Artists As Representatives

I have something to confess: I wanted to make today’s post a rant against a sharp uptick in the number of instances where I’ve encountered artists behaving boorishly among patrons.

Although it sounds wonderfully cathartic, it would have ultimately run afoul of this blog’s Code of Conduct.

That’s when it struck me that the reason I’m noticing more and more artists doing an abysmal job at representing their institution (and by extension, the field at large) is because they aren’t being properly trained in how to internalize and implement a meaningful code of conduct.

The Duties and Responsibilities Of Artists As Institutional Representatives Is, At Best, Murky.

It’s a skill set few receive instruction on during their academic years and things are no better for those who secure positions inside professional performing arts organizations. Inadequate and nonexistent intake processes fail to correct academic shortcomings and the byproduct is artists meandering through their career as some sort of ill-will Typhoid Mary.

The lucky ones will encounter a colleague capable of pointing out these shortcomings in a respectful and thoughtful fashion or they simply learn lessons the hard way.

In the end, the lack of preparation and understanding damages their respective institutions, and by extension, the field as a whole.

This Is Where Codes Of Conduct Enter The Equation

Within traditional corporate culture, these issues fall under the larger umbrella of code of conduct policies.

Typically, a good code of conduct will stipulate expectations, consequences, and incentives. Having said that, it isn’t unusual to find organizations with nothing more than a basic conduct statement that resembles more of a value statement rather than an actionable policy.

Although a comprehensive policy is recommended, if your organization has nothing in place currently, here are some examples of you can use to get the process started (note the inclusion of employee-patron interaction):

Please note: this is not legal advice. The purpose of this post is to promote thoughtfulness and inspire positive action. As always, legal information is not legal advice; instead, speak to a lawyer or human resources professional about specifics.
All employees represent the organization and the behavior of each member reflects upon the entire group. It is essential that members be mindful to respect the rights of all stakeholders (artists, administrators, board members, and patrons) whether they are engaged directly in official events or participating as members of an audience. We count on all participants to use common sense in avoiding situations and behavior that would put themselves or stakeholders at risk, cause problems for the organization, or adversely impact safety, performance, and enjoyment of stakeholders.
The organization’s ongoing success is dependent upon our ability to build positive relationships with our audience, donors, artists, managers, and board members. Besides expecting members to perform their jobs competently and reliably, we expect employees to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner during any situation sponsored by the organization and/or our partner institutions.

Time and resources permitting, a code of conduct includes language and examples that intersect points of contact between all stakeholders. When crafting expanded policies, here are 10 guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Emphasize expected behaviors rather than prohibitions.
  • Encourage employees to seek guidance and make clear who they should contact inside the institution.
  • Embrace easy to understand language and utilize real-world “user stories” to provide policy examples.
  • Provide details but mind overall length.
  • Consider diversity oriented perspectives.
  • Expectations require training and support to be effective.
  • Consider your budget when crafting expectations (artists working a few months per year earning $10,000 per year have less institutional buy-in than one employed year-round earning a living wage and benefits).
  • Reference mission driven commitments to all stakeholders.
  • Update your policy on a regular schedule, incorporating recent user stories when possible.
  • We’re a creative field so be creative; consider using non-traditional learning aids.

Speaking of non-traditional learning aids, here’s an example:

the problem is you
Nothing of concern here, just some colleagues bemoaning public support while planning on supporting their peers later in the concert.
the problem is still you
Later at the concert, their desire to talk shop during the performance has unintended consequences.

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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