I’ve recently attended a workshop organized by the Arts & Business Council of New York on “Moving Arts Leadership Forward” (here's an event recap) and one of the panelist's statement has stuck with me for days: “Art professionals are not failed artists”.
It wasn’t the first time I heard it and it certainly won’t be the last time that pursuing a career in arts management has been compared to the result of failure in the pursuit of an artistic career.
“So, are you an artist?” is usually one of the first questions I receive when I mention working in arts management. The disappointing look from my conversation partner when my answer is “no” is familiar. It means they can’t put me in the “artist” box but they’re also not sure where to place me.
Regardless of the definition problem of arts professionals, there is a common sense that we have tried to become full-time artists, failed miserably, needed to pay rent and settled on arts administration.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty working artists that I have come across in my career as an arts professional. “Failed” is certainly not a word I would ever use to describe them. They are usually the hardest working people in the field, keeping an (often full-time) arts administration job to keep a family or themselves afloat in an expensive city and finding every other waking minute to dedicate to their art. They are the ones I admire the most.
Exactly those colleagues, as well as the artists committing their whole career to creating art, are the reason why I do what I do.
The majority of arts professionals out there, myself included, are the ones that have never wanted to pursue a career as full-time artists. Sure, some of us might have studied art history, music, dance, literature etc. But that choice was made out of a deep interest in learning more about a discipline we’ve been fascinated with since we can remember. And still are.
We are arts professionals because we believe in the power of the arts to change lives. In tiny small indiscernible ways as well as through dramatic life-changing instances. We believe that artists are the essence of our society’s fabric and need to be supported in every way possible to enable them to pursue their careers.
We are not the ones who want to be on stage, in front of the camera, have art in a gallery - we are the ones who want to make sure these things take place at all, and always! We are the ones who want to make others shine by sharing their art as widely and broadly as possible.
We are the ones who will find an unknown artist, be struck and fascinated by their work and consequently do everything in our power to give them the show, performance, reading they deserve.
We do what we do because we strongly, passionately, viscerally believe that the arts are what makes us human. It is how we explore, analyze and scrutinize the human condition.
We are not failed artists. We are the ones making art happen, together.