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Reggie Liu

A Quantitative and Qualitative Look at Arts Administration

by Reggie Liu Monday, January 28, 2019

Last week I heard from one of my Bolz classmates that she is taking a spring course in the Department of Sociology. The class is about the qualitative decision-making process for community engagement, by leveraging the knowledge of history and trauma to a community. This is a fascinating finding for me because it resonates with my belief that in arts administration, decisions cannot be made by mainly looking at quantitative evidences. And I believe an arts administrator always needs to be equipped with multiple areas of knowledge in order to be capable in the field.

Quantitative skill sets become fundamental in arts administration since there is more and more emphasis on viewing non-profit organizations as a kind of business entity, and business is primarily number-oriented. This philosophy makes a lot of sense for me since I worked many years in the business world and understand how data can speak the truth. But I would add an additional thought that I think there is still a lack of "infrastructure" on data identification, collection, and processing in the non-profit world, which would significantly lower the accuracy and efficiency of quantitative decision-making. In the for-profit world, the evolution of these infrastructures took decades to achieve its current level of sophistication, and there is a working economic mechanism to justify and finance the technical evolutions. For non-profits, the similar practices started not too long ago. Hence, I believe arts administrators need to be able to treat data very critically to avoid any misleading and false interpretations.

The useful qualitative knowledge for an art administrator can be diverse depending on which sector they are serving.  For historical knowledge, there are options of social history, community history, visual-art history, music history, theater history, etc. Administrators will have better technical insights toward the art forms they are promoting, e.g. an orchestra ED to know about music techniques or a dance company manager to know choreography skills; this will greatly benefit them when working with various stakeholders. In addition, I believe emotional trainings on appreciating, making, and enjoying arts is another critical area that is often ignored. There is a famous quote that "Art is knowledge at the service of emotion" by artist Jose Clemente Orozco, and art administrators should ultimately serve the emotions of various stakeholders since we greatly serve the arts.

My last semester in the MBA program will be finishing soon and I am grateful that the Bolz Center has offered me such a holistic experience to grow my skills and carry the learnings into to the real world.