The First Rule Of Survival Is Surviving

Violinist Holly Mulcahy published an intriguing article at Inside The Arts on 4/13/2014 that focuses on how musicians can improve their own survivability by learning how to eat better while simultaneously saving money and wasting less. And even though she approaches the process from the perspective of helping her fellow musicians, everything she covers is equally well suited for arts managers; especially since many of them in early career positions scrape by from paycheck to paycheck like musicians.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-064It is rare for a month to go by where an emerging arts administrator doesn’t reach out asking for insight and advice on how to get ahead and although they generally expect shop talk and advice on the finer points of arts management, I tend to focus on the pitfalls that really chew up entry level and middle managers: living with the daily grind of being paid, shall we say, less than your true value.

Someday, I’ll write a book about the similarities between professional musicians and arts managers (spoiler: there’s more than most think); but until then, one of the most common reasons I see talented arts managers cycle out of the field is because they simply weren’t prepared to endure the grind of 

living on lower income wages combined with a high pressure, time suck of a job.

It doesn’t take many years of eating low quality food, living with half a dozen roommates, spending half your food budget at bars, etc. for talented young professionals to become one more attrition statistic.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

As Mulcahy points out, they don’t teach home economics in music school (same goes for arts administration degree programs) but they really should, especially if the goal is to produce as many successful professionals as possible.

Nonetheless, she takes things into her own capable hands and draws on a career’s worth of hindsight to create an extensive guide for becoming what she describes as graceful, not wasteful.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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