Why we need Arts Managers

11 February 2021

by Joyce Teo, Vice Dean (Arts Management), School of Arts Management, Dance and Theatre

Arts Management (or Arts Administration depending on where you work) as a specialised field of study and career option was something that evolved only around the early 1960’s in the western world. At the time, the arts (visual, performing and literary) was starting to evolve from something which a wealthy patron would commission, to become a commodity that could be bought and sold. Today, the arts is often referred to as an “industry”, in recognition of the fact that it has economic value. The market for the arts is also becoming more competitive as the arts scene grows.

This is where the Arts Manager comes in. As the arts environment becomes more competitive, artists are finding it challenging to focus on both artmaking and the business side of their career. Having an arts manager to take care of important but time-consuming tasks of applying for grants, writing to sponsors, keeping track of ticket sales, negotiating with clients etc., will free the artist to focus on creating art.

NAFA’s Arts Management and Theatre students and faculty involved in The Village Idiot – A Wayang Kulit Performance for Textures 2020 at The Art House.
“Every art form has its own unique requirements and idiosyncrasies. For any arts manager to be successful, they would also need to know the art form well.”

Arts Managers are not just administrative staff, they play a major role in the survival and sustainability of arts organisations and the artists’ careers. This is where knowing how to: run a business; identify good business opportunities; plan and realise a production or festival; market a show; sell an artwork or publication; manage artists and technicians; educate the audiences etc.; are things which our Arts Management students need to learn and practice.

Some people will ask, so why can’t we just hire a business graduate? The answer is simple. Every art form has its own unique requirements and idiosyncrasies. For any arts manager to be successful, they would also need to know the art form well. For example, an Arts Manager working for a music organisation will need to know the technicalities of staging a concert, managing musicians and even music copyright laws. They need to be able to work with all stakeholders: artists, sponsors, technicians and be able to reach out to the right audiences.

Arts Managers thus need to have a balance of the broad-based training in the business of the arts, but also be knowledgeable in the specialised areas of Arts Management. My personal motto:

  • Just because a person was an artist previously, does not make them an arts manager.
  • Just because a person has a business degree does not make them an arts manager.
  • Just because a person has worked in an arts company does not make them an arts manager.

All these people have the potential to be good Arts Managers, but they need professional training and practical experience in all 3 areas before they can call themselves an Arts Manager. I know many people who call themselves Arts Managers or claim to know Arts Management, but then realise they have knowledge gaps when the going gets tough.


NAFA’s Arts Management and Theatre programmes performing Adventures of a Kampung Boy for Textures 2020 at The Art House. Photo credit: Juliana Lim
“Have the right mindset. Be disciplined, hardworking and manage time well. You also need an eye for detail; do not let anything fail due to an oversight.”

In Singapore, arts appreciation is growing with more corporations see themselves supporting the arts – physical attendance in the arts has increased by 29% in the past 10 years, and participation has increased by 14% over the same period. Singapore Cultural Statistics 2019 has also shown an increase in ticketed and non-ticketed performances.

Arts Managers are realising that they have a role and career options in the non-arts sector as well. For example, banks are involved in sponsoring and organising arts events while private sector companies and even hospitals have art collections. These organisations need Arts Managers too! Furthermore, our Government is encouraging more community arts initiatives and arts for wellness and therapy is also gaining traction. Therefore, career options are there if people are willing to look beyond the arts sector.

So, for people interested in becoming an Arts Manager, you need to have 4 qualities:

  • First, have a strong passion in the arts. You have to be an arts lover but not necessarily as an artist in the limelight. You need a sense of aesthetics, though. If you like to be in the limelight, you will not be happy as an Arts Manager as you are always in the background. The artists get the applause.
  • Second, you need to have strong business acumen. You need to be able to spot business opportunities where people don’t see. You need to be a creative entrepreneur. You need to be able to speak and write well because that is the only way you can negotiate with clients and pitch an idea to a sponsor.
  • Third, be willing to work your way up. While you can learn certain skills and knowledge in school but it is only when you have practical experience that you understand what it takes and the sense of achievement when you do a good job. At NAFA, our students do Internship with art companies, volunteer at various arts event and undertake projects both within a module and on their own initiative. All these provide practical experience even before they graduate.
  • Finally, have the right mindset. Be disciplined, hardworking and manage time well. You also need an eye for detail; do not let anything fail due to an oversight. Be calm and patient when dealing with artists or technicians. Be diplomatic when dealing with sponsors, especially if things do not turn out well. Whatever it is, be humble and professional. Remember, the artist’s livelihood depends on you.

If you love the arts, have good written and spoken communication skills; and aspire to make an impact in the arts scene in Singapore and around the world, the NAFA Diploma in Arts Management is ideal as it provides you with a balanced training programme which will prepare you for your future career.

Failed artists do not qualify.


Photo by BronzAge Gamelan
Joyce Teo is the Vice Dean (Arts Management) at NAFA. She is also an ethnomusicologist who started out as a gamelan musician, composer and teacher. She was a music reviewer for Straits Times for a short time and then formed her own arts company. While working at The Esplanade (in the olde days when it was called The Singapore Arts Centre) as an Arts Manager, she took the Managing the Arts course with the Asian Institute of Management. She was later sponsored by the British Council for a Performing Arts Management course in London. She has over 20 years of teaching experience.