High-profile artists on boards: win-win or conflict of interest?

Posted on: August 16, 2012

In Wednesday’s (8/15) Wall Street Journal, Pia Catton writes, “When the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles saw four members of its board resign in July, the news was especially damaging: These weren’t standard board members—they were artists, too. … In some ways, artists provide what their highly connected, high-net-worth colleagues cannot: artistic credibility and, sometimes, bankable star power. But to avoid ‘artist differences,’ they must also be simpatico with the organization’s mission, its current leadership and the roles they’re asked to play. … Carnegie Hall has a long history of artist board members, starting with violinist Isaac Stern, who helped save the venue in the 1960s. Today, its board boasts several internationally recognized names, including soprano Renée Fleming, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Emanuel Ax and Lang Lang. … The Orchestra of St. Luke’s has a standing policy to populate its board with three orchestra musicians, but a year ago it announced that mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who performs frequently with the group, would be the first guest artist to join its board. While Ms. Graham raises the orchestra’s profile by herself, she also proved invaluable when St. Luke’s sought to hire rising-star conductor Pablo Heras-Casado late in 2011. … ‘Artists bring their own perspectives, their own tastes about repertory and artists,’ said St. Luke’s executive director, Katy Clark. ‘But so do other board members. That’s part of the valuable exchange.’ ”

Posted August 16, 2012