WE all know there’s nothing wrong with arts managers having strong political opinions and those opinions are of no business to the organization where they work. At the same time, how a manager expresses those opinions does impact the organization and a good manager needs to be aware of this when exercising his/her right to political expression. Case in point, the California Musical Theatre (CMT) fiasco which unfolded earlier this week…
The details behind the CMT fiasco are simple:
- CMT artistic director, Scott Eckern, donated $1,000 to a campaign supporting California’s Proposition 8, which wrote a ban on same-sex marriages into the California state Constitution.
- Washington DC-based political writer, John Aravosis, discovered Eckern’s donation via public disclosure documents and published the information at his political blog, americablog.com.
- As a result, a large and diverse group of artists threatened to boycott CMT.
- A few days later, Eckern resigned his position with CMT.
The issue here has nothing to do with Prop 8 (or any other political issue); instead, it has everything to do with the process managers use to take action on their political convictions (which applies equally to artists and board members). There are numerous reasons why arts managers, especially those in executive positions, need to be cautious when it comes to politics.
Due to the nature of public funding and the natural shifts in political power, arts managers need to remain apolitical. They need to learn how to get along with all types of politicians and become adept at finding the right way to deliver the organization’s message. Furthermore, managers need to avoid publicly aligning with political figures and issues that tend to polarize the general public.
With regard to supporting candidates or issues through donations, the simple solution for arts managers is to make donations anonymously in order to ensure make certain personal convictions don’t have a negative impact on the organization being served. The situation in California is sad on many different levels but at the very least, it can serve as an example to remind managers elsewhere to remain mindful on these issues.