The arts were reported to be worth £87.4billion to the UK economy in 2015 and last week parliament started a short investigation into a training gap for arts professionals. This is something that I have always felt really strongly about and I think it can’t come soon enough. There is training available if you want to become an actor, dancer, technician, but there is very little accessible training or mentoring available to you if you are pursuing a career in theatre management. I worked in the theatre industry for almost 20 years, running venues, festivals, performance and events. Everything I learnt I learnt on the job and I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful artistic director and chief executive for more than half of those years, across different venues, who believed in me, encouraged and mentored me and gave me tons of great opportunities to learn. He was, in my opinion, everything an arts manager should be. Sadly I think he is rare in today’s industry. I have worked with some wonderfully talented and genuine people but I have also worked with countless people who are in over their heads. As funding for the arts has dwindled and jobs have become more stretched arts professionals have soldiered on under more and more pressure and as the cuts continue the stress levels rise (why the government are applying such huge cuts to an industry that adds so much to our economy is beyond me but that’s another post altogether)
I have nurtured and developed some awesome young arts professionals who will, I hope, go onto develop and grow this wonderful industry.
I have also encountered a lot of phonies in the arts industry, people who see the industry as weak and blag their way into high profile positions because they have the confidence and nerve and can talk the talk, by the time anyone realises they can’t walk the walk it’s normally way too late, and the damage caused can be catastrophic for some poor theatre whose governing board who has employed the wrong person. I don’t think you necessarily need to have a degree in theatre management to work in the arts, I haven’t got a degree and I was a great theatre manager…. but I do think that it’s such a specialist industry that there is nothing to benchmark against so it’s easy for the phonies to infiltrate, or equally as easy for perfectly good and talented people to end up with too much on their plate and stressed out and in over their heads as the industry tries to deal with the cuts and adds more and more pressure as they struggle to cope with all of their many roles.
The arts industry has always been competitive but to me used to be full of inspirational people and an exciting and free creative place to spend my days. When I started work in the industry I was fortunate enough to work with an incredible group of the most gifted women I have ever met, each an expert in their creative field, marketing, participation, programming, customer service, management, fundraising, we encouraged each other, inspired each other and achieved wonderful things. Sadly since then more then one of us have fallen victim to bullies and senior managers who have been out of their depth since then.
It’s no surprise to me a 2011 study found bullying in the arts to be more prevalent than in the health service and the armed forces, pretty scary statistics for such a small industry and I believe it’s in no small part due to people who don’t have the right skills managing to get into high profile jobs and not being able to meet the demands, so passing the demands into their teams or just being plain nasty to anyone who they feel threatened by, thus leading to good industry professionals being put under too much pressure, jobs becoming impossible which in turn leads to low self esteem and confidence issues in people who then don’t feel like they can pursue their career goals because being undervalued makes them feel as though they are not valuable in their roles. If a role is unsustainable then employees inevitably get tired of the uphill battle which will affect their self esteem.I know of at least 7 really great industry professionals who have left the arts in the last couple of months for these very reasons, and not in one venue, across the sector, people who would have gone on to be artistic directors, directors of education, fundraising, economic development, chief executives. The industry is a slightly duller place without them
I am, of course one of those people, I left the industry because bullying left me feeling as though the career that I had worked so hard for was worthless. I am, of course, immensely proud of my career and all the achievements it holds, and will, hopefully, go back to it in the future and achieve much more. I Still think the arts is a hugely rewarding and inspiring sector to work in. There are some hugely inspirational, wonderful,hard working and dedicated individuals working in the sector, who do and will continue to make a huge difference. I think we should stop expecting the dedicated and hardworking people who run this industry to turn water into wine and run it on little to no budgets. They may be miracle workers but theatres still need building work to keep them standing and ensure they are safe and welcoming places to be. Theatre should be accessible to everyone from all walks of life to enjoy and make a career in. I spent a lot of my career working towards making theatres welcoming and safe places for people from all walks of life, and I’m sad to see that more and more people can’t afford to go to or work in the theatre. It feels like the class gap is widening. We need to nurture and develop industry skills in arts professionals as well as develop their confidence, this industry is so good for the economy, communities, individuals. Involvement can help develop life and leadership skills, confidence and self worth, mental health and wellness, and we need to ensure that this important work continues. From education to senior management there needs to be accessible training. We need to invest in and nurture the theatre managers of tomorrow to safeguard the industry’s future.