The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

John Tenny Head Shot

Exploring the Future of Arts Management – MMIAM’s First Year in India and China

An Interview with John Tenny

For her last interview, Laura Adlers met with John Tenny, a MMIAM graduate from the sixth cohort, who will take over as Editor of the MMIAM blog. John is originally from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and is also assisting the MMIAM program as a project manager in Dallas. He is currently looking for full time employment somewhere around the world. John and his cohort were the first since the beginning of the MMIAM program to study at two new campuses abroad – in India and China. Laura Adlers interviewed John to introduce him to our readers, and to also hear about his impressions and experiences with the program.

What was your experience in arts management prior to applying to the program?

Prior to applying to the program my knowledge and experience in arts management was minimal. Although I am a lifelong practitioner of theatre and photography, my only direct experience in arts management was volunteering at a museum in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a summer. To be honest I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but after graduating I can’t describe how happy I am that I was able to be part of the MMIAM journey.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?

My academic and professional career has been internationally focused. After my experience volunteering at the museum in Bosnia, I saw that even if an arts organization has an incredible mission and passion, it still needs a good manager to help it achieve its goals.

Which courses were the most valuable to you for your career and why?

I think one of the most impactful classes for me was Laurence Orillard’s leadership course at HEC Montréal. It helped me understand key aspects of leadership in organizations and how best to tune my specific skills to become a better leader. We also learned about legitimacy, which is very important for managers of all kinds, but especially for managers who must deal with diverse international actors. Our budgeting course in Dallas, taught by Maureen Mixtacki, was very helpful as she made numbers and budgeting very approachable, allowing us to build a steady base upon which we can develop further knowledge. I also enjoyed a lot of the essays we wrote (you probably don’t hear a lot of undergrads say that). Working on our many projects with different professors in different places helped me develop insightful perspectives on problems and allowed me to revisit them later in the year.

MMIAM students at Taj Mahal, 2019 (personal archive)
The MMIAM students organized a trip to the Taj Mahal, 2019 (personal archive)

What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in six different countries with students from around the world?

The skills I gained and the experiences I had this year are incomparable. I can’t explain how impactful it is to study, travel, and collaborate with 12 other students from around the world. I not only learned loads of interesting things about each student’s home country, but also got to develop individual relationships with everyone in the cohort, resulting in a family-like bond between us all. It’s truly astounding to get to work daily with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met on academically and intellectually demanding projects, all while traveling around the world and experiencing things that most will only dream of seeing.

More specifically, I learned the key skills of managing an arts organization and how to work with diverse international teams on a variety of projects. These are skills that are not only necessary for today’s competitive international job market, but paramount to success.

Your cohort was the first to experience the new campuses abroad in Mumbai and Beijing. What were your impressions of arts management practices in these countries?

The most interesting aspect we learned about arts management in China was the importance of its cultural heritage, which is understood differently from cultural heritage in the West. In China, arts and culture are used as a diplomatic force. There is a national desire to harmoniously combine Chinese tradition with the newest advances in technology. With that said, there appears to be a cumbersome bureaucracy that weighs down some of China’s arts institutions, and a centralized control that might stifle creativity. They are, however, very interested in training more arts managers, so I am excited to see future developments in this field.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China (credit: John Tenny)

India has culture and traditions as old as time. On the one hand, much of their arts management practices are descended from colonialist bureaucratic traditions created by the British, but on the other hand, they are a hotbed for innovative management practices tuned to the developing world. India’s divide between rich and poor is striking, but its dedication to tangible and intangible heritage is proof that it has a bright and unique future in the world of arts management.

Which campus abroad was the most memorable for you and why?

I really enjoyed our time in India and China. Traveling to three new cities and two new countries was a surprise for our cohort (we found out on the first day of orientation in Dallas and everyone freaked out) and these new campuses abroad make the MMIAM program truly unique. Incorporating China and India into the program makes it a truly international program. Now we are not only connecting the Old World with the New World, but we are opening the gates to India and China which allows us to build understanding and connections in two countries that will likely be the most powerful nations in the world in the coming century. Beyond the obvious excitement that this creates, both experiences were amazing. I personally travelled very extensively before the program, but I had never been to India or China, and was therefore awestruck by the magnificence of both cultures. Furthermore, the opportunity to work directly with some of the leading arts organizations in India’s two largest cities (Delhi and Mumbai) and China’s centralized capital led to insightful learning opportunities and experiences.

At the end of the day though, I really enjoyed everywhere we went. All the cities are so different from one another. We pass from new megalopolises to cities that still have their medieval walls. This was also wonderful for me as a practicing photographer, as I had the opportunity to take pictures of so many diverse places and cultures.

Street in Mumbai, 2019 (credit: John Tenny)
Powai, India is a quickly growing neighbourhood in Mumbai, 2019 (credit: John Tenny)

What do you find particularly interesting about the field of arts management? Are you passionate about any specific aspects of it?

I am excited about how technology is changing art and arts management. While visiting the Venice Biennale as part of the MMIAM program, we saw that technology is becoming a larger part of contemporary art and will only play a larger role in the future. Technology’s impact on arts management is also very large, as we saw firsthand in Dallas with DataArts, a non-profit organization run by Professor Zannie Voss, the former co-director of the MMIAM program. DataArts is focused on collecting data on American arts organizations to help them understand their audiences better so they can build better relationships. Furthermore, technology is making art more accessible and enjoyable for youth and various other demographics for whom arts and culture are not easily accessible.