Managing Arts in Times of Pandemics and BeyondA Damodaran
Oxford University Press
324 pages|₹ 1695
National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai
BEING A CULTURAL economist, I have always been interested in trying to understand how cultural policies and institutions make social impacts. I have also been intrigued about the manner in which art organisations are run. There have been very few books that deal with these issues. Managing Arts in Times of Pandemics and Beyond attempts to throw light on these questions. More fundamentally, it seeks to inform its reader on what happened to the world of arts during the difficult days of Covid-19.
The tapestry of products generated by art organisations can be varied and complex. What is more, many tangible and intangible art items (like heritage monuments and performing arts) do not carry a price tag. Private culture goods like visual art works and crafts, on the other hand, enjoy a ready market since they come with a price tag. The only recourse for art organisations that suffer from the problem of intangibility is to rely on governments for their day-to-day sustenance. Indeed, art and cultural policies of governments are central to the well-being of both performing art, theatres and museums across the world.
A Damodaran’s introductory chapter surveys how art organisations have changed with time and how they have been pushed to embrace technologies in the wake of Covid-19. While pointing to the inevitable tension between managers and artists, the author argues that the rapid digital transformation that has overtaken the world of art in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic phase, requires major infusion of critical management skills in art organisations.
The central objective of his work is to sensitise managers to the finer nuances of art in its multiple dimensions. This becomes clear when one reads the second chapter where aesthetic theories from both the East and the West are discussed in terms of their basic elements. The book covers the rudiments of the aesthetic theories of Hellenistic Greek and Western philosophers, as well as that of the thinkers from the East, like Zeami Motokiyo, Bharata Muni, Rabindranath Tagore and Ananda Coomaraswamy. One of the notable aspects is the author’s efforts to explain why managers of art organisations need to be sensitive to aesthetics. His refrain is that managers who are sensitive to the aesthetic slant of their organisations are able to represent their organisations better in forums that could make a difference to their economic well-being. To prove the point that management is not a mechanistic discipline, he brings out the case of how Peter Drucker, an avid collector of Japanese paintings, worked hard to relate management theories to the world of art.
Art or cultural policies have been looked upon from various angles. Analysts have tried hard to find answers to difficult issues such as the adverse impact of eroding budgets, the fallout of black swans on global art markets and the role of technology in improving the economic fortunes of artists.
This book sheds light on these questions. To begin with, Damodaran relies on case studies (which he terms as “deep dive studies”) to buttress his points. The case studies relate to countries and art organisations that he has followed for over a decade. The case study approach is understandable, since the author’s objective is to create a reference volume for management students and scholars. The chapter on culture and arts policies is noteworthy for the novel way in which it approaches the matter. For the author, art and cultural policies should ideally be a combination of philosophy, perspectives, organisational approaches, enabling conditions and, above all, focus on impacts and ramifications. Damodaran seeks to apply his framework to India, Japan, the US, Canada and Russia. In terms of philosophical approaches, he categorises art policies into two—those that emphasise functional approaches to art (that contribute to nation building) and those which uphold the freedom of artists to create and control works of art. He states that while India, Russia and to some extent Japan have adopted functional approaches to art that focus on public good impacts, countries like the US and Canada view art from the lens of a ‘creative industry’.
The author surveys the institutions that promote and finance art in these countries and explores the larger consequences by way of “creative and social capital generation and economic (GDP) outcomes”. He observes that Japan, Russia and India do not have an organised system of measuring the larger ramifications of these policies. Part of the reason for this inadequacy has been the domination of intangible art and heritage resources in these countries.
The chapter , ‘Design of Arts Organisations,’ takes up four theatres (the Kabuki-za Theatre in Japan, the Nepathya’s Koothambalam Theatre in Kerala, the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai and the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theatre in Russia), three museums (the Guggenheim in New York, the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada) and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale for detailed exploration. The author terms art organisations that rely on their self-generated or self-owned creative resources (choreographs/art works) as “close looped”. Those that entirely rely on external resources are “linear”. The NCPA and the Biennale fall in the category of linear art organisations since they predominantly rely on external creative resources. An intermediate type of organisation is an “open looped organization”, though largely dependent on its own resources, also selectively draws on external creative resources from time to time. According to the author, a large museum like Guggenheim Museum, the Victoria Memorial Hall and a small theatre like Nepathya are “closed looped” while museums like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the mega Mariinsky theatre are “open looped”, as they rely on external creative resources as well. The author argues that small, closed loop organisations resist the temptation of growth and scale as they apprehend spillover of their creative resources and dilution of their distinct genres.
The chapter on theatres and museums provides a vivid account of classical performing arts, theatres and museums that the book has taken up for intensive focus. The chapter carries interesting features of corporate controlled and family-run heritage art organisations.
The section on economics, which is poetically titled ‘Economics of the Unique’, delves into the tools adopted for valuing intangible art and the “costs disease” problem affecting art organisations across the world. The chapter also brings out the struggles of upcoming artists to access organised arts markets. The section on art auctions brings out how the internet and technologies are slowly transforming traditional art auction establishments such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The most interesting discussion in this chapter is regarding the impact of Covid-19 on art organisations.
The final chapter describes how Covid-19 compelled both large and small art organisations to go digital. The author states that the advent of Facebook Live and other OTT platforms enabled the smallest of small art organisations in India and elsewhere to stream their shows live and earn more. The author feels that technology will endure beyond the pandemic phase, although he anticipates that small art organisations will struggle to perform concurrently in the “real” and “virtual” worlds during the post Covid-19 phase due to limited strength. The chapter carries detailed discussions on blockchains, NFTs and the metaverse and speculates that these digital technologies would transform both small and large art organisations in the years to come. The book uses interesting terminologies like the “Artosphere Manager” to describe future managers of art organisations.
What adds more value is the scatter of anecdotal information and stories, mostly encapsulated in ‘boxes’ placed in different chapters. For instance, the ‘box’ on the adverse impacts of fake prints in the chapter on economics brings out interesting tales involving artists like Salvador Dali and Ravi Varma. The same chapter also carries a ‘box’ on cross-country comparisons regarding the Covid-19 stimulus programmes attempted by India, the US, the UK, Kenya, Senegal and France to help distressed theatres and fine art establishments that suffered closure. There are equally interesting references to Andy Warhol, Duchamp and Jeff Koons in various chapters.
There is no denying that the book attempts a novel analysis of the management dimension of art organisations. It promises to be an absorbing management handbook on art and culture, and spells out a futuristic agenda that prepares the world of art for its digital future.