is Associate Professor and Director of the MFA in Arts Administration Program at University of Connecticut. She is an internationally recognized expert, author and board member in cultural policy and management research with a number of notable publications.
A Conversation and Book Review
Introduction to Arts Management
Most book reviews are written without including feedback or background information by the author. For this review, Constance DeVereaux decided to not only write about Jim Volz’ latest book "Introduction to Arts Management” but to additionally talk to him about why he thought another introduction to the field was needed.
I have never met Jim Volz, but I have spoken to him on the phone. The first occasion was eleven years ago when I was director of an arts management program in the eastern U.S. and a freelance writer for the now-defunct DramaBiz, a publication devoted to the business side of theater.
I was writing an article on arts management degree programs and decided that Jim was someone I needed to interview. He was well known in the theater world and had authored "How to Manage a Theater Company”. Despite the seemingly narrow focus of its title, the book had enough cross-over wisdom for management of other types of arts organizations as well. The book was - and is - widely read internationally.
So, when the opportunity arose to review Jim’s most recent book, Introduction to Arts Management (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017) I thought it was time to reconnect and interview him again.
First, some background. Jim is a professor of theater history at California State University in Fullerton, California. He is an international arts consultant, producer, former art critic and columnist, and the founding editor of the Shakespeare Theater Association’s international publication, quarto. That is the short version of his biography. To say that Jim is an expert in theater, however, is like saying that Diego Maradona is an expert soccer player. In other words, there is no doubt regarding his knowledge and expertise.
What is special about managing in the art field?
Jim’s current book, the subject of this review, purports to go beyond theater management. Even so, it contains many theater references. So, I asked Jim if "arts management” in the new title was a fitting description. "This is really the third edition of How to Run a Theater Company,” he said. "But I didn’t want to just do that book again.” He called it a diary of "all the mistakes I’ve made, or my colleagues have made running arts centers” so that readers can avoid making them. "It’s full of mea culpa’s,” he said.
In fact, the new book addresses itself well to the management of arts centers - multi-use facilities that provide communities with opportunities to see, or take part in, performances of dance, theater, visual arts exhibitions, and other arts-related activities. Although the book cites cases from many types of arts organizations, Jim maintained that it would be equally useful for running a nursing home, or a retail shop.
In his experience as an arts consultant, Jim discovered that just about everything he knew about running a theater company could be applied to running other types of organizations - a view I also share. We both agreed that while knowledge and an interest in the arts are prerequisites to good arts management, training as an artist is not.
Arts management changes - and introductions to arts management have to, too
Managing organizations, Jim said, has "really transitioned in the last thirty years.” Previously, "people were really naïve about the larger world in trying to build an organization. They didn’t understand how that happened in terms of human resources and the financial end of making an organization work.”
In particular, Jim is interested in how arts centers serve communities, and how they can do better in that function. "The through line for any organization,” said Jim, "is that they all need to survive, financially, if they are going to be any use to the communities they serve. The lessons for hiring, for marketing, for fundraising, exhibitions, and events cut across all organizations.”
It's all about collaboration
"Introduction to Arts Management” begins in the right place - with the arts manager and an emphasis on the need to take control of her life. Anyone familiar with the field knows that the burnout rate is high for arts management staff. The highest rate takes place at the executive level. Before the artistic vision, the strategic planning, and the building of executive-board relations, comes an understanding of how to manage one’s own time, and delegate tasks to others. Jim is a strong believer in working as a team instead of being what he calls the "one-headed monster” who does it all alone.
"I’ve never been on board with the word management” he said. "I’ve always felt it’s more about leadership and collaboration. I want it all to come together with a team of people that works together.”
The focus on collaboration is apparent in the organization of his book. Many of the guidelines, tips, and how-tos are presented in list form under descriptive sub-headings. It is the kind of book conducive to sharing with others to discuss its insights and helpful hints - for example, how to do marketing on a reduced budget. It’s a book to keep on your desk for quick reference during a planning session or to quote from at a board meeting before it has a chance to fall apart. The absence of dense elucidations is a plus. It is written in bold strokes rather than nuance. It is a primer for arts managers, according to Jim. "In offering advice, I tried to cut to the chase,” he said.
"It gives a lot of the basics that people don’t think about,” said Jim. Too often arts managers are focused on what they want to achieve, artistically. They don’t stop to think, strategically, about how to achieve their goals.
The very helpful and up to date advices Jim offers with "Introduction to Arts Management” are directed to an international readership. Despite cultural and structural differences, many aspects of running an organization transcend diversity. Creating and keeping an agenda, staying within budget, and how to get by with limited funding are just a few of the topics that would benefit any arts manager no matter her geographic location. In proof of the point, the book includes examples from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, and the US. According to Jim, his previous book on managing a theater company also has a world-wide following. "When I meet producers and managers from the U.K. and Germany, they tell me that they’ve read my book and they keep it on hand.” There is no reason to suppose that the present book will be different.
If the book has a weakness it is that no single topic is treated in-depth. Community engagement is reduced to twelve tips for endearing your organization to the community and fifteen ways—in contrast—to infuriate community members. But deep analysis was not Jim’s intention and might, in fact, detract from the book’s practicality. The reader will instead find budget basics, twelve tips for taking charge, five tips for a new job, a stress reduction tip sheet, a checklist for management, seventeen notes from artists to producers, communication nuts and bolts, a glossary of marketing terms, and many similarly useful topics, including all time classics as well as new issues such as social media.
"People were always asking me what’s the secret to success,” Jim said. If the book reveals any secrets it is in the practical advice on fundraising, marketing, finances, planning, personnel, and even how to survive in a competitive field. The book is recommended for emerging arts leaders (graduate and undergraduate), and for individuals already working in the field but who lack formal training.
Here you can find a review of the second edition of "How to run a theater” by Jim Volz: https://www.artsmanagement.net/Articles/Book-review-How-to-Run-a-Theatre-Creating-Leading-and-Managing-Professional-Theatre,3832