Career Paths in Arts Management

The field of arts management – a.k.a. arts administration, music management, and more – offers an array of opportunities for students who have a passion for music and are also interested in behind-the-scenes operations.

By Caitlin Peterkin

What is Arts Management?

Arts management blends the artistic and business elements of a career in the arts. Depending on where your interests lie, arts management offers many paths.

While arts management is largely associated with the non-profit sector, there are numerous opportunities with for-profit companies. Students from arts management programs also go on to work with operas, symphonies, dance companies, record labels, digital streaming companies, and more. Some become self-employed and open their own studios or create chamber ensembles.

Arts management is a great option for musicians who would like to have a stronger business background. “Being an artist in the 21st century takes more than just doing your art,” says Jennifer Clary, director of marketing for Colorado State University’s Center for the Arts. Along with the traditional music courses, arts management students learn to better market themselves, understand accounting and finances, and discover ways to overall enhance their careers as artists.

Constance DeVereaux, an associate professor at Colorado State, has been involved in arts management for many years and has done extensive research in the field. “It’s not enough just to be a brilliant violin player,” she says, “if you have no clue how to promote yourself.” She goes on to say that arts management programs not only train those who want to manage themselves or promote their own artistic careers, but also provide people skills necessary for working in the non-profit or public sphere.

Sampling of College Programs

Approximately 40 undergraduate and 60 graduate programs throughout the world are members of the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE).

One of the oldest U.S. members of AAAE offering undergraduate training is Baldwin Wallace University. Its Arts Management Program allows students to choose a major or minor in the arts and combine it with a business major or minor.

“The great thing about this program is that every student has a somewhat unique skill set and group of experiences from any other graduate,” says Bryan Bowser, director of the Arts Management Program. “We try to work with each student to identify their interest areas, passion, and strengths that align to a career path, a way to be successful in the arts with a stable career.”

The program also has a rich partnership with Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, the second largest theater complex in the country. Third-year students help put on its annual International Children’s Festival, and seniors, in their last semester, conduct a major market research study and produce a show for the company. This partnership, along with the program’s internship requirement, allows students to apply their studies to real-life experiences.

A newer program at Colorado State University is LEAP (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Arts Advocacy, and the Public), which offers a minor in Arts Leadership and Administration to undergraduate music, theater, dance, and art students, as well as a Master of Arts Leadership and Administration graduate program. The degree program is in conjunction with the College of Business. “To have the marketing and economics input from that (business) program is really critical to the overall success of the LEAP program,” says Jennifer Clary.

Like Baldwin Wallace, Colorado State has partnered with the hub of its arts community, the Arts Incubator of the Rockies. This collaboration, along with the City of Fort Collins, allows the program to give students high quality education and training, hands-on experience, and a platform to share ideas and develop as a 21st century artist.

The University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music offers the Arts Leadership (ARTL) Graduate Certificate Program, which is geared primarily toward professionals in various arts fields who want to further develop the necessary skills to become strong arts leaders. The program is comprised of a gateway course led by Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia, four core and four elective courses, and a year-long practicum.

“Students need to think about themselves and their career in a more entrepreneurial way, a self-directed, individualized way,” says Kenneth Foster, the department’s director.  They need to keep up with a “radically changing and changed world.” The ARTL program, he adds, helps students consider what makes them happy and what they can do with their career.

Arts Leadership is also available now as an area of emphasis in USC’s two-year Master of Public Administration program. Foster anticipates additional MA degrees with an Arts Leadership emphasis will be developed in other schools in the coming years.

At the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, students in the Music Management program focus specifically on the various aspects of music industry, including fundamental marketing, finance, recording, and legal knowledge. Since its founding in 1982, the Music Management program has evolved to include classes in performing arts management, music products, and running a student record label.

Students audition for admission into the Conservatory of Music before being able to pursue a Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Management, while no audition is required to pursue the Minor in Music Management. The program also has an internship requirement, which is vital to help students temper their areas of interest, according to Keith Hatschek, the program’s director.

Arts Management: Undergraduate or Graduate Degree?

Since there are more arts management programs at the graduate level, some professionals suggest getting an undergraduate degree in music and taking courses in business and marketing. According to Kenneth Foster at USC, ideal candidates for graduate programs like his are students with an undergraduate degree in music who’ve been out working in the field in some capacity and are ready to take their career further. “They are ready to think critically about what they’ve been doing in the past, and where they go from here,” he says.

Those who pursue undergraduate arts management degrees do not necessarily need graduate level training, says Bryan Bowser. “We don’t find very many [students] who go on to graduate school immediately,” he says. “They are definitely prepared for entry level positions.”

For those who do go on to graduate school, Bowser strongly encourages getting real-world experience first. “It is so valuable having had some experience,” he says, “to confirm what part of arts management is most interesting to you.”

Selecting a Program

“If you imagine what you’re going to do is work in the policy sector, you want to work with lawmakers in order to develop new laws and regulations that relate to the arts, and you want a program that focuses strongly on that,” says Constance DeVereaux at Colorado State University. “If you want community engagement, you want a program that specializes in that.”

