Artist as Administrator
Visiting a retrospective exhibition of the art and film of Robin Lloyd and Doreen Kraft reminded me of how many arts administrators are also artists in our community. I found this collaborative installation especially interesting because it affords a glimpse of the artistic side of Doreen Kraft, who most of us know as the director of Burlington City Arts.
Other local artist administrators include Janie Cohen, head of the Fleming Museum, who’s a fabric artist; Sara Katz, assistant director of Burlington City Arts and an abstract painter; and Rachel Moore, executive director at Helen Day Art Center and a sculptor. I, too, am an artist, dancing in my twenties before turning to filmmaking and writing.
When I was younger, I worried that people in the workplace might take me less seriously if they knew I was a practicing artist. Then, in the ‘90s, Harvard Film Archives screened a film of mine and someone in the audience asked if anyone ever confused me with the John Killacky who was a curator at Walker Art Center. This time, I worried that having a day job might undermine my credibility as an artist, so I laughed and said, “No.” Eventually, I integrated my personas and today remain grateful for the artistic discipline and training that informs my running of the Flynn Center.
Artists have certain advantages, particularly with the never-ending aspiration to improve. While building upon technique and experience, curiosity leads artists to explore new horizons. I often tell employees, “We’re hired for what we know, but our job is to learn what we don’t know.”
Another valuable workplace lesson is that if something’s working, artists try to make it even better. If it’s not working, they try something else. Merely doing the same thing repeatedly isn’t always productive. Resiliency and adaptability are central to an artist’s process and crucial for an organization’s sustainability.
Art is oftentimes a collaborative process and teamwork is essential. As a filmmaker, I found this to be true. With my writing, editors improve my efforts immeasurably. Moreover, when dancing, I learned to work as a soloist and as part of an ensemble. At the Flynn Center, vexing problems are best tackled from multiple perspectives with all stakeholders involved.
Finally, whenever interviewing for an open position, I inquire about artistic backgrounds. Then, if all things are equal, I hire the artist.
Editor’s note: This commentary by John R. Killacky, executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, first aired on Vermont Public Radio.
John R. Killacky is a member of Americans for the Arts.