Artistic Directors of the Future
by Dean Speer
January 2003 – I believe ballet as a medium and art form is really reaching a peak of maturation and we are seeing the results of this in an ever-shrinking world. I think this maturation is a good thing and can have the net effect of gaining good results for the art.
Sharing, as the business world likes to say, "best practices," is one way for current and future Artistic Directors to grapple with and grow with today's changes. This is not to suggest that companies would lose their respective identities and become franchises – a kind of balletic "Subway Sandwich," but rather to take today's fabulous resources, such as the Internet, and use them as tools to share what they have learned that works from experience.
We already see a pattern of the dance world becoming more mature as it parallels the opera and music worlds with things like sharing productions and other resources. Yes, this has been long-happening in some degree and the past few years have see this kind of expansion really take hold.
There is currently no real training school or course for Artistic Directors (AD) such as "Becoming An AD 101" or "ADs for Novices!" But there could be. I remember being asked several years ago in a live television interview if there was some place that Artistic Directors could go to learn how to do their jobs (I was the AD of a ballet company at that time). On the set with me was the Music Director and Conductor of the symphony (who also, by the way, conducted our Nutcracker). After we stopped laughing, the answer was an emphatic, "No!" I recall explaining that while there was really no course or specific schooling (although is must be pointed out that conductors can study conducting in college or at a music conservatory), we did bring all of our experiences to bear in these positions.
There are workshops and seminars given of many types for those new to their positions. Some of these include newly-elected officials such as state representatives and senators, deans of college departments, and teachers. Why not something like this for folk who head artistic enterprises? For heads of dance schools, regional "pre-professional" companies, managers, and so forth. Some of this could be natural outgrowth of workshops and seminars that are already being held for teachers worldwide.
There could also be a network organization of ADs (NOAD) that could meet internationally every-other-year and nationally in alternate years and regionally every year. Dues could be structured on a sliding scale, based on the organization's size and budget. All would be welcome.
A paper and on-line newsletter would ably keep everyone abreast of the times and could include a readership beyond that of the membership.
Some topics for meetings and the newsletter might include: "The Board and You;" "Vivacious Volunteers;" "Your First Annual Meeting;" "Budgets 101;" "Meeting the Press;" "The Unwritten Rules;" "Long-Term Artistic Planning;" "Building Teamwork;" "Supporting Diversity;" "Production Sharing 101;" "School and Company Follies;" or "We Got 'There' – So Now What?!"
Similarly, meetings could be organized for peers to chat. During one of Pacific Northwest Ballet's early Teachers' Seminars many years ago, I arranged for our school registrar to meet with their counterpart and it was one of the best things we ever did. Our registrar came back with not only tons of new ways to better run the school, she also came back more energized and enthusiastic than ever.
"Knowledge is Power" and the more we work to educate ourselves and ably assist our co-workers and colleagues, the stronger each of us becomes, collectively and individually. Our cultural institutions then become virtual perpetual motion machines, able to not only withstand change but to embrace it.
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