The Formative Years: The Arts and Media MBA Program
By Paul Schafer
The 1960s were exciting times to be involved in the arts in Canada. A new generation of artists had entered the scene, new companies were being created, and the arts in every discipline were developing rapidly. At the same time, there was a growing need for more and better trained arts administrators.
Four people came together in the late sixties to address this need. Working in close cooperation, they created the York MBA Program in Arts Administration, one of the first – if not the first – academic programs of its type in the world. Three of these individuals were on faculty at York University: Jim Gillies, Dean of the Faculty of Administrative Studies; Brian Dixon, Professor of Marketing in the Faculty of Administrative Studies; and Joseph Green, Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. The fourth, Paul Schafer, was Assistant Director of the Ontario Arts Council and Director of the OAC‟s Centre for Arts Research in Education.
Each of these individuals had experience in the arts and their administration. Brian Dixon had been working with Tom Hendry and the Canadian Theatre Centre for many years on ways to improve arts administration and the training of arts administrators. Joe Green had been involved in similar matters through his studies in drama at Temple University and his subsequent work in the theatre community. Paul Schafer had become increasingly concerned about the need to educate arts administrators through his work at the Ontario Arts Council. Jim Gillies was experiencing this requirement first hand as a board member of several arts organizations.
As these developments were taking place, the Ontario Arts Council was completing a comprehensive study of all aspects of theatre in Ontario and publishing its findings in a book called The Awkward Stage: The Ontario Theatre Study Report in 1968. One of the major recommendations of the study was to create a program in arts administration at a university in Ontario. Jim Gillies was Chairman of the Economics and Administration Committee that made this recommendation.
With the assistance of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, an expert committee was established to examine the feasibility of creating the proposed program at York University. Committee members included Louis Applebaum, Arthur Gelber, Mavor Moore, Peter Swann, Bill Wylie, and Paul Schafer from the arts community and Jim Gillies, Brian Dixon, Joe Green, Jim Fleck, Jules Heller, Gerry Carrothers and John Saywell from York University.
Following several meetings of the Committee and intensive research and consultations across the country, the Committee recommended that a graduate Program in Arts Administration be established at York University. Jim Gillies, Brian Dixon, and Joe Green acted quickly to create this program, which started in 1969, in the Faculty of Administrative Studies – now the Schulich School of Business – and Brian Dixon was appointed its first director.
The program was unique at the time. Though there were a couple of practical programs, they were not academic or comprehensive in nature. The Arts Council of Great Britain offered several courses in the area but they were designed to assist practitioners in the field rather than to train students in academic institutions. In the United States, Yale University offered a course in theatre management for its drama students; Harvard was operating a summer institute, based largely on the case method, for practicing arts administrators; and Wisconsin University had a student doing a Ph.D. in arts administration but this was achieved by combining a number of existing courses in business and the arts, along with a thesis on an arts administrative subject.
About the only program that was comparable to the York Program was a program starting at UCLA. However, it focused almost exclusively on arts management, whereas the York Program focused on both arts administration and arts and cultural policy. While cultural policy was a major issue in Canada at the time, the field of cultural policy studies was virtually non-existent in the United States.
Since arts administration education was in its infancy at this time, the development of the York Program was fraught with difficulties; there were no models to fall back on or prototypes to look to for guidance. Everything had to be created from scratch, including courses, reading materials, a library, research, promotional materials, and student recruitment.
Sourcing appropriate students was a challenge because it was difficult to know where to find them. However, all of the students who enrolled in the Program in the first few years – including Ralph Zimmerman, Peter Sever, Marc Boyman, Lee Thomas, Bob Bailey, John Gordon, Bill Poole, and others – were committed to this type of education and went on to distinguish themselves in institutions like the National Ballet of Canada, the Shaw Festival, Factory Lab Theatre, and the Ontario government, as well as artist management and the film industry, giving the Program a boost when it needed it most. Surprisingly perhaps today, there was a great deal of resistance to the Program in the early years. In some cases, people thought arts administrators were born and not made, and therefore could not be trained in academic institutions. In other cases, people felt arts administration was very different than business administration and that students would be taught by professors who were unfamiliar with the complexities and intricacies of the arts and their administration. Morever, the program was housed in the Faculty of Administrative Studies rather than the Faculty of Fine Arts, and students graduating from the Program received a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in arts administration rather than a Masters of Arts Administration.