“Look at the quality of professors and quality of students who came out of [the program you’re interested in],” DeVereaux suggests. “Where did they work? Did [the program] have a good reputation? What is the focus of the program? Wherever you go, that’s where you’re going to do significant networking, not only with your peers in class, but also with the community.”

The Path to Arts Management

Some people fall into arts management and administration positions through internships or interest in policy-making, education, etc. Many are able to continue practicing their art in some way, while holding stable, lucrative careers.

Michael Millar, director of the Center for Community Engagement at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, has had a rich career in arts administration. With a background in bass trombone performance, Millar ended up getting a DMA in Performance and Arts Administration at Claremont Graduate University. For more than 30 years, he has been able to continue performing on bass trombone while serving positions such as executive director of the Arts Council of Kern and arts commissioner of the City of Santa Clarita. “I believe that musicians these days have to have diversified careers,” he says.

Though his educational background is in music performance, Deven Shaff has been active in arts management for several years. As the former operations manager and then executive director at The Dairy Center for the Arts, an educational and performance venue in Boulder, Colorado, he oversaw programming and events, collaborative opportunities, and other operations.

As an undergrad, Shaff fell in love with opera. “I started to be involved in every aspect of it: onstage, behind the stage, everything that had to do with opera,” he says. Over the next few years, he walked the paths of both performing and working behind-the-scenes. He sang in operas while holding administrative roles through internships, but “knew there would be a crossroads,” and he ended up transitioning into administration.

Roy Holloway, director of Fine Arts for the Boulder Valley Schools, says he knew he wanted to be a school administrator by the time he was 15. He asked his high school principal and teachers for advice on what he needed to do to become a principal, and they told him to get his undergraduate degree and teaching certificate, teach for a while, and then go to graduate school.

Holloway was involved in music from an early age. “That was my love, that was part of me,” he explains. “So I auditioned at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, got in with a scholarship, and everything went forward from there.”

Holloway’s path illustrates an important decision-making step, which was asking advice from professionals in his field of interest. According to Shaff, informational interviews with experts are key to enhancing your own education and career. “You’re asking how they got where they are, why they enjoy what they’re doing, poking to find out what they do in their job, what are the skills needed,” he explains.

Linda Gerstle, CEO of the non-profit research and development organization CAST, was the director of Education and Community Partnerships at From the Top.  She oversaw the arts leadership training for all From the Top national radio show musicians. She also supervised the Center for the Development of Arts Leaders in Boston and all From the Top national education and outreach programs.

Wanting a path that could mesh her interests in both the arts and human development, Gerstle pursued a degree in music therapy. After working at a community music school in Cleveland, she earned a Master’s in Education and went on to become the executive director of a national non-profit advocating educational reform before joining From the Top. “I never let go of the power of how arts can be instrumental in creating an incredibly robust and inspiring learning environment for kids,” she says.

How Do I Know if Arts Management is the Right Fit for Me?

For music majors, getting involved in arts management must stem from a passion for music and the arts.

  • Successful students tend to be natural leaders, suggests Bryan Bowser. They gravitate to behind-the-scenes operations. “It’s the passion along with the propensity towards organization and administration of events.”
  • Students must be curious and interested in learning about how things work, says Keith Hatschek, director of the Music Management Program at the University of the Pacific and author of “How to Get a Job in the Music and Recording Industry.” In addition to a passion for music, it also helps to have an eye for detail and to enjoy being around other people.
  • “It takes people who are right-brained and left-brained, who have arts skills and business skills, and above all have a passion for the causes that we’re involved in,” says Michael Millar. “Arts management is about making a contribution, not just finding another place to make a few bucks. It’s about serving a cause greater than yourself.”
  • According to Roy Holloway, if music is what you want to do, you should first and foremost pursue a music degree, which allows for transition into administration. “Effective arts managers have worked in the field,” he says. “It allows the opportunity to really connect with their craft so when they get into the position of management or leadership they have an idea of what’s involved in creating music or art, and can advocate for the arts.”
  • “Sometimes arts administration and management are seen as second-tier,” says Linda Gerstle, who believes non-performance fields should be considered just as prestigious as performing. “We all have the opportunity to contribute –– in ways you can’t even imagine right now –– to the fabric and substance of our communities.”

Caitlin Peterkin is a writer/editor and arts enthusiast who has worked as program manager for Earshot Jazz (Seattle) and has written for, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Paste Magazine. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Music.


  1. Sera

    I finished both my bachelor and master degree in music performance, but I am very interested in art management program. I am not sure if I should pursue another master degree in art management or PHD in related fields.

    • We encourage you to do some research before jumping into another graduate program. What can you see yourself doing in arts management? What skills do you already have? Do you have any training in entrepreneurship? Do you need a degree program or can you get the skills you’d need by taking some classes at a community college or through your local small business development center? Your college career center may be a great place to start your research.

      We also encourage you to talk with some people who are working in arts management to learn more about the field and how things are changing, especially now that the arts are in upheaval due to the pandemic. We know that the arts will continue to exist and flourish but we also know that it’s going to be rough going for a while and that technology will play a huge role in how the arts get delivered in the future.

