemporary relevance, as many scholars and practitioners cast a jaded eye toward traditional, Western business practices and their influences globally. Though this issue was not specifically addressed by Tchouikina, it is nevertheless timely to look at the effects of Western business values and to question their continued relevance in the present realities of the global economy. Tchouikina’s specific concerns, however, related to both the local, Russian, as well as to Western traditions and values and how the latter have affected the course of conduct of arts management in that country.

Christoph Behnke (Leuphana University, Germany) and Ivonne Küsters (Technische Universität Dortmund) took up the case of arts managers and their role in interfacing between the values of contradictory demands. Behnke argued that arts management is a profession that is legitimized through informal means revolving around the function of both art and business, though the core values of each of these often differs greatly. His article, “Arts Management as Interface between Aesthetic and Managerial Norms: The Case of The ‘Manager’ for the Contemporary Arts,” suggests that the role of arts manager, therefore, should be understood and evaluated in terms of both aesthetic and managerial competence. Similarly, in “Arts Managers as Interfaces Between Arts and Finances,” Küsters maintained that researchers should examine what arts managers actually do in order to correct the one-sided view that arts management entails only finance and administration. An accumulation of interviews with arts managers, her article sought to identify some of the misguided thinking surrounding the role and responsibilities of practicing arts managers. For example, she notes that within the field it is typical to see the role of arts manager as one in opposition to the role and function of artists. “The difference between the artist and the arts manager,” she noted, “is emphasized so strongly that any influence of the arts manager on the art itself seems impossible.” Much past research “misses the point” in seeing arts managers as “double personages” (in the words of Pierre Bourdieu [Pierre Bourdieu, “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed, Poetics 12 (1983): 311–56]). Indeed, Küsters argues that many arts managers function, successfully, within an amalgamation of artistic and business management criteria and should be so understood and evaluated.

The merit of arguments such as those presented by Küsters and Behnke is to document current practices and conceptions (or misconceptions) that contribute to new understandings of the profession. As indicated above, little has been done to examine these issues from a scholarly perspective; most of the information available to scholars or practitioners is anecdotal or simply does not exist. From a personal perspective, I find the above line of inquiry particularly useful given my interest in practice discourse as a call to action for practitioners and scholars to assume a deeply critical stance of such things as “best practice.” The problem with a concept like “best practices” is that what is “best” in terms of arts management has never been fully explored from a scientific or analytical point of view, so we are in the position of applying unexamined standards as norms for practice and training.

Another important and related issue was raised by Katia Segers (Vrije Universiteit, Belgium) and Annick Schramme (University of Antwerp, Belgium) in their article on the professionalization of arts managers. The central question they posed was contained in the title: “Is Arts Policy to the Benefit of the Autonomous Artist? The Position of Artists in Flemish Contemporary Arts Policy.” In other words, they question whether the professionalization of arts managers has served individual artists. “Arts policy would not exist without artists,” they rightly claim, noting a significant difference between the public policies in continental Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon tradition; the former has been more concerned with the support of autonomous artists, whereas the latter focuses on the creative industries and the functions of the cultural entrepreneur. Segers and Schramme cited research by Stephen Boyle claiming that “efforts on the level of marketing and changes in organizational structure have not been effective in achieving the cultural objectives of increasing audience attendance and creating cost efficiencies” (Stephen Boyle, Cultural and Economic Policy Objectives: A Case of Either/Or or Both? Paper presented at the 4th International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, Vienna, Austria, 2006; and Stephen Boyle, “Beethoven Inc: The Corporatisation of Australia’s Symphony Orchestras, Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management 2, no. 2 (2004): 115–27). It is an astonishing conclusion because so much has been invested (arts management resources, policy, money) in the argument that these efforts do work. Segers and Schramme concluded that the professionalization of arts management has had the paradoxical effect of increasing overhead costs. In other words, rather than augmenting efficiency and economy, these costs, coupled with fragmentation in the field, have resulted in a more expensive arts supply that is not completely defrayed by increased direct subsidies to artists. The increased vulnerability of artists, in turn, increases the need for them to acquire more management-oriented competencies.

Leadership and entrepreneurship have long been buzzwords in many professions, including arts management. Adopting a more critical analysis of their practice and implications, University of Helsinki scholars Terhi Utriainen and Kari Mikko Vesala looked at the construction of entrepreneurial agency in the context of art and arts management. Through ethnographic interviews, they examined the case of a well-known multi-media manager in Finland to explore the characteristics of entrepreneurial agency with special emphasis on such things as innovation and risk-taking. Volker Kirchberg took up the case of entrepreneurship as well by sketching a preliminary typology of value orientations of arts managers. In particular, he examined the value differences between arts managers and artists, especially in the overlap of work activities in which they engage. His aim was to develop testable hypotheses about these orientations and some guiding frameworks for arts management activities. Ian Sutherland (Memorial University of Exeter) and Jonathan Gosling (University of Exeter) presented their paper “Cultural Leadership: Emerging the Emergent,” which viewed cultural leadership as advocacy for cultural activity. Their unique approach was to discuss leadership in terms of effects rather than “personal or positional inputs.” In other words, rather than positioning leadership as a list of individual, personal traits (which, perhaps, no amount of teaching can impart), they presented it in terms of outcomes or results. There is, in fact, some justification for their view given that we evaluate leaders more so by what they accomplish than who they are. Given the recent proliferation of university “leadership” degree programs, such a view may be worthy of some attention.

A brief overview of these few papers does not give justice to the breadth and merit of the arts management research stream. As noted above, however, they provided value to the fields of sociology and arts management by contributing to a needed discussion. Co-organizers Kirchberg and Zembylas are respected and long-time researchers/educators in arts and cultural management who have played an active role in stimulating increased interest in scholarship within the field through activities in professional societies and conferences such as “Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts and the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centres,” as well as the newly organized Fachverband Kulturmanagement, a professional network of arts management scholars from the German-speaking world. A selection of the papers presented at the ESA conference was published in a recent issue of The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society (vol. 40, no. 1 [January–March 2010]), jointly guest edited by Kirchberg and Zembylas.

Constance DeVereaux
Senior Lecturer, Humanities, Northern Arizona University