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Producing a Performing Arts Season


Units: 6


Course Description

The performing arts industry has had a varied and lively history in the United States for the last 175 years (essentially once train travel allowed for broad distribution of artists across the nation). In the beginning the arts were for entertainment and profit. Today, the need to entertain and pay the bills persists, yet it is set within a (mostly) nonprofit landscape in which performing arts organizations produce works to transform audiences and serve their community via one or several intersecting art forms.  Producing a successful season entails selection (planning) and implementation (managing) of programs, something that is neither easy nor consistent.  Driving and complicating the situation is the common bifurcated management structure.  Managers must find a way to implement the vision an Artistic Director – an individual with an aesthetic framework that shapes an institution and its artistic offerings. Arts managers enable his or her artistic vision within the context of the physical, geographical and financial situation of a company.  Combining and mixing these forces is frequently messy and always an adventure.  Organizational history, indeed the history of the art form, provides a vexing structure and habit to the process that must be dismantled to meet the demands of a socially just, 21st century model.   If a career of ‘doing the same thing’ is the goal, then a different field might be recommended.   


This course will examine approaches to producing a performing arts season of programming with an emphasis on the nonprofit season structure that meets the demands of a post-Covid, anti-racist reality.  Over 7 short weeks we will attempt to answer the following two questions:

1) How do artistic and managerial leaders move an organization and its mission into its new reality post-covid, through an equitable artistic vision set across a selection of programs and create a system to manage the process and evaluate artistic success, community impact and mission-centric strategic goals?

2) How can arts leaders commission new works in an environment that supports the artists, is relevant to a diverse and broadly defined community, and provides income to sustain a business?


3) Recognizing our current digital foray has opened doors to non-attendees, how do institutions maintain a digital and live experience for all interested in engaging?

It is worthwhile noting that a life of experience is key to success.  An artistic leader must know the artists in the field – at the margin and the center.  Management must be adept at shepherding resources (earned or contributed) to support artistic programs.   Frequent experiencing of the performing arts is critical to successfully planning and managing performing arts programs.  There are constraints to these models, just like any other production system, most often related to union agreements and the local ecosystem (artists, audience, resources). Wise managers have clear understanding that all constraints are movable, the question is the cost to make the change. 

Learning Outcomes

Course Objectives:

During the course students will gain or refine their understanding of and facility with:

  • Mission, strategy and planning as it influences and drives programming across an institution
  • Management Systems and Models
    • Fundamental management techniques
    • Fundamental program development techniques
    • Emerging planning & management models, from design thinking to agile
  • Artistic, institutional and budgetary frameworks or constraints that focus organization program decision-making
  • The process of negotiating and contracting an individual program’s intersecting parts.
  • The unique forces professional union contracts impart on the structure of a season.
  • The process of collective bargaining
  • Investigating opportunities beyond a simple season
    •  The possibilities for extended life (and income) to an organization’s intellectual property.
    • Digital interventions of various sources
    • The role education and community engagement take in an organization’s program planning.
    • The necessary changes to create a season and structure embracing DEIA principles


By the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand & enact the process of program ideation to complete and plan a year of programming for an institution that reflects a 2021+ reality
  • Recognize the management theories and apply them within an artistic enterprise
  • Understand the opportunities of agile as a management model.
  • Implement Design Thinking tactics as an iterative program design approach.
  • Understand the impact of a union contract(s) on an institutions season planning process
  • Identify resources, individuals and best practices for DEIA programming for live and digital engagement opportunities
  • Ideate organizational or discipline-focused change for a sustainable and thriving future.


Prerequisites Description