Must Reads

National Arts Strategies

Selected readings for arts and culture leaders from National Arts Strategies and the Getty Leadership Institute


Financial implications-Themed Readings

Generations: The Challenge of a Lifetime for Your Nonprofit

Peter C. Brinckerhoff, (St. Paul: Fieldstone Alliance, 2007), “Change Is Upon Us,” pp. 11-34, “Financial Implications,” pp. 185-189.

Sustainable performing arts organizations understand their audiences.  Sustainable museums understand their visitors. Audiences and visitors change, generations differ and their impact on operations, marketing and finance shifts over time. For cultural organizations to stay in touch with their publics is a full time task. The eminently readable “Generations…,” winner of the 2008 McAdam Award for the best nonprofit management book, examines six trends involving generational change:  financial stress, technological acceleration, population diversity, family redefinition, “mebranding” and work-life balance. Of these, “mebranding” or ultra-customization is particularly interesting. A growing minority has become used to and demands highly tailored products, services and experiences.  Technology has accelerated the expectation of the highly customized offering.  Like most challenges, it can be viewed as a problem, an opportunity or both.

Audiences and visitors are not the only lenses through which Brinckerhoff looks at the implications of generational differences. All the same influences are at play within cultural organizations’ boards, staff and volunteers. Generational data (demographics and psychographics) don’t argue for turning an organization’s strategy on its head, much less calling for modifications in mission and vision. For Brinckerhoff, the data should have an appropriate influence in six ways. The data should:  be included in planning, trigger intergenerational conversations within the organization, be used in marketing, broaden the concept of diversity in hiring decisions, influence consideration of ways technology might add value to cultural experiences or extend their effect following a performance or museum visit and inspire leaders to ask and listen more often.

Available online »


Managing the Arts: Leadership and Decision Making under Dual Rationalities

David Cray, Loretta Inglis and Susan Freeman, The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, Vol. 36, Number 4 (Winter 2007): pp. 295-313.

The dual functions of guiding artistic or educational activities and an organization’s administration—even in the best-run museums and performing arts companies fosters structural complexity, competing sets of goals, multiple stakeholder claims and values in some tension with one another. The distinct nature of cultural organizations arises not simply from their missions, but also from the complexity that multiple demands impose. As the authors put it, “…the strategic decision-making process encounters forces, especially those of an aesthetic nature, that conflict with the more rationalist orientation inherent in the managerialist approaches that (these) organizations are being urged to accept. Our aim, in both instances, is to draw heavily on the existing managerial literature to provide greater understanding of the range of roles that cultural organization managers must fill while acknowledging the distinct nature of the environments they face.”

The authors demonstrate how the major leadership styles (charismatic, transactional, transformational and participatory) play into these tensions. Each style has its unique advantages and disadvantages but many researchers now hold that successful leaders have their “default” style. In other words, they work to match personal styles with the culture of the organization and the demands of its environment. The size of the organization, diversity of programs, internal political arrangements, relationships with external stakeholders, financial stability, institutional image, age and stage of growth or decline will impact the fit between a leader’s style and organizational effectiveness.

The article concludes with a very practical section on strategic decision-making in cultural organizations, covering rational models, decision making as a political exercise, incremental decision making (small bets and experiments) and “the garbage can: strategy as a pattern in random events.” Again, the appropriate model to use ought to be reached situationally. One size never really fits all.

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Leading with Passion: Change Management in the 21st Century Museum

Serene Suchy, (Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2004), "Trust, the Director-Trustee Interface," pp. 125-149.

Dr. Suchy exclusively focuses on art museums. Nevertheless, based on her extensive interviews with 42 directors of international art museums, she describes a four-part leadership model that could apply equally to all cultural organizations. First, represent the organization internally and externally based on your passion. Second, create a context for others to do their best coaching and team building. Third, act as an ethical entrepreneur to ensure the organization’s financial and reputational future. Finally, nurture relationships of trust with key stakeholders.

All four dimensions are important and Suchy’s treatment is practical. Of particular interest is her take on the director-trustee interface, i.e., what others have called “the” strategic relationship. Suchy details the predictable role confusions in three areas: governance, policy development, and succession planning. These areas are explored from the director’s point of view though it is balanced with views from other professionals responsible for trustee appointments or for activities in service of strengthening boards. Her treatment distinguishes the unique challenges in importantly different museum cultures, those of Australia, Canada, England and the United States.

After all, the Director and Board Chairperson are not on opposite sides of the tennis court net, they are a doubles team disagreeing often enough but sharing the disagreement in a whisper before the next serve. And trustees are on museum boards because they want to be useful. They have been sought for the role in order to make better use of their skills, experience and resources in service of an organization they believe makes a difference in the world.

Available online »