Resilient Leadership in the Arts: Realities about being in an Arts Couple

Posted by Amy K. Ruggaber, Apr 27, 2016 0 comments

A few years ago, my husband got a new job several states away that completely changed our lives. At the time, I had a job I loved in theatre arts education from which I had to resign. Starting over in a new place where you know absolutely no one is a daunting task for anyone, but when you’re in the arts, it can seem like an impossible task. Jobs in the arts are harder to come by than in many other fields and it takes years to build up connections, develop working knowledge of local funding sources, and get another shot at a job with an organization when you aren’t the one hired away.

Getting back in the groove after a family move is tough and takes some MAJOR resiliency. Throw in a big surprise life change in the form of a baby, and you have a recipe for a nervous breakdown. So, how do you “bloom where you are planted?”

I’m still working on that . . . . but here are five things that I have figured out so far.

1)  As artists, you almost always can only afford to live in the neighborhood that is “artsy” adjacent. This means that you live in the housing that is “shabby chic.” The ceiling of our first apartment caved in from water damage when I was five months pregnant. The apartment we moved into next had no heat or electricity for the first three days and a problem with raccoons in the ceiling—raccoons that were fighting, eating, having babies, throwing things, all while managing to regularly disconnect all of our HVAC duct work. For nearly two years, we couldn’t figure out how they were getting in until I caught them climbing up our chimney. I swear, it looked like they were wearing the tactical gear from Ocean’s Eleven

Embrace the oddities specific to the real-estate in your new hometown, have a sense of humor about it and remember, you are collecting real-life experiences for your one-woman show. And when you find that miracle of a perfect rental house, like we did, cash in all your housing karma chips and pounce!

2)  When you work in the fields of arts education, advocacy, and community engagement, moving to a new state is a BIG DEAL. Policies and Policy Makers change, and you have to quickly get up to speed on a whole new landscape of issues. Tip: Bookmark the AFTA Advocacy Resources page and whip out those reports to impress your new local bigwigs. You’ll look like a BOSS.

I'm partial to the Creative Industries Report and took it to a 'Meet the Candidates' event before the last election of our City Council Representatives. Lawyers in suits who are running for office like numbers and we advocates like being able to tell them the exact percentage of the businesses in their district that are part of the Creative Industries. Print it out and hand it to them with your card stapled to the report. They will remember you. 

3)  Starting a family likely means major career shift for someone and comes with its own challenges for the Working Artist. When you both have job descriptions that require consistent availability on nights and weekends and baby’s bedtime is 7:30pm, things get really problematic. Unless you can bribe a grandparent to move around with you, be prepared to spend as much or more monthly on childcare than your rent/mortgage.

Seriously. Start looking up artist childcare grants on now.  

4)  Conferences become your lifeline to both past lives, careers, and (for parents) adulthood. (Have YOU booked your AFTA Conference? I HAVE!)

During the 2015 AFTA Conference in Chicago, I practically had a homing device on my friends from other cities and I totally fangirled over a program evaluation plan at one of the booths during the Education Expo like a delicate creature who had never seen the outside world.

An evaluation plan sent me into hysterics, people.  Geek, thy name is Amy. 

But it isn't just me. My husband returns from his recruiting trips and conferences looking rested, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the daily grind related to the creative output we expect of ourselves. These forays into the rest of the world are important, as they prime the pump and provide incredible inspiration in the form of new people, experiences, and sleep patterns. 

5)  At the end of the day, you are blissfully grateful that there is someone else in your home who knows the specific and intense, barely-contained chaos that is life in the arts world. Having someone there who knows what accelerant you need for the adhesive you use in your set design models, can proofread that grant proposal, and can prop you up when you are down (or are just REALLY late on that deadline) is priceless!

This blog is part of the 2016 Emerging Arts Leader Blog Salon. We asked over a dozen emerging leaders to reflect and respond to this year’s Arts Leadership Preconference theme: “Impact Without Burnout: Resilient Arts Leadership from the Inside Out”.

Amy King Ruggaber is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.

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