Leading the arts: Skills and competencies of performing arts school leaders

John Vernon Austin, Fordham University


Arts programs exist in most schools, but specialized schools exist across the country where students can nurture talent in the performing arts. Research on leadership in these schools is limited; this qualitative study aimed to fill that void. This study was grounded in the researcher's assumption that these leaders must understand both artistic and administrative functions of their schools. Specifically, the researcher sought to learn how transformational and transactional leadership theories applied to these school leaders. The research sample included leaders of four unique performing arts schools across the United States. These schools were representative of demographic variables including funding source, scope of curriculum, grade/age level of students, and the presence or absence of an accompanying academic curriculum. The primary data collection method was in-depth interviews. Supportive data, included for purposes of triangulation, were collected through observations of the leaders, document analysis, and in-depth interviews with subordinates. Eight findings emerged from the data and provided insight on the role of performing arts school leaders. Those findings included: (1) these leaders embodied the mission of their schools; (2) leading a performing arts school that offered instruction in multiple arts disciplines differed from leading a school with a single discipline; (3) funding and accountability varied between public and private schools; (4) leaders who were former artists closely identified with creative requirements of their positions, while leaders who were not artists preferred the administrative functions of their roles; (5) the leaders expressed a dependency on senior staff to complement their own skills; (6) leadership of performing arts schools required competencies in both transactional and transformational areas; (7) succession planning was important to these schools, particularly to the schools with long-tenured leaders; and (8) the future of these schools requires multi-talented leaders who understand the specific needs of education in the performing arts. The researcher offered seven recommendations for improved practice. Focusing on development and assessment of leadership, the recommendations also included practical suggestions for the leaders. This study contributed to our understanding of the theory of leadership in the arts in general, and to the effects leaders can have in performing arts schools.

Subject Area

Arts Management|Performing Arts|School administration

Recommended Citation

Austin, John Vernon, "Leading the arts: Skills and competencies of performing arts school leaders" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3420954.