  2. Maya

    I’m planning to get a Master degree in Classical music (vocal) from India. (My bachelor degree is in Engineering). After pursuing the degree will I be eligible to get into an Art Management degree abroad and is there any scholarship available? Is this degree internationally acceptable? In my country I’ve been involved with music from my childhood. I want to be a performer and at the same time I want to see myself in an administrative position related to arts and culture.

    • Maya, your best course of action would be to check the application requirements at schools you may wish to attend for Arts Management. They will be able to best guide you for degree requirements and scholarship opportunities.

  3. Yian Chi

    I am really close to finishing my bachelor degree in music performance. I also did a semester of practicum in theatre, and has worked in the back stage of a concert hall for about a year. Is it possible for me to apply for arts management for masters? Because it’s the thing I have passion with and would like to do in the future, but I have no business or finance related degree/background. Will that be okay?

    • Look at the requirements at schools that offer programs in arts management so you know what they are looking for. You should be able to find programs that will teach you the skills you’re lacking especially since you have the background you do in music along with the practicum. We don’t see a problem!

  4. Cedric

    For 41 years, I was managing director/executive director of a non-profit community arts school in PA. My employment came as a result of a letter I wrote to the school’s board suggesting ways to improve the institution following a year of private teaching at the institution. Some of the needs for arts management include psychology – working with members of the board and faculty, interacting with the parents of the students, fundraising and community support, working with political and civic groups, and finally working with public and parochial schools.

  5. Caroline

    If I am interested in theater and working for a theater in the future should I have an arts management degree, or does arts management only pertain to music?

    • An arts management major can be applied to any area of the arts. But also note that at some theatre programs, you can also study the behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre. So check the schools you’re interested in to see what exactly they offer. And contact them directly if you still have questions once you’ve looked closely at their websites.

  6. Mikhaila


    I am receiving a 2 year degree in business administration. But would like to atten a school to go for arts management specially working in a ballet company since this is what I have been around my whole life. How can I make this possibly and what must I do?

    • Check with the school where you got your degree to see if they have agreements with any four-year schools with arts management programs. You may also want to visit websites of undergraduate arts management programs (we’ve given you several examples in this article) and then contact any you’re interested in to see if any of your credits would transfer. Talk with people in these jobs especially those working in ballet companies to see what the educational and experience trajectories were like for them. See if you can get a part-time job, an internship, or even some volunteer work with a ballet company to get to know the ropes and for them to get to know you.

  7. LJ

    I am considering pursuing a career to open up a creative arts school
    Would this be the right path to take if I decided to do it?

  8. François

    If you want an international career in Arts administration, there is the Master of Management in International Arts Management that exists.

  9. Jonas

    Thank you for this article. I have my bachelor’s degree in music business. I was hoping to further my education to land a job as an executive director. Would I benefit from getting my MBA or seeking a master’s in Arts Administration? Thank you

    • We suggest you check out programs in both areas, consider whether your interest is in the for-profit or not-for-profit arena and whether you want to zero in on the arts, and then see which programs speak to your goals. What kind of internship opportunities are there? You will undoubtedly have to gain enough experience to work up towards a top position, so ask programs what the trajectory has been like for their alumni and see if you can talk with alumni of both types of programs to learn more.

  10. W. C.

    This sounds like something I would be interested in. Where can I find a description of the different paths one can take to be in the Arts Management field?

    • We encourage you to read this article fully – some of the many job opportunities are included along with tips for those considering this field. We also encourage you look at the websites of the participating schools listed in this article, and then use the forms on each of their pages to ask specific questions.

    • It really depends on the genre of music you’re interested in working with. Composition is the major you’d want to look at unless you are interested in popular music, in which case you’d also want to look at songwriting as well as music industry programs. However you proceed, you’ll be well-served by getting a strong foundation in music theory and music history to inform your writing. Look at the “Majoring in Composition” article on our site and, if popular music is your focus, read the popular music and music industry articles also.

  11. G.Simone

    Will having a degree from a college in music increase my chance of being successful in music management, compared to those without higher education?? If so, do you know where I can find evidence??

    • Perhaps the Music Business Association or NAMM have some hard numbers for you; we don’t. However, we know there are many advantages to getting a strong music business foundation, and opportunities offered through college music management programs to get hands on experience with lots of support for learning, failing, and trying again in a collaborative environment. You also get endless opportunities to network with the people and organizations – even fellow students – who you’ll end up working with. Sure, some people are naturals at everything music management entails, and find their way into the business without higher education. But these days, most don’t. We suggest you read the articles about music industry on to learn how college programs have supported students in their career paths. We’ll soon be posting a great new article on entrepreneurship and music, which will provide useful information as well.

  12. samantha

    What exactly do I need to go to college for to become a artist representative/music manager? What degrees do I need and what school is best for these requirements?

    • Look for schools with music industry programs. You’ll find a number of them on including USC Thornton School of Music, McNally Smith College of Music, Leeds College of Music, UC Denver Entertainment Industry Studies, Capital University Conservatory of Music, Columbia College Chicago. Look for schools that will help you find at least one internship before you graduate – see this article: Music Industry Internships: Best Tips.

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