Are We Using “The Imprimatur Of A Brand Name As A Shortcut For Hiring Decisions?”

There’s a fantastic post by Joe Patti in the 7/24/17 edition of Butts In The Seats that examines a decision by Harvard University to suspend graduate admissions for their theatre program after multiple years of unacceptable debt-to-earning potential for graduates.

Patti’s article is a riff on a Chicago Tribune article by chief theater critic and arts reporter Chris Jones.

Although both gentlemen work mostly in the theatre world, their thought provoking topic, and it’s host of complications, can be applied to the orchestra field just as easily.

Tribune reporter Chris Jones goes on to suggest that arts training programs should be held to similar standards as trade schools rather than claiming an exception,

“…based on the mostly spurious argument that students are pursuing their creative dreams, know the cruel realities of the profession and thus have some awareness of the financial risks and the inequality of its rewards — some people, obviously, make a whole lot.

In many cases, these students are going into debt to acquire credentials and, yet more importantly, a network to aid them in a profession that, to its detriment, is growing ever-more nepotistic and lazily elitist, especially when it comes to its dominance by a few well-known training programs.”

That last sentence about the industry being partially to blame for using the imprimatur of a brand name as a shortcut for hiring decisions evokes the recent conversations about arts careers only being accessible to people with the means to take on debt and support themselves during unpaid internships.

Adaptistration People 150On the artistic side of this topic, it isn’t difficult to see similarities between what both authors describe in the theater world and the way music conservatories have intersected with orchestras and operas for more than a century.

Granted, there’s more than a bit of irony surrounding this topic in the form of very low placement rates for graduates, but even then, those from “well-known training programs” tend to fare better than those who don’t.

But what’s particularly interesting is how much this phenomenon has grown for those seeking positions in administration.

With the cost of arts admin graduate programs leveling out at comparable levels to music conservatory graduate programs, both stakeholders have far more in common than not.

It’s a slippery topic that thumbs its nose at neat and clean talking points. Having said that, I do find myself connecting to the point Patti and Jones make in their respective articles.

I’m curious to know what you think, take a moment to read both articles and weigh-in with your thoughts.

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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