How And Why Arts Managers Change Jobs


By: Drew McManus

In: Catch All

It should come as no surprise to learn that attrition rates for arts managers are high but does that mean those moving to new jobs find what they’re looking for?

That’s exactly what we wanted to find out via a survey from last August. We wanted to learn more about what influenced the decision to change jobs and that’s exactly what happened; here is what we uncovered.


The survey produced just under 200 responses, most which fell into the 25-34 age group.

  • 25-34: 57%
  • 35-44: 8%
  • 45-54: 26%
  • 55-64: 9%

Top Five Reasons Arts Managers Left Their Current Position

  1. Concerned about the lack of opportunities for advancement
  2. Unsatisfied with the leadership of administrative and/or artistic leadership
  3. Unsatisfied with the work environment and/or culture
  4. Wanted more challenging work
  5. Tie: Unsatisfied with compensation and/or benefits and Wanted to work in a different city

Out of these results, concern about the lack of opportunities for advancement garnered more than twice the amount of responses than all other answers combined.

Let that sink in a moment.

Based on responses, career stagnation had the strongest influence on deciding to leave a current position. Not money and not the overall work environment. Although both of those issues made it into the Top 5, they weren’t the most common motivator.

Top Five Reasons Arts Managers Accepted A New Position

  1. Tie: Stronger career path and/or more opportunity and Better compensation and/or benefits
  2. More challenging work
  3. I believed in the organization’s overall direction
  4. Better fit for my skills and interests
  5. More desirable city

Although money wasn’t at the top of the list for reasons to leave a job, it managed to top the list for reasons to accept a position. Given the number one response for why a manager left his/her job, it isn’t surprising to see career advancement topping this list as well.

They also wanted to be challenged, not simply busy or pressured.

For employers, this means they should be prepared to be as competitive as possible with compensation and benefits as well as creating an environment that not only challenges employees but offers opportunities to grow and improve skill sets.

Departments With Highest Turnover

  • Marketing 32%
  • Education community engagement 23%
  • Development 19%
  • Executive Administration 10%
  • Other 10%
  • Artistic Administration 6%

When cross tabulating results, marketing managers were spread nearly evenly across all age groups and most them indicated not only concern about the lack of opportunities for advancement but an equal number indicated a desire to work in a different city. Marketing managers continued to produce fascinating results in that 100 percent indicated they were very satisfied with their new position since leaving their previous employer.

Additional points of interest include most education and community engagement managers left their position due to being unsatisfied with their pay and all other reasons were not nearly as influential. Development managers were not only concerned about lack of opportunities for advancement but were mind-numbingly bored and desperately wanted more challenging work.

When Did You Last Change Jobs?

  • Within the last year 25%
  • 1-3 Years 42%
  • 3-5 Years 13%
  • 5+ Years 20%

Was Changing Jobs Worth It?

Very Satisfied: 22%
Satisfied: 36%
Neutral: 17%
Unsatisfied: 25%

It’s worth pointing out that marketing managers had the highest level of satisfaction with changing jobs but development managers garnered the lowest average satisfaction levels. None of them indicated being satisfied or very satisfied and it was an even split between those who felt the move was neutral or left them feeling unsatisfied.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey and to encourage your colleagues to follow suit.

Drew McManus
Drew McManus
In addition to my consulting business, I'm also the Principal of Venture Industries Online but don’t let that title fool you into thinking I'm just a tech geek. I bring 20+ years of global broad-based arts consulting experience to the table to help clients break the cycle of choosing one-size-fits-none solutions and instead, deliver options allowing them to get ahead of the tech curve instead of trying to catch up by going slower. With the vision of legacy support strategy and the delights of creative insights, my mission is to deliver a sophisticated next generation technology designed especially for the field of performing arts. The first step in that journey began in 2010 when The Venture Platform was released, a purpose-designed managed website development solution designed especially for arts organizations and artists. For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, lead a team of intrepid arts pros to hack the arts, lead an arts business incubator, and love a good coffee drink.
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3 thoughts on “How And Why Arts Managers Change Jobs”

  1. These results are similar to results of almost all industries. People tend to leave for the same reasons and most of the mobility occurs in early and perhaps mid career (before spousal, family, and geographic concerns come into play). Also I think younger people think there is something better up ahead but your survey does indicate that a move does not always lead to greater job satisfaction. So may you get what you want, and want what you get.

    • Sure, the reasons will be the same because there are only so many reasons in the larger pool but knowing which items stick out from the pack (such as the stagnation issue compared to pay) tend to be especially fascinating.

      About a year ago, I had a conversation with a group of arts org execs over the stagnation issue and the most common response was to equate additional responsibility with increased challenge. Granted, this is not an easy nut for employers to crack but it would be fascinating to see how those sorts of reactions play out. Based on anecdotal evidence, employees respond poorly and it only exacerbates the stagnation issues.

      I’m also curious to see how overall field retention may be impacted over the next generation if job change satisfaction levels remain low.


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