George Fairfax Fellow 2007, Sue Nattrass AO

Kenneth Myer Lecture, The role of the arts manager: Baby Boomers to Generation Y

1 May 2007, Melbourne Arts Centre

The performing Arts in Victoria in the early nineteen fifties were dominated by three large commercial organisations and the newly formed Union Theatre Repertory Company. There were no significant training institutions offering courses in arts management or stage management, and training in any facet of the theatre industry was predominantly 'on the job' training.

The three big commercial companies, J C Williamson Theatres Ltd, The Tivoli Theatre and Garnet H Carroll, were privately funded for profit and were managed by theatre-owner/operators and presenter/producers. Because of the cost structures of the industry at the time it was possible for them to operate profitably, while undertaking considerable risk.

These companies produced and/or presented the best of musical comedy, theatre and vaudeville and also toured ballet companies, opera companies, classical musicians and orchestras. They were run by men, many of whom started as 'call boys' and had worked their way up to manage a company. Women were barely in evidence in senior administrative roles.

Governments played very minor roles in the performing arts until the seventies when the cost structures had changed and the commercial sector had contracted. The subsidised sector began to expand. Government funding grew exponentially and began to have a profound influence on the development of the arts industry. The range and diversity of art forms deepened and arts administrators had to develop new skills to acquire and acquit funding and to manage the interface with government.

The contraction of the commercial sector and the development of arts centres have changed the ownership and control of the majority of venues from the private sector to the public sector. The question of the utilisation of the assets for the benefit of communities is now an important one in social and economic terms and determining the right balance is in the hands of the arts administrator.

Regulatory requirements have increased in complexity impacting on the roles of administrators. The rights of audiences, advances in technology, the increasing sophistication of marketing, the rise of the role of the corporate sector, and fundraising and philanthropy have all impacted on the economic equation of the arts.

Government expectations of the development of art forms, the regional and national touring of productions, the export of Australian artistic product, and the creation or importation of major events have added to the opportunities for interesting jobs within the creative industries sector.

Jobs within the arts sector have become more and more specialised and complex, as have the enterprises within which the employment is offered. The challenge for the arts administrator now, and into the future, is how to corral and cajole these interesting but very challenging beasts while balancing the competing imperatives that are expected of them.


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