The habit of buying leadership persists in corporations of all kinds, but nowhere more than in the arts. It’s amazing how old names pop up in new places. Elsewhere, familiarity breeds contempt, but in arts management, it engenders trust.
Performance, ability, and achievement are relegated as factors by organizations seeking instead a steady hand, preferring like mindedness seen in parallel managerial roles. While this is perfectly reasonable in certain circumstances, and while volunteer boards are understandably risk averse, it’s a mystery why it occurs in organizations where the status quo is intolerable, and the incoming executive has been unable to relieve the marginality of their previous posting.
It would be impolite to identify individuals and organizations in this regard, however it’s most common among arts service organizations of various kinds, including some funders. If experience has value, the most valuable experience would seem to be breakthrough success and change-making, where the enterprise is mired in frustration and futility. Yet, there aren’t as many new faces, from unfamiliar places, as might be expected.
In my view, it would be healthier for more advancement from the lower tiers of organizations seeking change, because attitudes and perspectives are quite different below the executive level. Or for recruitment from outside the sector entirely, stealing talent from people who see problems in a fresh light. Either way, the substitution of one leader for another of like kind is a bit like climbing a ladder to put a used lightbulb in a vacant socket. It may be tried and tested, but its future is no more promising than the bulb you just removed.