Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Arts Administrators

Arts administration – juggling skills required. Source: Wikimedia.

Richard Watts, The essential skills of a great arts administrator, ArtsHub, 4 May 2015

Keeping multiple balls in the air is one of many traits which the successful arts administrator needs to master. We asked a range of arts administrators from around the country, some at the peak of their game and others still emerging, about the elements of their skill sets which they feel are most useful to them:

Amy Barrett-Lennard, Director, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

‘To be a great arts administrator you’ve got to really love the art form or forms you are working with. Your passion for this can’t be manufactured and you need to possess an almost missionary like zeal for what it is your organisation or company does. You need to truly understand what drives artists and arts workers and others that are essential to your cause. You must pay great attention to detail (for this does count) while always being able to see the big picture. You’ve got to be a good strategist, delegator and team builder and know how to manage egos – those of others as well as your own! You also have to be true to yourself, stick to your vision, strive for the highest standards but be prepared to take risks, foster cohesion but not be afraid of occasional friction, develop great partnerships and constantly be willing to take on new ideas or ways of doing things.’

Claire Spencer, Chief Executive, Arts Centre Melbourne

‘First and foremost is the ability to step into the shoes of our many stakeholders – audiences, venue hirers, performers, government, donors and the community. Understanding exactly what people want from us is critical to our success. Coupled with that is the ability to see the bigger picture so we can stay one step ahead of future trends.

‘You also have to be a leader across a very large, diverse workforce, who can unite everyone behind a common purpose.   Strong financial and business management skills are essential too – it’s a given that our business model has to be financially sustainable as, without this, the show quite literally can’t go on!

‘A genuine passion for the arts is vital. If you don’t get a thrill every time the curtain goes up, you’re in the wrong job.

‘Finally, you need an incredibly supportive family and friends who understand this is not a nine to five job. That’s not a skill, but it’s a must have.’

Kane Forbes, Manager, Performing Arts Touring, Regional Arts Victoria

‘I trained as an electrician in an earlier version of my life. My career in the construction industry is now a distant memory, but there are eerie similarities between my electrical trade and my career in arts management. When the electrician and arts administrator are doing a good job, no one really knows, because all the beautiful and difficult work is hidden in the structures. If we are interrupted at a crucial moment, or having a tough time, the disconnection is visible. When the job is finished our work casts light on other people’s work. Not many will celebrate how brilliantly the current is running, but when the power fails, pretty much everything stops, so often we get a balance of negative feedback.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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