There is a lot of talk about how the nonprofit arts organization model can or should be changed but I don't hear as much about how our organizational environments can change too. In a sector that is all about creativity, I agree with Brandon that we need to be more creative in our approach to how we work. As a new generation takes on more management roles in organizations there are always opportunities to make adjustments that reflect a different perspective. As always, I'd love to hear your comment.
Increasingly, I hear from many of my colleagues in the non-profit arts sector that they are frustrated in their jobs, bogged down by management and tired of working in positions where creativity is not encouraged. Sadly, because of the economic downturn and a rapidly changing business dynamic this sentiment is not an uncommon one for many young professionals.
Most of us choose to work in the arts with the knowledge that our pay will be considerably less than if we chose to work elsewhere. The trade-offs were that we are surrounding by art and rewarded with the knowledge that we can contribute to the art that we are so passionate about.
Problems will arise for the arts industry when this frustration and burnout overshadows the want to make a difference. The likely result will be that the arts industry will lose valuable talent and leadership as well as the competitive edge in a post great recession business landscape.
Part of why I joined Emerging Arts Leaders-Los Angeles was to tackle this issue head on.
Most visibly the tech industry has decided to do business differently by giving their creative staffs the tools to be, well, creative. I am not talking about a break room beer fridge or the ability to bring your dog to work (although, I love a beer fridge and puppies). I am talking about flattening the management hierarchy and working with your staff to set expectations about what it is that you want to accomplish and soliciting input on how those tasks will be accomplished.
By giving employees some autonomy, ownership and agency over the process, workers are more likely to exceed expectations. Also, let’s move away from a corporate structure designed for a time when we produced widgets and embrace the management reality of delivering a specialty service.
Finding Fairer Seas
There is no panacea for how we work smarter in the arts because all arts organizations are different. However, we need to begin think about what comes next and look to other industries for the cues. Part of what prompted me to write this article was watching a playlist of TED talks called “Working Smarter”and wishing I could find a workplace that shared some of the ideals these talks preached.
If you not employed somewhere that provides opportunities for professional development TED talks are just one resource. I also recommend joining twitter to find and follow people that you admire who are making real social impact by working smarter every day. If you like being a little more hands on, find a local professional development organization and get involved. (ahem, check out the EAL/LA calendar page).
Step One: Practice …
We need to devote some of our week to practicing what we perform (administratively, of course) no matter what stage of our career we are in. We need to treat our work more like the artistic disciplines that we support. I (and many others) posit that by devoting time a certain percentage of the workweek to finding better way to do things, overall productivity and quality will increase. Don’t believe me? Studies have been done about the need for professional development in nonprofits that back this up. Studies don’t lie!
What is more exciting is that working in the arts gives our industry a clear advantage when it comes to creativity. I know many creative types that thrive on balancing doing what they excel at and challenging the boundaries of what they can do. We need to make this a personal priority.
We Can Do Better! / We Are Doing Better!
The nonprofit arts industry should be striving to make that list of “Best Places to Work in the US”. Isn’t premiering a new piece of chamber music, teaching kids to perform a monologue or an experimental art installation an amazing outcome of hard day at work? In order to make that list we have to treat employees and artists fairly, encourage innovative thought and truly engage with our communities.
With rapid shifting audience demographics and the ways of traditionally funding an organization in jeopardy, arts organizations need to be nimble, innovative and smart in how they use their resources. Let’s use that creative drive to our advantage for our work and see what happens.
A note from Brandon: This is the first in a series of upcoming blog posts about working smarter. Stay tuned as I explore ways that arts organizations, boards and programs are working smarter by highlighting successful organizations and techniques. Meanwhile, follow me on Twitter at @BT_in_LA .
This post was submitted by Brandon Turner.