ArtsManaged Field Notes

Hammers, nails, and Arts Management…

publishedabout 2 months ago
2 min read

I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.
Simon J. Ortiz, from the poem "Culture and the Universe"

Weekly Features (scroll down to find them)
Function of the Week: People Operations | Framework of the Week: Requisite Variety | Question? Ask ArtsManaged

Dear Reader,

There's a saying in consulting (and elsewhere) that "if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." It's likely a rephrasing of philosopher Abraham Kaplan (1964) or psychologist Abraham Maslow (1966). But all versions suggest the same thing: The tools you use to act in the world shape the ways you perceive the world.

Writer Anais Nin (1961) captured a similar idea from a different angle when she wrote:

We don't see things the way they are, we see them the way we are.

Since arts managers are action figures, we need countermeasures to keep our actions (and perceptions) from getting stuck in this feedback loop. That's where Frameworks come in.

While the Ten Functions of Arts Management describe bundles of tools arts managers use to solve problems, Frameworks encourage us to refresh, challenge, and reimagine the problems we perceive. The ArtsManaged Field Guide includes a diverse and growing array of ways to attend, perceive, and act in a complex world. To make the list, they have to be durable, fruitful, and useful – proven in practice over time. Give them a browse to see which might help unlock a current puzzle for you.

Not every task needs a hammer. Not every nail-shaped problem is a nail. Frameworks offer different ways to define the tools we need, so that our usual tools don't define us.



Function of the Week: People Operations

Any organization rises, stagnates, or falls on the actions of the people within it – full-time, part-time, contracted, volunteer. "People operations" include a wide array of actions that focus on the health, capacity, support, connection, and growth of the people that make the work.

Framework of the Week: Requisite Variety

W. Ross Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety suggests that any system needs a repertory of responses at least as varied as the problems it seeks to address. For arts managers, this means that the repertory of attention, perception, and action of your team needs to be at least as complex as the world you seek to serve.

I've found this to be a particularly potent reality for arts organizations that experience sudden and significant change (opening a new facility, receiving their first major project grant or commission, moving from volunteer to professional staff). The complexity and variety of their world suddenly becomes dramatically greater, and it takes a while for their repertory of skills (or the size, resources, and capacity of the team) to catch up.

Have a Question? Ask ArtsManaged

Do you have a puzzle, problem, or persistant concern about Arts Management? Post your question to this online and anonymous form. I'll select questions to answer in the Field Guide, or in this newsletter, so that we can all learn together about the real-world messes we face.