Arts Administration Faculty Develop Course with Palestinian Arts Organizations (Part 2)

by Dr. Gemma Mangione

Throughout the semester, we will feature highlights and insights from Dr. Lena and Dr. Mangione’s time in Palestine last summer. This is the second installment of the three-part series. Please stay tuned to our blog and social media channels for more #ARADPalestine.

As the prior blog post on ARAD’s international curricular partnership in Palestine noted, Dr. Jennifer Lena and I began work on this project by conducting a pre-program assessment. The assessment aimed to identify core needs for administrative training among administrators at a sample of arts and culture institutions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. From this, we were able to provide recommendations that were used to develop curriculum design for the Arts Management certificate pilot.

In advance of designing our needs assessment instruments, Dr. Lena and I first conducted a review of relevant existing sources. This included a literature review on various approaches to cross-cultural norms of evaluation and working with marginalized communities, as well as 12 interviews with 14 people on an array of topics, ranging from human-centered design principles to learner-centered pedagogy in international and comparative education. The results of our inquiry furthered our area knowledge about the social conditions impacting the arts sector in Palestine, local knowledge (through a pilot of the assessment incorporating partner feedback), and methods knowledge.

Drawing on this background, in addition to the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s adaptation of the Organizational Capacity Instrument Tool (first developed by TCC Group and McKinsey & Company), we developed a survey and interview guide focused on five major components of organizational capacity. These included mission (goals and shared beliefs); governance (including leadership structure); adaptive capacity (including strategic planning and evaluation); management (including funding strategies and staff training and recruitment); and operational capacity (including fundraising, communications, and facilities). Our goal was to use the survey to establish broad, field-level trends and then conduct a sample of interviews with executive directors at responding organizations to garner more in-depth information.

To get things off the ground, our institutional partners, led by Sabreen, provided us with a database of 321 organizations with a range of ages, sizes, locations, and even program offerings. We culled the list to focus principally on arts and culture, narrowing the database to 207 organizations, 104 of which we had the appropriate information to contact. Total response rate among those organizations was 51%, totaling 53 organizations surveyed, all of these relatively well-distributed across the Palestinian territories. Among the 53, 18 respondents participated in in-depth interviews ranging from 60 to 90 minutes.

What did we find? The major trends identified supported the curriculum’s eventual focus on fundraising, evaluation, marketing, and strategic planning.  For example, while the majority of funding for organizations in our interview sample was derived from grants and donations, respondents reported they allocated the least amount of money in their operating budget to supporting fundraising. The arts and culture organizations we surveyed further relied on a remarkable array of data for their evaluation needs, but most of it was informal — such as anecdotal feedback from staff — and not collected regularly. Additionally, despite the challenges of small organizational size and budgets, the arts and culture organizations we surveyed offered a stunning variety of cultural programs. Regardless, the marketing and promotion of these programs — arguably these organizations’ greatest institutional asset — was limited. These are just a few trends identified that aided the partnership team in selecting core areas for capacity-building.

Of course, there were some limitations to our assessment design. Primary among them was the organizations we studied consisted not of a random sample, but a convenience sample: the professionals who responded to our survey were interested in, and had the resources to seek, professional development opportunities. As we noted in the final report, results should therefore be considered “more descriptive, rather than generalizable.” Further, the timeline for the needs assessment was prohibitive for interviewing or surveying the entire staff of our organizational case studies — as one might do in a more in-depth analysis — or observing administrative practice among a sample of organizations. This form of ethnographic data may have been useful for better adjudicating the relationship between what organizations say they do and what they are able to accomplish. As will be discussed in a future post, Dr. Lena and I also discovered, while teaching, a disconnect between the norms of administrative practice reported in the needs assessment and the actual experiences and background of our students.

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