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5 Key Things to Know About Becoming an Arts Administrator
Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash
Leslie W. Price
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Theatre director, writer, and arts educator.
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Performers are the folks who get all of the applause, but the administrators leading performing arts organizations deserve to take a bow, too. These highly trained professionals guide performing arts companies in every area, from choosing the plays and musicals that get produced each season to deciding which educational initiatives to undertake. Whether a company is large or small, there’s at least one arts administrator heading up the day to day operations and looking at the bigger picture. 

Arts administrator responsibilities.

Arts administrator is a blanket term for lots of administrative roles within an arts organization. Depending on the specifics of the job, responsibilities might include:

  • Selecting plays, musicals, dance pieces, visual art, music, etc. for the season 
  • Casting shows
  • Hiring artistic staff
  • Hiring teaching staff
  • Firing staff
  • Organizing fundraisers
  • Recruiting donors or large funding organizations
  • Grant writing
  • Attending board meetings
  • Community outreach
  • Designing curriculum
  • Creating budgets for the entire organization or for a single program within that organization
  • Directing plays
  • Designing elements for a show
  • Teaching
  • Attending/presenting at conferences
  • Facilitating professional development opportunities for staff
  • Observing classes or rehearsals to offer feedback
  • Collaborating with graphic designers on artwork for ads and playbills
  • Managing the needs of the facility that houses your organization
  • Creating evaluation procedures to gather data for grants and future program planning
  • Leading post-show talkbacks

Qualities of a successful arts administrator.

There are lots of leadership roles within arts organizations, but there are a few key qualities that successful arts administrators have in common regardless of the particulars of their roles. Most are extremely organized. There’s always much more going on behind the scenes than the audience realizes, and it takes a tremendous amount of organization to keep everything moving forward. Arts administrators also tend to be very passionate about their work. Successful admins are truly invested in the power of art and are genuinely interested in finding ways to help make art and bring it to the public. Lastly, the very best arts administrators are really, really good at communication. They help artists feel valued, support them in making meaningful work and find creative ways of making art accessible to their patrons. 

Required education, skills and training.

Even if you’re starting a performing arts company from scratch, you’ll need some basic skills to get started. First and foremost, you’ll need to be able to make and stick to a budget. It’s possible to make art for very little expense, but somewhere at some point every company needs to spend money and also make an educated guess about how they’re going to make money.

As you continue to grow your career in arts administration, you may also want to continue to grow your knowledge. Professional development opportunities abound throughout all areas of arts administration. Attend a conference, study with a mentor or even sign up for a basic business class at your local community college. At the very least, it’s advisable to make the time to do some informational interviews with professionals who are on a career path similar to the one you want for yourself.

Advanced degrees are also a worthwhile investment once you’ve narrowed your focus a bit. Some universities offer degrees specifically in arts administration. Other colleges and universities fold arts administration skills into M.A. and M.F.A. programs that focus on design, directing or education. No matter the path you take, it’s vital to remember that your education isn’t complete just because you finally earn that diploma. Plan to continue educating yourself throughout your career to stay on top of trends and best practices for your area of expertise.

Arts administrator salary.

If an existing organization hires you, the salary will be dependant on a few factors: your experience, the scope of the job and where the job is located. A full-time job at an established organization should offer salary with benefits. If you accept a part-time arts administrator role, make the effort to negotiate a fee that feels right for the amount of time you’ll be investing each week. Make sure you set clear expectations around exactly what your responsibilities are. It is very common for scope creep to occur with both part-time and full-time work, and don’t hesitate to re-establish boundaries as needed. 

If you’re starting your very own company, you’ll probably be paid in the satisfaction of a job well-done at first. As you grow your company, it’s vital for you to get paid. In fact, grantors will reconsider granting money if you don’t. 

Similar roles.

What is an executive director?

This person takes care of the big picture of an arts organization, making sure it’s staying on track in terms of artistic and financial vision. Generally, this person has a unique combination of artistic and financial knowledge as well as excellent communication skills.

What does an artistic director do?

This arts administrator guides the overall artistic vision for an organization, choosing plays, musicals, choreography and themes for each season. They often cast or assist in casting performers and cultivate relationships with playwrights, directors, choreographers and other artists.

What’s a producer?

The producer deals with most of the financial aspects of a show or season, making sure there’s enough money coming in for the organization to be stable. This person also handles most of the hiring and firing of artistic positions. Sometimes this role is folded into the job of the executive director of a company.

What does the role of the education director involve?

The education director usually focuses on classes and programming for young performers. In some instances, this person also assists in creating curricula for adults.

Who is the technical director?

The technical director is the person who supports the realization of all of the designs that have been created for a show. This person makes sure scenery is built to look great and be safe. They also support lighting, scenic and props designs as they are completed as well as any other unique technical needs of a show. 

What are the duties of an art director?

An art director (also called an art manager) oversees how the visual art is presented in film or in print work. 

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Leslie W. Price is a theatre artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio

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