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For love or money: human resource management in the performing arts

Stanley Chibuzo Opara (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, College of Business, Melbourne, Australia)
Pauline Stanton (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)
Waheduzzaman Wahed (Department of Management and Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 16 September 2019

Issue publication date: 16 September 2019




The purpose of this paper is to focus on the perceptions of key stakeholders of the human resource management (HRM) practices and challenges in performing arts organisations in Victoria, Australia. Challenges include the precarious nature of employment in the industry; poor wages and conditions leading to financial insecurity and the domination of the industry by small- and medium-sized organisations. The passion and commitment of the performing arts workforce are both a strength and a weakness in that they “buy in” to the expectations of long hours and unpaid work. These challenges impact on managers and administrators as well as performers and raise many challenges for the HRM function and places constraints on even basic HRM practices. Despite the claims of the stakeholders that the large companies have sophisticated HRM practices the early evidence suggests otherwise. Furthermore, many of these problems cannot be solved at the organisational level and need an industry and government response.


A qualitative research approach is used to guide this study as it allows contextual evaluation of the data. Eight key stakeholders interviewed for this study included one official specialising in industrial relations from Live Performance Australia, one official from the Media and Entertainment and Arts Alliance, two government officials from the State government, one with responsibility for working with Performing Arts companies in relation to funding and resources, and the other with responsibility for government arts policy development; two chief executive officers – one from a small arts company and the other from a large arts company; one HR director from a large arts company; and one manager from a small-to-medium-size company. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were undertaken to provide an information-rich inquiry.


The study suggests that there are considerable barriers to the effective adoption and implementation of HRM in the performing arts. In particular, the research identified four major features that impact on HRM practices in the arts sector. These are: first, the precarious nature of employment, due to the short-term and project focussed work. Second, the reliance on often limited government funding, supplemented by philanthropy, sponsorship and box office takings, leading to short-term and long-term financial insecurity and limited capacity for long-term planning. Third, limited resources and high levels of casualisation which leads to low income, poor working conditions, lack of training and few opportunities for career development. Fourth, despite these difficult conditions, the sector appears to attract a highly motivated and committed workforce including not just performers but also managers and administrators and the sector appears to rely on their passion, commitment and shared endeavour.

Research limitations/implications

The study has limitations. For example, it focussed at the macro level of key stakeholders rather than at the organisational level which is the usual unit of analysis for HRM studies. The stakeholders made many claims about HRM practices that need to be explored in further research at the organisational level. Also, apart from the trade union interviewee, the employee voice is missing. Again, further research into both performing arts practitioners and managers and administrators would be valuable future research.

Practical implications

This study raises a number of implications for practice. The first is that government policy makers need to focus on the sustainability of their funding models and take account of the myriad of evidence that now exists in regard to the detrimental impact of precarious employment in the increasingly valuable performing arts sector. A policy approach that highlights longevity and development of the sector rather than an emphasis on encouraging competition between small companies for financial survival has much to offer. The second is in relation to industry players who rather than blaming governments could take some control through supporting the growth of networks that could provide training and development and career development opportunities for organisations and individuals (Hennekam and Bennett, 2017).


This study contributes to the understanding of HRM systems and practices in the performing arts.



Opara, S.C., Stanton, P. and Wahed, W. (2019), "For love or money: human resource management in the performing arts", Employee Relations, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 1451-1466.



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