I’ve been in arts marketing for 14 years now. I started my arts marketing career at age 28 at a 2000-seat auditorium that mostly acted as a rental house, but also presented some music and theatre acts. I spent four years there learning the ins and outs of the entertainment and arts fields. Soon after, I joined the orchestra field and am now working for my third orchestra. I know I am no longer that ‘emerging’ arts leader that I was 10 years ago. Most organizations define an emerging arts leader as someone who is under 35 years of age and has less than five years of experience in their field. In other words, the ‘new’ emerging arts leaders are mostly Millennials, and a good decade or two younger than me, a Gen-Xer.
Several professional, national arts organizations have professional development programs specifically geared towards those younger emerging arts leaders. Americans for the Arts offers an Emerging Leaders Network. The League of American Orchestras boasts of their Emerging Leaders Program and their Essentials of Orchestra Management Program on their website. Theatre Communications Group has a One-on-One professional development program for emerging leaders, and Dance USA offers an Institute for Leadership Training, that pairs emerging leaders with veteran leaders as their mentors.
So how do I, as a no-longer-emerging female arts leader in mid-career get the skills and experience to take arts marketing to the next level, especially on a limited budget and with limited staff?
There are several ways for mid-career professional women in arts fields to stay relevant and ahead of the curve when it comes to professional development. Here are some ideas:
1) Follow blogs from arts professionals
If you’re reading this, then you are already following step one – reading content provided by others in the arts profession. ArtsHacker is a great resource for getting tips and tricks to better do your job. Depending on what field you’re in, you’ll have some specific blogs you’ll want to follow. Ask colleagues for some suggestions. My top ones are Adaptistration.com, You’ve Cott Mail, and Butts in the Seats.
2) Read white papers/studies/survey results
A free way to continue professional development is to devour the work of others in the way of published white papers, newly released studies, and surveys performed in the arts. Recently, I printed out (or read online to save trees!) several studies and articles from several resources. Target Resource Group, an arts consultant company, publishes their arts marketing white papers and studies on their website at www.trgarts.com. The NEA has several studies and survey results on their page at arts.gov under Publications. The Wallace Foundation has reports for “Building Audiences for the Arts.” If you find that you just don’t have time to sit at your desk for reading, take a 30 minute coffee break and get out of your office and away from distractions.
3) Attend seminars/conferences
While this step may cost some money, it might be a good idea to personally invest in professional development, or, better yet, have the organization you work for invest in it. Again, there are industry specific annual conferences for symphony, dance, theatre, literature, etc. Check out the topics that will be presented at each and see if you can spend the airfare/hotel/time off to take advantage. Some of these conferences also offer scholarships or your state arts organization might offer travel assistance. Or, find local seminars and conferences that may not be industry specific to the arts, but more general, such as non-profit management. These are also great networking events to connect with others that walk in your shoes every day. The best conferences and seminars will provide you with immediate take-aways that you can implement the day you get back to the office.
4) Find a mentor/Be a mentor
Hopefully as you were rising in the ranks of arts administration, you had someone as a mentor to help you navigate the obstacles and pitfalls of working in the arts. If you don’t have that mentor any longer, find a new one who is in a position that you would like to reach someday. Are you a senior staff member hoping to become Executive Director one day? Shadow your own ED, ask questions on how they manage and multi-task, or handle those tricky contract negotiations. Or find an ED in another field that could help provide tips on ultimately reaching your career goals. You should also be in a position, with your experience and successes to date, to be a mentor to someone else in the rising ranks. If you have interns on staff, find out what their career goals are and offer to give them additional training or opportunities for shadowing. Find young professionals groups or seek out a high school business program and offer to give a class or talk.
5) Seek that elusive life/work balance
No matter if you ‘lean in’ our ‘lean out’, as women are often asked to do, we all need to find a healthy and workable family and life/work balance. Working in the arts often means late nights and weekends in addition to the 9-5, so finding a balance is key. Burnout in the non-profit world is so prevalent that a simple Google search produced about 150,000 results! I have known arts employees to spend several late nights trying to get a brochure out the door, or to get those annual fund letters printed and stuffed. I have often had to remind colleagues who are under a tremendous amount of stress at work that this isn’t brain surgery. Meaning, no one is going to die if we don’t get that brochure to the printer on time. Take a breath, get some perspective, and take some time to relax. Yes, what we do is important work, and we wouldn’t be in this field if we didn’t love what we do, but it can’t be our whole life. Your children, spouse/significant other, friends, and family deserve your time too.
6) Join industry groups outside of the arts
One of the worst things you can do to your career is become so insular about arts-centric marketing, or fundraising, or management that you don’t look at the industry as a whole. There are some great resources for arts marketing, but there are even more resources for marketing as a whole. I’ve attended conferences for or joined marketing groups such as the American Marketing Association, Marketing Professionals, American Advertising Federation, and more. These groups provide valuable lessons and insight on direct mail, online and mobile marketing, and traditional marketing that are still relevant and usable in the non-profit world. Find groups that do meaningful work even in the for-profit world and take notes.
As a 40-something ‘emerged’ arts leader, I try my best to follow the above steps and offer those of you like me some challenges. I challenge women in the arts to refresh their passion and drive for doing the work we do. I challenge those of you mid-career to be a life-long learner, to keep learning new things every day and seek out new opportunities. I challenge women in the arts to make goals for where you want to take your career and start NOW in taking steps to get there, if you’re not where you want to be already. And I challenge female arts leaders to help mentor and bring forth the next generation of arts administrators.