Theatres and Orchestras need First-rate Managers

Position Paper from German Orchestra Union on the Future Leaders for Professional Theatre and Orchestra

Due to the situation of public budgets in Germany, the change in general conditions, but also owing to various political debates, the demands on managerial staff in theatres and orchestras have grown considerably over the past 20 years.

Berlin Konzerthaus – flagship with leadership

“Running a theatre requires management who think and plan ahead, who develop clear objectives, aim for a superior artistic and commercial performance, who make clear decisions, control the outcomes of actions taken and draw the consequences for further activities […] Apart from organisational conditions, efficient leadership of a theatre depends strongly on the personal qualifications of those responsible within the executive team of a theatre.”1

Despite the fact that these principles were formulated already in 1989, there are still significant deficits when it comes to the training of new management personnel that are not conducive to the preservation and development of theatres and orchestras in Germany. This should be an obligation especially of educational institutions as well as the funding bodies of the leading theatres and operas themselves.

Artistic freedom, which is protected by article 5 of Germany’s federal constitution, is a great good whose general conditions must be guaranteed by the public authorities. At the same time, artistic freedom must not be a pretext for inadequate management and leadership training, poor operational figures or below average revenues.

Examples of artistically ambitious as well as commercially successful and professionally run theatres and orchestras (on both state and municipal level) show that “art and commerce” may well complement and mutually reinforce each other in the outstanding leadership and administration of an institution. Management training should support such positive examples.

From the perspective of the professional orchestra associations and their members in Germany we call upon the relevant legal bodies and educational institutions with the following requests:


1. The training of future management personnel for theatres and orchestras at universities and academies must be strengthened and improved.

2. Greater attention should be paid to the obligatory and attestable proof of management qualifications and social competence when selecting executive staff of theatres and orchestras.

3. Improved communication skills are necessary. This relates externally to audiences, the business community and the political arena, but also to educational institutions, the press and media. It relates internally to employees and to transparent decision-making processes.

4. In particular, it is essential to demonstrate comprehensive expertise in strategic corporate development as well as responsible human resources management in all areas of an organisation (artistic/non-artistic).

5. The job profile of the purely artistic director and “autocrat” is becoming obsolete. Given the extensive changes of general conditions faced by theatres and orchestras over the past decades, the standard contract of the German Theatre Association (Deutscher Bühnenverein) is now an anachronism, no longer up to date and needs to change.

6. New contracts for directors should contain more flexible, performance-related elements of pay, they should limit paid secondary employment and guest engagements, and stipulate an obligation to frequent local presence.

7. It is necessary to provide a comprehensive and clear job description, accompanied by relevant target agreements. These must also include controlling as well as quality and service management.

8. Regular and mandatory further training of directors and other executive staff in the specified areas of expertise presupposes the acceptance to continue professional development and the creation of suitable courses, e.g. in co-operation with the numerous art and culture management programmes.

Hanover, 24 May 20122

1 KGSt-Report “Management and Guidance of Theaters”, Cologne, 1989, p.15

2 Adopted at  General Assembly of  DOV from May 24, 2012 in Hannover


2 thoughts on “Theatres and Orchestras need First-rate Managers

  1. I agree with all of the above, and I’d like to add two perspectives. First, I don’t know about Germany, but in Britain, applications for orchestral management jobs have fallen to a third of what they were ten years ago. Many young people there simply don’t care for this as a future. Also, you cannot expect highly qualified managers to enter this field unless you compete with industries that pay them better. I would challenge the assumption that intrinsic motivation is enough to build tomorrow’s arts managers.
    I noticed on point 4 that strategic corporate development was mentioned. Are we clear about what that actually means? All too often I hear about arts managements containing a bunch of people pretending to behave like corporates. Corporate research over the past 50 years has been paid for by giants like IBM or GM to help them globally manage thousands of employees in capitalist markets. Orchestras and theatres manage a comparatively small group of people, many of whom are artists and volunteers, can run a family-style culture, and are often funded by a mixed economy model. Whilst we can all learn something useful from corporate practice, this doesn’t mean we should pretend to be like them. Maybe corporate sponsors want us to sound, look and feel like an arts organisation, instead of faking corporate-speak in a sales pitch.

    Strategy is a whole other category of discussion that does have life for businesses of our size.

    • Well, in Germany most of the orchestra managers get a resonable payment. Many of them are former musicians. This may be good from the repertoire knowledge but bad from the management perspective. Vocational training, workshops, seminars etc. might be helpfull.

      All the economic stuff tranferred to the arts sector has to be adapted. In the U.S. an orchestra is an enterprise; in Germany it’s an arts institution. The art of management is to implement good and successfull management techniques into the orchestra field without (!) damaging the arts itself.

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