Dr. Brett Ashley Crawford is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Arts Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. Dr. Crawford has worked extensively as a professional arts manager (primarily in theatre) and as a professor in both arts management and theatre history. The highlights of her private sector work include five years working as Managing Director with Imagination Stage, an arts education and professional theatre located in Bethesda, Maryland; work as the managing director and production manager of Rep Stage and the Horowitz Center for the Arts in Columbia, Maryland; and three years as managing director for St. Bart’s Playhouse in New York City in addition to a myriad of independent engagements in theatre, film, and arts festival work in New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Maryland.
Kate Martin: What has been your biggest learning experience as an arts manager, and what is your biggest piece of advice for aspiring managers?
Brett Crawford: The recession of 2008 was my biggest learning experience. It provided an opportunity as a leader as Managing Director of Imagination Stage to really understand what transparent leadership means and how to get everybody on board during really hard times. It’s not about the money; it’s about the people. We were also transitioning database systems. That on top of budget cuts put a lot on of stress on the ecosystem. It was important to keep everyone “in-the-know” and at least moderately happy.
One of the biggest pieces of advice for novice arts managers is focusing on the people. It’s a “yes-and” culture. Always try to make good ideas happen, regardless of the money -- thinking creatively and showing that you value people first.
KM: What are your predictions for how arts organizations will use technology in the future?
BC: I think that arts organizations are going to continue to understand how to use their technology for creating relationships, as well as engaging their communities through their art making. For example, the Carnegie Museum of Art recently developed Art Tracks, a new provenance database. It is definitely going to be useful for museum-to-museum and consumer-to-business exchanges. Once it is up and running, anyone will be able to see a work’s provenance. It’s transparent and engages other organizations and arts patrons on a different level.
The arts are consistently getting better at using technology. Right now I don’t think we’re using it to it’s fullest extent, whether it is for social listening or taking a moment to really analyze the data before moving forward. But, I think we’ll continue to get better at being less reactive and more proactive.
KM: How have you seen the relationship between technology and the arts change over time? Do you think it is going in the right direction?
BC: Technology has changed considerably in the arts. What we can do is astounding, whether it is using a computerized scene shop, 3D prop making, or all of the possibilities within museums. We’re getting better at using our technology to get our art in more places. The creativity of the sector helps explore our opportunities. I think that sometimes we falter from a marketing perspective; we try to be everything to all people. We are now learning that we have to put our beans in the right basket and do fewer things really well. I do think that what I’m seeing is that more and more people are recognizing that the internet isn’t in everyone’s hand’s. It isn’t the solution for everything. Technology is only as good as the people who use it.
KM: Where do you see technology going in higher education?
BC: I think it’s getting better but it is a relationship between Faculty and Students; each have their own areas of comfort, but Faculty must meet students where they are. There is often resistance to some forms of technology in students. For example, everyone assumes that students are on all social media channels, but only about 10% of my students are on Twitter. It is getting easier because platforms are starting to look increasingly similar and people’s resistance melts and they say, “oh I can try that because it looks more familiar.”
We have to move forward in higher education. I would like to start seeing students learn how to code, to hack systems. How can you hack a system better when dealing with arts management? There needs to be greater experimentation not only in the art-making side but also in the arts management side. How can we hack the system to accentuate those possibilities?
KM: What has been your favorite part about publishing AMT Lab, and what do you think is the most important learning process for contributors?
BC: My favorite part about the learning process for contributors is when they send emails to professionals to develop their research. I like watching the contributors gain confidence and witnessing their process of discovery. They are publishing these new ideas, sharing it with the world. They are amazing – finding the true cutting edge. I have found that our content is usually three years ahead of the greater arts management discourse.
For students, I think success comes down to two things – letting go of the fear of technology, and really understanding the process of research. The best work comes from a narrow subject. When you get tight, you get into the nuances, like our past research on whether responsive website design or app design was more beneficial to arts organizations. I don’t know of many places where graduate students get this type of opportunity.