Commentary: Will bad economy keep young people from careers in nonprofits?

Rick Cohen, The Nonprofit Quarterly, 8/22/11

There is an unfortunate tendency in most of the press to fail to make distinctions about the differential impacts of economic conditions on various population groups. This article from the Los Angeles Times about young people with life plans undone by the recession grabbed our attention for a particular reason. The first person profiled in the article, a 20-year-old woman, had planned for a career at a nonprofit to be followed by marriage and a home purchase. While it wasn't clear that she had given up her nonprofit career plans, the implication was that she had to pay more attention to the day-to-day challenges of money and survival than to prospects for following her dreams and desires. Relying on a survey released by the nonprofit Generation Opportunity that found that three-quarters of respondents aged 18 to 29 were going to put off career or purchase choices due to the economy, the Times referred to this cohort of young people as "Generation Vexed." The nonprofit sector spends a lot of energy thinking about creating career paths to attract and retain young people in the nonprofit sector. Will those efforts be undone simply because young people are watching their parents' incomes and 401(k)s shrink and disappear, leaving them feeling that nonprofit careers are impractical?


Point: An up-and-coming director finds collaboration, not competition among peers

Columbia University Arts Program blog, 8/9/11

From an interview with Katie Lupica, who graduated this May with majors in History and Drama and Theatre Arts: "The unfortunate reality is that there is really no obvious path from graduating from college to having an actual career as a director. Three months in, it's hard to say how this is going for me so far, but I do know that I'm incredibly lucky to have [a show at the NY International Fringe Festival] as my own, fully produced project right out of the gate. I have also found that although explicit opportunities for rookies to actually direct or even assistant direct in established theatres are extremely rare, that does not mean that already established professionals are uninterested in our plight. I have been the grateful recipient of incredible advice and support from many working directors, administrators, and other theatre artists who are genuinely interested in nurturing the next generation of theatre makers. And while the industry is competitive in the sense of few opportunities for many qualified people, I have found a climate of much more collaboration than competition among my fellow recent graduates."


Counterpoint: What good is a Master's degree in arts administration?

Jil Beaux, responding to a post by Andrew Taylor on his Artful Manager blog, 8/19/11

Having a Master's in Arts Administration, my latest job offer is to serve meals to people in a retirement home. Honestly, my degree in [the arts] field does not help me open any doors whatsoever. I try to not tell people what my degree is in because it is hard to justify the student loan expense it took to get it and just as difficult to explain exactly what it is I am "supposed" to be doing career-wise. The value as I see it, is to be able to say I have (in my case) an M.S. and that's about it. Guess I could teach what I know about the subject. Philosophically and morally I would have a hard time preparing others for a career that is virtually nonexistent. Sorry for my negativity, but I am ready to accept the meal serving job so I can eat.


Commentary: 10 years out of school, why I'm still working in nonprofit theater

Chad M. Bauman, Arts Marketing blog, 8/15/11

If life in the theater was hard ten years ago when I was in school, it must be damn near impossible today in comparison, given the new realities of the "post-global economic crisis" world. Being now a decade into the profession, I have found that most of my colleagues have seriously debated leaving the arts all together (and several have). And who could blame them? Last week was personally trying for me. Exhausted and spent after several weeks of very intense work, I found myself doubting whether or not I could sustain a lifelong career in the theater. Having recently received a couple of tempting phone calls from recruiters about chief marketing officer positions at various institutions outside of the arts (and one not so tempting inquiry from a construction company), the doubt continued to linger. However, at the end of several long days, I didn't rush out of my office and head for home, choosing instead to stay behind and take in a few performances at my theater. And as Robert Frost once remarked, "that made all the difference." Sometimes it is easy when your nose is to the grindstone to get lost in the day-to-day, and forget why it is you chose theater as a career in the first place. Let too many of those days go by without returning to the art that attracted you in the first place, and you will find yourself in trouble. So if you find yourself lacking motivation, or a sense of purpose, take a stroll into the rehearsal room, visit a class full of young artists or watch an audience react to a performance. Doing so will allow you to re-center, and remind yourself why it is you do what you do.


Commentary: Next Gen Leaders Study: Are we all just climbing whiners?

Clayton Lord, "New Beans" blog, 8/16/11

The Center for Cultural Innovation has just released a report, funded by [the Hewlett and Irvine foundations], called Nurturing California's Next Generation Arts and Cultural Leaders, and it makes for a fascinating read, especially for someone like me, who grapples with feeling like I have so much to learn while at the same time feeling sometimes frustrated, stymied and undervalued in my work. I recommend you read the full report, but what follows is a basic summary of the findings:

  • Next Geners care very deeply about what they are doing, and are generally satisfied with (even proud of) the impact and value their jobs have, but generally perceive themselves to be undervalued, undertrained, unmentored, overstressed, and underpaid.
  • Overall, respondents were very optimistic about their ability to make a life in the arts, though often they didn't see themselves making that career in the organization where they were currently employed. There seems to be a trend toward lateral mobility -- jumping from vine to vine as there is space instead of waiting for the guy above you to jump off into the abyss.
  • As has been the refrain over and over for the past few years, Next Geners are values-driven people - they want to be doing something that matters to the world and that they enjoy. That said, values-driven satisfaction only goes so far. Only half of respondents were salaried.
  • Next Geners express a lot of frustration at the structure of organizations, which they feel leads to an inability to advance and a mismatch between aspirations and reality. They see a lack of nurturing from older leaders, whose attitude is often interpreted as disrespectful and dismissive of ideas, and feel generally that the organizations in which they work lack "strategic vision, financial realism, community awareness and diversity."
  • While Next Geners are getting promotions, they are more likely to get a title change than a salary increase.

In the introduction to the proper report (page 10 of the PDF), Markusen says the following, which is really at the crux of the issue: "A number of recent studies have predicted a massive inter-generational management transition looming in the nonprofit sector due to top leader retirements. The transition is likely to create long-term weakness and instability in many nonprofit organizations if not addressed with some urgency...This impending leadership deficit may have even greater impact in the relatively young nonprofit arts field, still generally characterized by founder-leaders who have "learned on the fly" and by few training and professional degree programs, low paying staff jobs, long work hours and inadequate advancement opportunities. The generation of young leaders who sparked a powerful nonprofit arts movement more than thirty years ago are now seasoned and accomplished managers and strategists, and many wonder who will become the leaders for the future."

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