What it’s really like to be an arts manager

The arts has a reputation for being difficult to break into, but graduates of WAAPA's arts management degree course are in high demand.
What it’s really like to be an arts manager

Bachelor of Arts (Arts Management) graduate Amanda Lim. Image supplied.

Combining business acumen with a creative passion, arts managers are often the driving force behind Australia’s many high profile festivals, performances and artists.

Edith Cowen University offers the only arts management degree course in the southern hemisphere at its Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

WAAPA is internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading performing arts academies, with a reputation for producing quality graduates.


WAAPA’s Dr Helen Rusak is the Course Coordinator for the Bachelor of Arts (Arts Management) degree.

‘An arts manager can be, for example, a music producer, festival manager or musician’s agent so this degree can open up many opportunities,’ she said.

‘Past graduates have become fundraising officers or public relations managers. The arts field has a reputation for being difficult to break into, but this course has such a great reputation, that we have people from industry come to us asking for student recommendations to fill roles.’

A diverse career

Anyone wanting to pursue a career in arts management needs to have a passion for the arts.

‘Most people don’t go to school and think “I want to be an arts manager”. They just establish a love in a particular area and as they get older they want to develop it more,’ Rusak explained.

‘For example, someone may have played the piano all their life and they know they don’t want to be a pianist, but maybe in an associated career such as a concert manager. Or there may be someone who enjoyed ballet and wants a career in the arts, but not as a ballerina.’

Rusak could almost be describing Bachelor of Arts (Arts Management) graduate Amanda Lim, who was taking dance lessons but wasn’t sure she wanted to be a professional dancer, at the time she first learned about WAAPA’s arts management degree. 

‘I realised that I did not enjoy performing but enjoyed the technical aspects of class,’ Lim told ArtsHub.

Image supplied

Having grown up with an interest in both art and business management, Lim said the course at WAAPA was a ‘perfect fusion’ of her interests.

‘I was intrigued by the syllabus, that it had a mixture of business subjects with arts-related subjects … During my interview with Bruce (then the head of Arts Management), he spoke to me about the practical elements of the course and that solidified my decision in pursuing the Arts Management program. To this day, I still wonder how I garnered the courage and decision to move to another country so quickly!’

A mix of business and arts

The three-year Bachelor of Arts (Arts Management) course is offered at ECU’s Mount Lawley Campus and subjects cover marketing, arts law, financial decision making, business development and general arts management skills.

A ten-week learning placement in the third year gives students the opportunity to apply their theoretical skills in a professional setting, Rusak explained.

‘This degree course is essentially a business degree which focusses on the arts. Our strong links with industry has led to some great placement opportunities,’ she said.

‘For example we’ve had people placed at the Brisbane Power House, Music Viva, and the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore.’

Image: The Importance of Being Earnest (2018) - 3rd Year Acting Production, WAAPA. Photo credit: Jon Green.

Lim’s learning placement was as part of the Programmes Department at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, where she assisted with everything from tours and workshops to printed resources, public programs and outreach activities.

‘I interned at a relatively large organisation so it broadened and deepened my thought process and reminded me that change is always a constant,’ said Lim.

‘I knew that partaking in the secondment would be another challenge and experience to overcome, but I am happy that that happened, as the supervisors and assistant managers there were very nurturing and helpful in coaching and teaching me skill sets that are impossible to cover in school. It definitely has set a foundation for my career,’ she added.

A graduate success story

Lim, who is now the now the Education & Outreach Executive at Singapore Dance Theatre, speaks highly of her time at WAAPA.

‘The curriculum covered both theoretical and practical aspects of arts management. From subjects in arts law, front of house management, and art history, it was extremely comprehensive,’ she said.
Asked if she would recommend WAAPA’s arts management degree to others in the sector, Lim said: ‘Absolutely! If one is wanting to pursue a management career in the arts, the program at WAAPA strongly advocates both practical and theoretical skills to equip the graduate for the ever-changing arts landscape, be it in Australia or overseas.

‘Ever since relocating back home, I still find myself referencing back to the information that I have gathered and learned about to assist in my day to day work,’ Lim added.

For more information about kick-starting your career as an arts manager, check out the Bachelor of Arts (Arts Management) course page.


Thursday 2 August, 2018

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