Academic journal article Communication Studies

Framing the Work of Art: Spirituality and Career Discourse in the Nonprofit Arts Sector

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Framing the Work of Art: Spirituality and Career Discourse in the Nonprofit Arts Sector

Article excerpt

Members of American culture generally value prestige, material comfort, convenience, accumulation, and ownership (Stewart & Cash, 2006). Many employees believe that these can be earned through a successful career and therefore seek to climb the "corporate ladder." Traditional career literature has reflected this notion by defining career as "a time-bound sequence of corporate positions with increasing compensation, status, and privilege" (Buzzanell, 2000, p. 209; see also Arthur, Hall, & Lawrence, 1989; Arthur, Inkson, & Pringle, 1999). However, the for-profit career markers of status and success often do not suit nonprofit careers characterized by low pay, long hours, and limited career advancement (Illinois Arts, 2002). [1] This study explores how nonprofit practitioners construct and communicate their careers in light of traditional and contemporary career theory and, consequently, offers insight into understanding employees' increasing desire to craft more meaningful work.

Today's nonprofit sector includes a whole host of organizations, from hospitals and schools to churches and theaters, from social service providers and civil rights initiatives to environmental advocacy and neighborhood development associations (Salamon, 2002). As a result, nonprofit organizations offer numerous career opportunities. Previous research has illuminated potential nonprofit professions (Lewis & Milano, 1987), career opportunities (Pick, 1980), and gender effects on career advancement (Herron et al., 1998), as well as nonprofit managers' work experiences (Peters & Wolfred, 2001), job demands and rewards (Kaplan, 1990), and salary challenges (Manzo, 2004). Despite attempts to highlight various aspects of nonprofit careers, extant research has rarely focused on the relationship between nonprofit careers and traditional career models generally based on for-profit work (see Onyx & Maclean, 1996). Moreover, few researchers have adopted a communicative perspective to foreground employee discourse when exploring nonprofit careers.

For most nonprofit organizations, what Salamon (2002) describes as a "persistent fiscal squeeze" (p. 12) prevents offering tangible rewards comparable to their for-profit counterparts (Gunn, 2004). Nonprofit employees are typically characterized as overworked and underpaid (Manzo, 2004), earning an average of 11% less than for-profit workers (Magee, 2004). Subsequently, those attracted to nonprofit work are more likely to be inspired by a purpose or calling than by earning potential (Lewis & Milano, 1987). The arts sector has been particularly challenged by dramatic cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (Indiana Arts, 2005; Wyszomirski, 2002), and as Wyszomirski (2002) explains, private support has not surfaced to replace the security once provided by government funding. Funding challenges for the arts are expected to persist, particularly in the wake of September 11th, and now Hurricane Katrina, in which philanthropy "has sought to readjust to new demands" (Wyszomirski, 2002, p. 191). Although disasters often give rise to increased support and appreciation for human service agencies providing basic needs, they may adversely impact resources for arts providers. Community benefits afforded by arts and culture organizations are less tangible, less measurable, and less immediate. Consequently, arts organizations are among the least funded by private philanthropy (Hodgkinson, 2002). In addition, they are struggling to cultivate audiences and donors in an increasingly diverse American population and competitive entertainment market (Wyszomirski, 2002). Thus, nonprofit arts practitioners are challenged not only in terms of receiving extrinsic rewards, but also in legitimating the services they provide.

The purpose of this article is to explore how nonprofit practitioners in arts organizations construct the notion of career, and more specifically, how they frame their work experiences and career choices. …

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