When working with or researching art-related nonprofit organizations, you may have come across nonprofits that describe their lead executive as an “artistic director.” Some organizations also function as a cooperative effort between an artistic director and an executive director. Here’s a rundown of the defining characteristics of each of these nonprofit leadership roles.
An artistic director fills a role specific to arts-based nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits that might employ an artistic director include public theatre companies, artist-run centres, or independent film associations. The job of the artistic director is to conceive of, and delegate the execution of, all artistic projects that the nonprofit organization creates. The job of an artistic director in a theatre company is to determine all the productions that the company performs. He or she has the final say over major visual and stylistic choices regarding those performances. An artistic director in an artist-run centre or gallery is in charge of what artists and exhibitions are displayed in the gallery, and overseeing the curation of individual shows. Artistic directors may also work together with a board of directors to control the growth and progression of an arts-related nonprofit, ensuring that the programming stays in line with the organization’s overall mission.
The executive director fills a similar role in a nonprofit organization to the role of a chief executive officer in a for-profit business. An executive director’s most important job is to manage the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit organization. This includes delegating tasks among lower-level employees, setting goals related to productivity and funding, and approving or vetoing new strategies and campaigns. An executive director has frequent communication with the board of directors, keeping the board aware of the daily events of the nonprofit organization while the board members advise on larger decisions. A nonprofit executive director also acts as a spokesperson for a company, often giving speeches at events or serving as a liaison between the company and the public. In larger nonprofit organizations, an executive director may also act as a liaison between different companies, or between the nonprofit and the government.
Nonprofits that directly produce or promote works of art and performance usually are the only types of nonprofit organizations that have art directors. That said, a larger arts nonprofit could certainly employ both an artistic director and an executive director. In cases such as these, the two retain their separate job roles, but there is a great deal of room for collaboration, particularly in meetings with board members and in task delegation. In some cases, the artistic director reports to the executive director, offering information about upcoming shows or calls for submissions that the executive director then relays to the public and to sister organizations. The artistic director may have the final say on the appearance and tone of visual productions, while the executive director may control where the organization’s funding comes from and how much money is allocated to each production. While the roles of artistic director and executive director are distinct, the two jobs often exist harmoniously within a nonprofit to create a solid sense of direction for the organization.