2019-04-29

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Ann Tonks
is specialised in leadership, management and governance in the non-profit sector. For many years she was the Managing Director of one of Australias most prestigious arts companies, Melbourne Theatre Company. These days, shes an arts management consultant helping companies improve their governance, strategic planning and organisational culture. She also teaches graduate management courses. Anns also been on many boards including superannuation, employer and industry associations, theatre, opera and dance companies.
Book review

Arts and Cultural Management. Sense and Sensibility in the State of the Field

Arts Management is a broad field where a lot of things happen simultaneously. New approaches are constantly appearing on the tableau and most of them disappear very quickly again. Together with experienced researchers, Constance DeVereaux has taken on the difficult task of identifying the most promising ones for her new volume - published 2018 by Routledge - and mapping their status quo between theory and practice.
 
I always like arts management books that refer to art. Constance DeVereaux has used Jane Austen as the source of her title - where "sense and sensibility” is the juxtaposition between reason and emotion. The articles DeVereaux has gathered together explore other tensions between the empirical and conceptual worlds of arts management. There are 14 articles (including 3 by DeVereaux) under the three headings of ‘Arts and Cultural Management: Exploring the Field’, ‘The State of Arts and Cultural Management Research’ and ‘Arts and Cultural Management Discourses.’
 
Central insights
 
DeVereaux’s exploration of "Cultural Management as a Field” captures many early writers on arts and cultural management and ponders why the subject seems so divorced from its early practitioners. I think the answer is that many of those early writers weren’t researchers and that as the subject became imbedded in universities, the requirements of the academic world meant that focus turned to theories from other disciplines - sociology, economics, management - rather than practice from the field. 
 
Fang Hua’s article on arts management programs in the UK, USA and China provides an interesting point of comparison for university directors reviewing their own program from the perspective of the needs of both local and international students. Understanding the sociology of those students is explored in an article by Vincent Dubois and Victor Lepaux on their study of French cultural management students. This article has some fascinating insights into the feminisation of the field as well as the impact of class, the participation of artists and the rationale behind wanting to work in cultural management. 
 
The article that eventually would be most interesting to my students is by Aleksandar Brkić called "Death of the Arts Manager”. It explores the tensions and challenges between arts managers and artists, individual and collective practice, the Dionysian and Apollonian worlds, curation and management. It’s a playful piece of writing that should inspire debate in the classroom.
 
For those readers who are particularly interested in research, Goran Tomka’s work in reviewing articles in high ranking arts management journals offers some useful insights into the type of research that is being published - mainly from the West, mainly about large organisations, with a methodological prominence of interviews and the voice of the manager. What’s missing from the research is the story of small to medium organisations that are more likely to be flexible, non-hierarchical, experimental and informal, and he offers an alternative approach to exploring such companies.
 
Tasos Zembylas’s article on cultural policy evaluation reminds us that ideas such as efficiency, quality and even success are contested notions and that the disciplines of economics and auditing have tended to be privileged above the humanities in this space. He also offers useful insights into the rationale underlying the commissioning of such evaluations from the desire to change to no change, from political control to censorship, as well as other ambivalences in how evaluations are structured and implemented.
 
The difficult life of artists in the Irish context is explored by Kerry McCall. She effectively brings together all those elements that we know about the challenges and benefits of cultural work. The image that stays with me the longest is that of artists who through poverty can’t afford to stay warm. As she says, there’s a disconnect between policy that celebrates the creative industries and the lives of many of the people who work in those industries.
 
Initially, I was fascinated by Njörður Sigurjónsson’s exploration of silence in cultural management but it didn’t go where I thought it would - to how people in organisations use silence as a way of moderating communication or relationships. Instead, her interviews were with people who directly dealt with sound as were her field trips - and so the commentary was focused on audiences and their interaction in the gallery or the concert hall more than organisational silences. 
 
There are all sorts of interesting management concepts in Stahl and Tröndle’s article which applies organisational and systems theory to arts management - sensible foolishness, absorbed uncertainty, mindfulness, engagement and exploration. But what I’d love instead of even more theoretical approaches would be an article that takes those ideas and plays with them in a practical way. In other words, I’d like to read the summary of a process that tested such ideas with arts managers to see if they really can help us manage better.
 
Conclusion
 
Academics can provide us with rigour and research but most arts managers I know stop reading text books and journal articles the moment they graduate. But as someone who has written an arts management book with the subtitle "Reflections on Theory and Reality” and who has combined management practice and consulting with academic teaching and research, the concept of this book appealed to me. But I suspect that I am somewhat unique here. William J. Byrnes, author of an arts management text book that is now up to its 5th edition, has written the foreword and expressed his belief that the book is a valuable new resource for "people in the field of arts management” (x). DeVereaux herself hopes that it will open a conversation for anyone involved in research, teaching and practice (xvii). However, having read the book, I’m not convinced that it would have a lot of appeal for my practitioner colleagues. Whilst the language isn’t particularly inviting for them, DeVereaux has done a great service in putting this collection of articles. Altogether, that the book should appeal to students and academics and in my hybrid role, a number of them piqued my interest. 

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