Producing a Performing Arts Season


Units: 6


The performing arts industry has had a varied and lively history in the United States for the last 175 years (essentially once train travel allowed for broad distribution of artists across the nation). In the beginning the arts were for entertainment and profit. Today, the need to entertain and pay the bills persists, yet it is set within a (mostly) nonprofit landscape in which performing arts organizations produce works to transform audiences via one or several intersecting art forms.  Producing a successful season entails selection (planning) and implementation (managing) of programs, something that is neither easy nor consistent.  Driving and complicating the situation is the usual bifurcated management structure.  Managers must find a way to implement the vision an Artistic Director – an individual with an aesthetic framework that shapes an institution and its artistic offerings. Arts managers enable his or her artistic vision within the context of the physical, geographical and financial situation of a company.  Combining and mixing these forces is frequently messy and always an adventure.  Organizational history provides some structures to the process, but each season brings new artistic and managerial challenges against a backdrop of a rapidly changing society. If a career of ‘doing the same thing’ is the goal, then a different field might be recommended.   


This course will examine approaches to producing a performing arts season of programming with an emphasis on the nonprofit season structure.  Over 7 short weeks we will attempt to answer the following two questions:

1) How do managers move an organization mission through an artistic vision set across a selection of programs and create a system to manage the process and evaluate artistic success, community impact and mission-centric strategic goals?

2) How can arts leaders commission new works in an environment that provides greater earned income for doing things people already know?


The course is a seminar. Reading material and watching videos or live performances are required. Readings will include books, excerpts, workbooks and articles on planning, management models and styles.  Much of the work for the course, however, is created through individual and group work shared across the class. The producing frameworks for the unique qualities of performing arts programs (season planning, education programs, etc) are our topic but within the setting and requirements of individual disciplines. The course will include participation in Pittsburgh – based arts programming.  Guest speakers will present their approaches to season and related programmatic planning, management and lessons learned. It is worthwhile noting that a life of reading and experiencing the performing arts is critical to successfully planning and managing performing arts programs. 


Learning Outcomes:

During the course students will gain or refine their understanding of and facility with:

  • Mission, strategy and planning as it influences and drives programming across an institution
  • Management Systems and Models
    • Fundamental management techniques
    • Emerging planning & management models, from design thinking to entrepreneurship
  • Artistic, institutional and budgetary frameworks that focus organization program decision-making
  • The process of negotiating and contracting an individual program’s intersecting parts.
  • The unique forces professional union contracts impart on the structure of a season.
  • Investigating opportunities beyond a simple season
    •  The possibilities for extended life (and income) to an organization’s intellectual property.
    • Digital interventions of various sources
    • The role education and community engagement take in an organization’s program planning.


By the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand & enact the process of program ideation to complete and plan a season
  • Recognize the management theories and apply them within an artistic enterprise
  • Understand the entrepreneurial management model of iteration and change.
  • Create a budget that reflects the mission and values of the institution and realities of its situation
  • Understand the impact of a union contract(s) on an institutions season planning process
  • Analyze the implementation of a mission and artistic director’s expression through an organization’s programs.