On Becoming an Effective Leader and Creating Your Own Opportunities
As a woman working in the arts management field, I know how critical it is to look for opportunities and to take advantage of them. I have had several women role models who have demonstrated the importance of being a good leader, and now that I’m at a stage in my career where I am training the next generation of arts leaders, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a woman in a leadership position, and how to create your own opportunities.
A story from long ago comes to mind. In my first year of college, I had a part-time job working as a publicity assistant for a busy and well-known performing arts center in Seattle. As a music major, it was the perfect job: writing press releases, sorting through head shots of classical music stars, and getting free tickets to performances. It was my first time behind the scenes of a performing arts organization.
One day, several of the senior staff were debating who would drive to the airport to pick up the members of the esteemed Tokyo String Quartet. I remember several staff avoiding this task as if it was the plague. Round and round they went, bemoaning the drudgery of an airport run as I sat quietly thinking what an amazing opportunity it would be to have one of the world’s top string quartets in my car! I could ask them any question I wanted as I carted them around town!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a driver’s license at the time and therefore was not able to be the lucky chauffer for the quartet. But I decided this is where my career in arts management begins—by seeking those opportunities that no one else wanted.
Since then, I have built a life doing what I love. Knowing that I wasn’t destined to have a career as an orchestral musician, I found my passion in education and the arts. My current role started over thirteen years ago when my organization was still very much a startup. As one of only three women working tirelessly to manage all facets of the organization, the days and nights were long. But little by little, through a lot of hard work, our small festival has grown to be one of the most sought-after programs in the Bay Area, and currently attracts more than 10,000 visitors per year.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my current job is the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than being a mentor and helping a young person discover their true passion. Through my work over the years, many times I’ve witnessed the transformation that can take place when a young musician performs on stage for an enthusiastic audience, or when a college graduate who is unsure about their next step in life suddenly sees a new career path in front of them after spending a summer as an intern.
So what advice do I have for women who wish to have a career in arts management? It goes without saying that one must always be passionate in the mission of their organization. If you don’t have an interest in what is happening around you, then you should probably not be there. There will be moments when you question everything. But when you see your audience deeply engaged in your program and returning night after night, it’s a feeling like no other. When a young musician delivers a performance so magical that the audience doesn’t want him or her to leave the stage, you know you’ve played a small role in their success. And when an intern spends eight weeks working side-by-side with you and suddenly becomes inspired to move across the country with no job and no home but is determined to launch their own career in the arts, you can’t help but be inspired yourself.
There are three guiding principles that I continually share with my interns who are just getting a glimpse into the inner workings of an arts organization. First, always be curious about what you are doing and what others are doing around you, whether it’s your staff colleagues, artists, or other like-minded organizations. Second, don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t always have the luxury of time to dwell on what could be better or how things could be different. Work your way through problems the best way you know how and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. And finally, pass your knowledge and expertise on to the next generation. Give generously of your time and spirit, and become a leader who brings out the best in people. You may just find yourself inspired as well.
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