Building healthy organizations and workplaces take patience, effort, and consistency.
I have had this consulting practice for about a year now, so it’s time to celebrate! I have taken on half a dozen clients in this time, including paying and pro-bono clients, individual artists and companies, and a grant making organization. I’m doing work that ranges from strategic planning to finance to operations to facilitating grant panels.
This is my heart work. Working directly with artists, helping them build strong skills in self-management and managing organizational growth, resourcing the work at the right scale, and addressing crisis and opportunity with a loving attitude and fierce determination. Artists work harder than any group of people I know, and it is my honor to continue this work for as long as I can.
What I do is not easy to build a business around, because I want to “teach people how to fish,” to quote the old proverb:
If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day; If you teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime.
I first heard that saying listening to Arrested Development back in Oakland, CA where I grew up. My dad bought me a tape of their album 3 years, 5 months, and 2 days in the life of… when I was 12, and I have thought about the saying practically every day since. But what does it mean in the context of arts administration consulting?
To me it means that all artists deserve to build professional skills in fundraising, finance, management, producing, marketing, and all the other areas of work that comprise a healthy professional arts practice. To cede this work to others is to decenter the artist in their own work, and to make them subservient to the vision of another for their career. It’s not that there isn’t room for agents, managers, business managers, managing directors, artistic producers, and directors of development, finance, and marketing in the ecosystem of support for an artist, it’s just that these are roles that are more appropriate to a much larger institution or organization.
I want all the artists I work with to develop these skills so that someday they won’t need me any more, because they know how to take care of themselves, pay themselves to do this work, and/or have hired the help that they need in order to focus more fully on artistic practice, creation, producing, touring, etc. Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes with me knows that I am basically allergic to large institutions, and instead crave the flexibility and creativity that comes from working intentionally as an individual among institutions. I’m not a joiner, I never will be. My work is often about making the times and spaces where an artist’s practice abuts the “real world” a little bit easier for them, to support artists whose work is not recognized or valued by the current systems we have in place, for reasons of racism, sexism, class oppression, homophobia, transphobia, and even for those artists whose work does not fit into traditional categories of support, producing, or presenting. I am a misfit who wants to help other misfits. I just don’t think we are misfits, I think we are ahead of our time. After almost 15 years of working with institutions and organizations of various sizes, I find that work gratifying (and I especially like the employer-provided health insurance) but I also find these institutions problematic and sometimes working counter to the values I try to put into the world. I know that working in service is for me, and right now that means working for myself with a wide variety of clients, individual artists and organizations alike.
After this amazing year, I can’t wait to see what comes next. I think I will be writing a lot more, including some work I have been conceptualizing about human resources in the nonprofit performing arts space. I am excited to take some time this fall to reflect on how we treat each other at work, how arts work spaces are built, and how we can create equity in our organizations by designing more inclusive and transparent systems of accountability and management. I’m hoping to share more of that on this site in the coming weeks and months. Because as performing artists, we cannot do our work alone, in a vacuum, free from consequences of being in relationship with others. Truly beautiful, and equitable, performance must be made via a process that is as loving, accountable, and beautiful as the product that emerges on a stage or in a theater.