Time For A History Lesson

One of the most common questions I’m asked by arts admin students is which books they should read to learn about the latest trends in arts management. While that’s a fine endeavor, I usually respond saying there’s far more to learn by talking to as many retired or soon to be retired insiders as possible.

The history of this field is poorly documented and much of the knowledge from past generations is lost to time.

When it comes to preparing for the future, the past is one of the best teachers you can find. Granted, some (a lot?) of the lessons are more cautionary tales than not, but that doesn’t degrade their value.

One of the best byproducts of the online cultural journalism movement is more and more of the field’s history is being documented. Now that we’re entering the latest crisis cycle, this material can help keep us grounded and better prepared.

To that end, there’s a wonderful article from 2013 written by the always sharp Jon Silpayamanant. It takes a deep dive into the impact the Great Depression had on the live classical music industry.

Given when the article was written, it offers a comparative look at the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Fast forward to today’s climate and it offers an entirely new perspective.

The Classical Music Crisis during the Great Depression

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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