Arts Management in the UK

By Megan Merchant, Arts Management MA Candidate

Arts Management course in London, England
Arts Management course in London, England

This is day 13 of my 18 day stay here in London. The opportunity to study arts management in another country has been an invaluable opportunity. Comparing practices and customs helps to open my mind to new ideas of how an arts organization can function.

As a first time world traveler, starting my abroad experience in London has been the perfect introduction since the customs and language are not too different from the US. However, it took me a few days to get used to the currency, how to cross the street, the tube, and local jargon. My favorite places to eat here are pubs where I had cottage pies, fish and chips, and Scottish eggs. On the trip I saw all the major tourist sites including: Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Trafalgar Square, West End, St. Paul’s Cathedral,West Minster Abbey, Tower if London, Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert Museum, Stone Henge, Harry Potter Studios, and Stratford Upon Avon.

I also saw Angela Lansbury in a West End play called Blithe Spirit, Warhorse, and a new musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I even heard a latin jazz concert in a crypt at St. Martin’s in the Fields Church. I’ve seen more visual and performing arts in this trip than I usually see in a year. I can’t wait to visit again!

Some arts management highlights and observations from my trip:

Difference in US and UK theaters

  • UK theatres serve ice cream at the interval (intermission).
  • instead of a pleasant bell tone to return to your seats at the interval they ring a bell that sounds like a fire alarm.
  • No one asks audiences to silence cell phones.
  • Food and drink are allowed in the theatres (even the fancy ones).

Immersive Theatre for an on demand generation

I saw the theatre/dance program called “Drowned Man”. The production was created by Punch Drunk Productions in collaboration with the Royal National Theatre (they have a huge collection of costumes, props and theatre sets). It was the best live theatre performance I’ve ever seen. The production was not in a theatre. It was in a vacant 5 story building in a neighborhood called Paddington. Every floor was designed to look like a 1960s Hollywood studio filled with elaborate movie  sets and props that I could touch and explore. There were also 20 actors spread throughout the building with individual story lines.

The actors were also highly trained dancers and performed physically challenging dances throughout the building. Audiences are free to follow actors or just simply explore the sets. Some actors even interacted with audience members. This immersive style of theatre captures the true essence of audience engagement and individual experience. The productions sell out all the time and allow audiences to have new experiences every time they visit.

Going back in time

Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is a recreation of what the Globe Theatre would have looked like during Shakespeare’s time.  The building not only houses excellent theatre productions but is also a tourist attraction and academic Mecca for Shakespeare scholars.This multi-tiered purpose has allowed the Globe to have a unique arts management model that includes in house researchers (usually a large expense for arts organizations), a large number of international visitors, and affordable  tickets. I was able to watch the production of Titus Adronicus for 5 pounds as a Groundling.

A UK perspective

I had the opportunity to sit in a discussion with Caroline Miller,Executive Director of Dance UK (a service organization). She was very generous in sharing her background and advice in running an arts organization. Some highlights of the discussion were saving an organization from closing by building partnerships and creating future flagship projects to alter the perception of the organization to the public. Diversify work experience (she’s had a wide range of jobs). I did observe through the talk that dance organizations in the UK get more government support and attention than in the US. It is still however less recognized than music and theatre.

Program link: Arts Management in the UK


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