There is plenty to the arts that is imaginative, but there’s also a side that, while creative, is more nuts and bolts.
Somebody has to see that the light bill gets paid. That’s where the arts administrator or manager comes in.
People with a degree in arts managment “work behind the scenes to make sure artists keep creating and the public keeps appreciating art of every kind,” according to the College Board website.
With expertise or a degree in arts administration, you could help manage a museum, theater, opera house, ballet company, art gallery or other profit-making or nonprofit organization.
You get to follow your passion for art, dance or theater, but instead of being on stage or in the studio, you handle hiring, accounting, technology, raising money, recruiting volunteers – or managing all the people who do those jobs. Potential median salary for an arts administrator was $80,267 as of June 2016, according to salary.com.
Juliana Driever, program manager for the masters in art administration program at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City, started as an artist. She took as many advanced art studio courses as her high school offered, as well as some local college courses.
“At that time, I knew that I loved making art and being around other creative people, but I wasn’t sure of the career path I would take,” she says.
In her position at Teachers College, she is responsible for academic operations, events and budgets of the arts administration program. She also has a background in curating, researching art and developing collections.
Christopher Fuller, business office specialist at the Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theater, took a different route to arts administration. He studied history and theater, became an actor, then got his master’s in business administration.
“I think the theater is great,” says Fuller. “It is an exciting career for young people, but then at a certain point, you look around and ask what am I doing here?”
He finds working within an organization rewarding and stable.
“It’s an opportunity to build relationships with people who can see the quality of your work and respect it," he says.
In his position at Yale, he helps with the theater management students in the master’s program and at the Yale Repertory Theater. The students are essentially responsible for running the theater under a professional managing director and an assisstant director who is a student. Fuller also has responsibilities for the five annual theater shows, including payroll and arranging accommodations for the professional actors, directors and designers.
If you’re interested in arts administration, Fuller says there are four skills you can work on even while still in high school:
1. Communication: You need to really focus on how to communicate with others. You can practice through conversation with friends, on stage in a theater, in front of a classroom, in the team locker room or as a member of the debate team – whatever platform helps develop communication.
2. Teamwork: Learning to work together is important, whether its on a sports team, on stage, or as part of a commuinty service project. You learn to work toward a common goal and, sometimes, to be a leader.
3. Math: Take algebra, statistics and calculus. These can be advantageous in getting a management position. Many people in arts management excel in communication, but far fewer can really master the numbers. Building a strong background in statistics, projections and analysis will put you ahead of the game once you get into the field.
4. Technology skills: Learn a management program like Microsoft Excel and how to use numbers and metrics to quantify decisions.
And once you are ready to apply for college, Fuller and Driever have four more tips:
1. Pick your spot carefully. “I would encourage students not to stress too much about their major,” says Fuller. More importantly, go to a school where you can succeed with the course work.
2. Location, location, location. Think about attending college in an area where you might want to ultimately live or work. Networking and internships are essential in getting to know what you want to do and where in the performing arts or visual arts world you want to be. “If you want to work in California, it may be better to look at colleges on the West Coast,” Fuller says. “If you are planning to work in New York City, then colleges like Yale or Columbia universities are great schools and will place you more readily in the region.”
3. Get out there. “Network, network, network,” says Driever. “The arts sector is a very social space, so try your best to meet new people. Go to exhibits, plays, concerts, dance events, film screenings, and attend artists’ talks. ... Read publications. Being an arts administrator requires a constant looking and seeing. Be curious about everything.”
4. Look for an internship. “My graduate degree is in art history, not arts administration, and was steeped in theory and research of artists and art movements,” Driever says. “I found I had to create my own opportunities to learn the management skills I needed to navigate professional settings in the art world. So I took on internships, and in doing so, I found a mentor who gave me guidance, introduced me to new contacts and opened many doors.” Fuller recommends doing an internship between your sophomore and junior year of college. “It’s really an important part of your education, and it will give you exposure that is incredibly beneficial,” he says.