Passion drives the arts, but it also leaves the sector vulnerable to inappropriate behaviour. Ruth Rentschler proposes a framework for moral and ethical behaviour on arts boards.

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Passion drives people in the arts and entertainment industry. It drives people who sit on arts boards as they often do their board work pro bono, out of a love for the artform. Nonetheless, arts board directors need to provide oversight, insight and foresight, taking into account the best interests of the company.

Most of the arts and entertainment organisations have policies on appropriate behaviour – it’s just that they don’t do anything to enact them

Passion can be a means of internal motivation for board directors that governs behaviour for the benefit of the individual, the board and the company. But sometimes passion boils over as it is dualistic in nature. Passion can also be pernicious, destructive and obsessive. The Weinstein effect is just one instance of how passion can literally be destructive. It can lead to folly and failure, strife and bailouts or indeed a loss of reason that leads to bad behaviour.

Many high-profile film directors, orchestra conductors and actors caught up in the recent media storm about inappropriate behaviour sat on arts boards. Those engaged in the media blitz have all stepped down from the boards on which they sat while investigations into their behaviour are carried out.

I have examined the behaviour of men and women on arts boards. I have conducted 60 interviews to obtain an understanding of how passion drives performance for men and women on arts boards – or how it drives malfeasance. Since then, I have enriched the interview set with 40 more interviews, as well as additional board forums, and an analysis of annual reports, biographies and autobiographies of board directors in the arts and entertainment fields to provide insights into their behaviour.

A behaviour framework

At no time has governance in arts and entertainment been more important. Getting it right entails developing a framework for moral and ethical behaviour, but more than that: living by that framework and not just putting it in a drawer and forgetting about it.

I have developed the CREATE framework:

  1. Create strategy with CEO and stakeholders.
  2. Realise board processes.
  3. Examine relationship strategic decisions.
  4. Accountability.
  5. Temper your behaviour.
  6. Engage with your fellow board directors, your colleagues in the company and your stakeholders outside it.

Most of the arts and entertainment organisations have policies on appropriate behaviour – it’s just that they don’t do anything to enact them. Getting it right will build better boards. Getting it wrong destroys people, careers and companies.

The arts are often heralded as pinpointing important traits about who we are and what we stand for, be that as a nation, community, organisation or individual. There have been various research reports coming out of arts councils about the value of the arts to society – its importance to education and knowledge and how people in the arts are tolerant of difference and open to change.

When such lofty claims are shot down by smutty references to inappropriate behaviour or worse, we all lose. Such happenings put a spotlight on all of us who love the arts. Understanding and enacting the values that underpin good governance and appropriate behaviour in the board room and outside it have become urgent for everyone associated with arts and entertainment.

No one wants to see passion become pernicious when they sit on arts boards. There is no need for bad behaviour if every board member thinks about what will work best for the good of themselves, their board, their company and indeed for the reputation of their industry, so that arts and entertainment make a valued contribution to society.

Ruth Rentschler is Professor of Arts and Cultural Leadership and Head of the School of Management at the University of South Australia.

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