Exodus of Arts Leaders, Kennedy Center Chief Fears

Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center president, says the recession may be stressing arts leaders to the point where they are plotting a mass escape.

An excerpt from his Huffington Post:

"I have spoken with thousands of arts managers over the past six months and it is astonishing how many are considering leaving their positions in the relatively near future.

"Very few of them are departing for wonderful new opportunities with other arts organizations. The vast majority are planning to leave their jobs with no new position on the horizon."

Anecdotal, to be sure. And as we know, arts leaders don't usually come with a deficit of drama, so some of this may be colleague-to-colleague all talk and no action. Still, this is an era is which arts leaders are constantly being put in the position of justifying artistic budgets to tight-fisted board members, and it's exhausting.

A former chief of a large presenter told me recently that a board chair once again seemed perplexed and angered by the fact that a particular event - an orchestra concert in this case - sold out the hall and still did not pay for itself. The business model in the arts is not what it is in the day jobs of most broad members. The arts typically lose money - that is, ticket sales pay for only a portion of expenses. Philanthropy fills in the rest.

It's a pretty good rule of thumb that if you are programming event after event and paying for expenses with ticket sales, you're not in the business of presenting art. But many board members insist it isn't so - in part, to let themselves off the hook for giving and raising adequate dollars.

Kaiser gets into some of this friction.

"For the past two years, [arts administrators] have felt pressured by both passionate artists who want to do their work regardless of the economic situation and conservative board members, many of whose own companies are in trouble."

Read more - and some astute reader comments - here.