i asked that question of a few, well...artistic directors. what does it mean to be you? other than the words "artistic director" either precede or follow your name in the playbill (which is pretty cool.) oh, and sometimes you get to wear a crown (even cooler.)
anne marie cammarato is in her fifth season as artistic director for the delaware theatre company. prior to that she spent four years as associate artistic director of madison repertory theatre. she also served as the associate director of theatre X and worked on the artistic staff of milwaukee repertory theater.
here's what she had to say:
The most general definition I can give for an artistic director is that they provide the vision for the company. The board and the community decide the mission...then they hire an artistic leader to provide a vision to reach that mission.
The managing director is there to manage and execute the artistic director's vision toward the mission. The two should work in tandem, as partners, to provide a healthy system of checks and balances (one oversees the art and education...if there is an education department, and the other oversees the business.) A really simplified explanation is that one raises and earns the money (the managing director) and the other one spends the money (the artistic director).
They both do this responsibly and together toward a shared mission with the board.
On a day to day level, the managing director should be busy overseeing the execution of development, marketing, front of house, finances and facility needs. The artistic director oversees the choice of programming, the hiring of artists to execute the programming, being the artistic public face and representing the organization to the community and theatre world at large, and (most importantly) creating art.
The vision of the artistic director must reflect the needs of the community (as expressed in the mission) but also has a personal signature or stamp to it. The programming should fulfill the mission but also the personal aesthetic of the artistic leader. Otherwise, it's a booking house. Or a building that has a stage in it. And that maybe puts on plays...but it's not a producing organization without someone at the top providing artistic vision.
The artistic leader is reading plays, meeting playwrights, evaluating the plays within the context of their theatre in their community. They have to have their finger on the pulse of what's happening around them in the world of creating art, in order to keep attracting new audiences.
They literally LEAD the organization into the future.