Arts Administration: Who Runs the Symphony?

Contributor: Morgan Haney. Lesson ID: 13334

Along with all the musicians who play in a symphony, there are many arts administrators who work to bring music to the audience. Learn what they do, and design a program for your own symphony!


Finding a Career, Musical Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Look at this image of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from a performance night at Roy Thomson Hall.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The audience is filing in, and on a night with a full house, there will be 2,630 people listening to the orchestra. More than a hundred musicians are preparing to play.

  • How did this all come together, and whose job is it to make sure that these concerts are engaging their audiences?

In this lesson, you'll learn about the people, besides the musicians, who make the symphony happen. Many professionals are engaged in the music industry without ever picking up an instrument, and their jobs are important and exciting.

You'll find out what some of them do and try out the top job at the symphony yourself by creating your own program!

A symphony orchestra is a large ensemble of musicians playing instruments, including strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

Often, these orchestras consist of over 100 musicians, and these people probably come to mind when you think of an organization like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO).

This lesson will explore a different part of the music industry: arts administration.

Arts administrators are responsible for a variety of crucial tasks. They choose the music that the orchestra will perform. They audition musicians and select the most talented instrumentalists to play in their halls.

Increasingly, modern arts administrators look for ways to combine popular and classical music. They seek opportunities to connect their audience members to classical music, unlike what most of us listen to daily.

  • So, what jobs exist within arts administration?

Let's start with the top administrator job and then explore a few departments where arts administrators work.

conductor conducting an orchestra

The Music Director

The music director is the leader of a symphony orchestra.

They are the primary conductor of an orchestra in performance and rehearsal, which is an enormous job in itself. In addition, the music director selects the program for the season, hires musicians and conductors, commissions pieces from new composers, and organizes community engagement initiatives.

Music directors are established professionals who have conducted orchestras for years and often have prior experience in other facets of arts administration. They must be excellent musicians to understand how to perform an orchestra; however, they must also be business-minded and decide how to utilize large budgets.

Sometimes, this job is divided between a music director and an artistic director. In those cases, the music director still conducts the orchestra but shares hiring and programming responsibilities with the artistic director, who also handles budgeting and community engagement.

Watch Music Director Marin Alsop discuss how she creates programs for concerts in the video below.

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Marin Alsop is a well-known and respected music director; however, she was first a violinist and a conductor for many years.

  • How does that experience benefit her in her current role?


The music director frequently conducts the orchestra; however, a large operation like TSO has over 130 concerts a year, and it's not feasible for one person to conduct all those rehearsals and performances.

Symphonies typically have multiple resident conductors under the music director's leadership. They lead orchestras and head up different artistic initiatives.

Often, one conductor is in charge of the Pops program, which incorporates popular music and artists with the orchestra. At the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Pops program has brought Sara Bareilles, Kendrick Lamar, and many other pop artists together with a full orchestra.

Learn more about what a conductor does as you watch this next video.

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  • What is the most essential part of a conductor's job?

President or Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Like most businesses, symphony orchestras have a president or CEO. This person is not very involved in the artistic side of the operation.

Instead, this person interacts with the Board of Directors. The board members are elected individuals charged with representing the symphony's donors, who donate money to the symphony.

The president or CEO is in charge of the administrative side of the organization. All the departments in the arts administration eventually report to this person.

They have the final say on how much money can be spent. This individual also works to raise funds and grow the symphony's audience.


Most symphony orchestras are not for profit; they rely on their patrons to donate to the organization. A patron is someone who supports the symphony. While they often donate money as donors, patrons can also be volunteers.

Arts administrators who work in development contact donors, organize events for their patrons, partner with local businesses, and find ways to connect to the community and grow the symphony's audience.


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  • Did you guess correctly?

The finance department allocates that budget among many departments and ensures spending doesn't exceed the available funds. It also applies for government grants to supplement the orchestra's funds.


Almost all symphony orchestras have an education program that trains young musicians and allows them to work with some of the symphony's musicians and conductors.

This is a fantastic way to encourage musicianship and artistic engagement in young people, and the symphony also bolsters its budget by charging for lessons and participation in youth orchestras.

Marketing and Public Relations

You've probably started to notice that many of the departments in arts administration overlap with the departments you would find in most other non-arts-related businesses.

The marketing and public relations (PR) team perfectly exemplifies that. This department houses graphic designers, social media coordinators, and advertising specialists who generate print, radio, and online ad content.

Now that you know what is included in arts administration and some of its jobs, continue to the Got It? section to test your knowledge of how a symphony is run and which jobs fit into each department!

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