Almost everyone: “That’s fantastic that you are getting a master’s degree! What are you studying?”
Me: “I’m studying Arts Management!”
Almost everyone: “Oh great…, what is that?”

This is just one example of a typical conversation I have with so many individuals. Although I perceive the world as being saturated with arts management, the field itself is still a hidden mystery to most. I’m finding myself having to constantly explain what I have spent the last year and a half doing, and, at times, I feel as if I am justifying it. Why is that? Is an arts management degree any less of a degree than, let’s say, a business degree or a law degree? Well, obviously the answer is no and I can give you a hundred reasons why. But then why is this over justification of the arts all too common?

Securing funding for the arts has always been a battle. More and more, the arts are needing to find ways to “justify” what they do by providing quantitative measures of excellence, achievement, and accomplishment. However, the innateness of the arts itself is qualitative, so measuring overall impact is strenuous and no easy feat. With increased pressure to sustain organizations and prove their worth, the arts sector has been increasing research in the field and showing the tremendous impact the arts have on individual communities and beyond. Some may think that this growth in research is merely a way to reassure funders, but I’m here to say that arts research is so much more than that. Arts research is physical proof, a testament, if you will, that the arts play a dramatic role in the positive growth of society. This research helps organizations not only within the arts, but onlookers who may not understand the arts’ inherent ability to change, inspire, and connect. Culture is part of what makes us human and allows us to relate to others in a world that can seemingly tear us apart, and arts research is an affirmation of that very principle. Research in the arts is rising and it is vitally important that it continues to do so.

Want to know about research currently happening in the arts? Here are two examples:

  1.  I, Tori Sharbaugh, am currently working on my master’s thesis, which focuses on how performing arts organizations are using data-driven strategies to enhance their marketing efforts. Data-driven marketing is a term that is constantly being thrown around in various other sectors, but what does it mean for the arts and how can we use it to our advantage? For anyone that works for a mid-sized to large performing arts organization, I would greatly appreciate you taking my survey to contribute to our field’s understanding of data-driven practice. Feel free to pass it along to other arts marketers and executives!
  2. Holland Gormley, a friend and fellow student, is working on her master’s thesis: “Increasing Financial Stability in Artists’ Careers: Best Practices and Delivery.” Can you help her by taking her survey on resources available to artists in your community? The survey will help to form a better understanding of how artists are supported in their careers, as well as areas for improvement. If you wouldn’t mind passing it along to artists in your network as well, she would be so grateful!

These are just two examples of research currently being conducted in the arts, and it further stresses the importance of research in arts management. Students at AU and various other arts management programs have a deep passion for the arts and work tirelessly to ensure that our society is filled with a rich cultural history. We may not be curing cancer, but we are indeed looking to make society a better place for everyone. If my research about understanding data to enhance marketing can lead to arts organizations attracting new audiences and, consequently, significantly impacting the life of one or more individuals, then I feel I will have succeeded as an arts manager.

So, the next time someone asks me what my master’s degree actually means, I’ll remember that I don’t need to justify what I do. Arts research already does that for me.

This blog was written by EALS Director of Development, Tori Sharbaugh.