Sunday, July 26, 2009

part 1: what does an artistic director do?

cammmarato: "lead the organization into the future."

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.


  1. I agree -- the AD and MD must work in tandem, bound by trust and driven by a strong faith in the vision. But as for earning and spending: the artistic director must be as concerned with earning as the managing director is about spending. Hence, the AD must propose a vision that is sellable and supportable overall, but also intermittently challenging. This insures forward progress, artistically, while hopefully providing a stable financial base to keep it happening. The one thing that the administrative leadership absolutely SHOULD NOT do, is go into hock to a bank to the tune of almost half a million bucks to support deficits. Some boards and administrators can be reluctant to comprehend the danger of this fiscal policy. This can lead to rather desperate action and disaster.

    The artistic director job description is not monolithic: it is dependent upon individual strengths, personalities and relationships, company history, the internal creative pathway of an organization, budget size and many more factors. But trust is the currency that every AD relies upon, much more so than money. If you run out of money, you can find more or work with less. If you run out of trust, good luck.

    Also, trust is a free-flowing commodity. It flows in all directions in a healthy environment. In a vibrant resident artistic community, trust is generated with each successful creative relationship or project, and in turn engenders work that is deeper, richer, of appreciably better quality -- which our audiences recognize. Milwaukee's a terrific theatre town because of trust.

    The fiasco at an unrecognizable Skylight has trashed this most basic and essential element for artistic endeavor (or perhaps any human endeavor that's worth pursuing). Since the time that each of us fell backwards into the waiting arms of two fellow acting students, we have depended upon trust to make us better.

    As an unsolicited answer, Tony, artistic directors trade in trust. And the great thing is, the more you invest and spend wisely, the better are your returns. It's kind of like accounting ... but different.

  2. David,
    Excellent cogent post and exactly how I have seen it work in the various theatres I have had the pleasure of working in. Please send these thoughts to the Skylight. Their troubles affect all the performing arts here and I wish I had the magic bullet to restore the currency of trust that has been so depleted.

  3. P.S to Tony,
    Thanks for the great hopeful Monday morning video of the day! From your mouth to God's ear!

  4. omg like great bit of writing lol


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