Such concerns had to be taken very seriously because the success of the Program depended on its graduates being accepted in the field and finding jobs. As a result, the Program was designed from the outset to provide students with practical experience in arts organizations as well as academic studies at the university, thereby ensuring that they were exposed to the concrete problems facing artists, arts administrators, and the arts. Internships in arts organizations between the first and second years were compulsory for all students.
There was also the problem of creating a number of core courses‟ that all students would be required to take in addition to courses such as finance, accounting, quantitative methods, and organizational behaviour. The core courses were Marketing the Arts; Legal Aspects of the Arts; Management of Cultural Resources; and Canadian and International Cultural Policy. Brian Dixon taught the course on Marketing the Arts; Donald Farber, an entertainment lawyer from New York commuted to the university once a week to teach the course on Legal Aspects of the Arts; and Paul Schafer, who was appointed Director of the Program in 1970, taught the courses on Management of Cultural Resources and Canadian and International Cultural Policy.
While lack of suitable reading materials was a constant problem, research faired much better. Thanks to a grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation, the program undertook a number of important research studies: Wooden Pennies: A Report on Cultural Funding Patterns in Canada by Frank Pasquill and Joan Horsman; Who’s Afraid of Canadian Culture: Report of a Study on the Diffusion of the Performing and Exhibiting Arts in Canada by Susan Crean; and International Cultural Policy by Vijay Jain. A fourth study – Subsidy Patterns for the Performing Arts in Canada by Frank Pasquill – was undertaken as a result of a commission from the Canada Council.
These studies served a very useful purpose in the core courses and the field. Not only did they contain a great deal of valuable information on the funding of the arts at the municipal, provincial, and national level, but they also revealed how the arts were evolving across the country in response to outreach opportunities and touring possibilities, as well as how other countries were formulating and implementing their cultural policies. Maximum use was made of outstanding arts managers and policymakers from the field. They were brought to the university to give lectures, seminars, and workshops, as well as to provide the short- term courses, initiated by Brian Dixon, in marketing, management, and financial affairs offering professional development opportunities for individuals working in the arts community. This integration of experts into the Program in general and the core courses in particular helped to create a strong bond between the Program and the field.
In 1973, the Program hosted a meeting of representatives from UCLA, Harvard, Yale, Wisconsin, and the newly-established Museums Studies Program at the University of Toronto to discuss the education of arts administrators. It proved to be a forerunner of the North America Assembly of Arts Administrative Educators created years later, now the international AAAE or Association of Arts Administration Educators. Today there are more than a hundred programs in arts administration at the undergraduate, graduate, and extension level in colleges and universities throughout the world. Most of these programs have an arts administration component and a cultural policy component. Some even have a media and entertainment component much like the York program, which was expanded in 1985 – after Joe Green, who had completed his term as Dean of Fine Arts, became program director – to become the Program in Arts and Media Administration, in order to remain responsive to rapidly evolving environmental realities. Without doubt, the practice of arts and media administration and arts and cultural policy have been enriched in all parts of the world as a result of York’s timely and seminal contributions to this important field.
Paul Schafer served as Director of the Program from 1970 to 1974. Director of the World Culture Project (http://www3.sympatico.ca/dpaulschafer/AboutUs.html) based in Markham, Ontario, Paul has written extensively on Canadian and international cultural policy with a particular focus on the concept and role of culture. His recent books include Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age, (University of Ottawa, 2008) and The Age of Culture (Rock’s Mills Press, 2014).