Leadership in the arts covers a vast range of jobs and duties which cover various aspects of successful artistic ventures. “Artistic Leadership” is a term sorely lacking a clear definition. There is very minimal research material available in this area and that which does exist is very old; two main sources provide insight into what artistic leadership is and what makes it effective. For our purposes we will define artistic leadership as referring to those charged with making decisions about the ‘art’ produced by an organisation as opposed to other, more administrative and financial, types of leadership and management.
There are two defining reports around effective artistic leadership, all of which are connected to conferences between artistic leaders who continue to voice their confusion about the definition and parameters of their role. McNamara reported on the session concerning artistic leadership at the 1968 International Conference on Theatre Education and Development. Her report ascertained that all leaders present at the conference emphasised the importance of effective training of the youth and that artistic leaders have powerful influences over the direction of a theatre company (294). Importantly, this report summarised the concerns of the artistic leaders relating to the confusion they all had about the extent of their duties. The lack of clarity in this area has not reduced, there was equal worry at the 1994 Theatre Communications Group Conference at Princeton University. Rosenak (29) reported that leaders of theatre companies were being forced to consider the business aspects of the company at the expense of the integrity of the art and the relationships between practitioners and the community.
A very recent example of issues relating to confusions around effective artistic leadership is the debacle relating to the position of Artistic Director at Sydney Theatre Company (STC) because, as Taylor explains, of “the shock departure of [Johnathon] Church […] less than a year after his appointment” as Artistic Director. Taylor goes on to explain that there were “suggestions the renowned British director [had] fallen out with STC management.” Without passing judgement either way on this specific example, this high profile case does spotlight the tension that artistic leaders feel between business goals and, often competing, artistic visions.
In order to be respected and effective a leader, in any field, must be suitably qualified and
experienced (Rama 22), have a positive attitude and a growth mindset that allows them to provide useful coaching and mentoring (Heslin & Vade Walle 221), a certain flexibility that allows for productive social interactions and the ability to adapt to and implement changes as needed (Gilligan 567). When applied to our focus area we can suggest that an effective artistic leader will have:
- Appropriate qualifications and experience in the field and in leading personnel;
- A mind for mentoring and developing less experienced artists in a variety of roles;
- A vision to produce the best possible product and engage the target audience; and,
- A working environment that provides appropriate administrative support which allows for effective creativity.
McNamara, Brooks. “Group III: Developing and Improving Artistic Leadership.” Educational Theatre Journal 20.2 (1968): 291-297). Print.
Rosenak, David S. “Crisis demands artistic leadership.” Back Stage 22 July 1994: 29+.Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Aug. 2016.
Gilligan, Arlene. “Relationship between Interactive Style and Effective Leadership.” The Phi Delta Kappan 61.8 (1980): 567. Web.
Heslin, Peter A., and VandeWalle Don. “Managers’ Implicit Assumptions about Personnel.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 17.3 (2008): 219-23. Web.
Joshi, Rama J. “Managerial Effectiveness and Its Correlates.” Indian Journal of Industrial Relations 31.1 (1995): 18-39. Web.