When I started reading this article from Charles McNulty in The Los Angeles Times, I was more than a little afraid that it was yet another cry of hopelessness around this seeming lack of anyone fit to fill the shoes of the geniuses that began the regional theatre movement. (It turned out to be a wonderfully written article with a lot of things to think about, in fact, I will probably refer back to it again tomorrow. But the first paragraph set me off and I feel the need to voice my thoughts.) Don’t get me wrong, the founders of our major (and some minor) regional theatres across the nation deserve the praise that they receive; they cut a new path and created a new way to produce theatre. Many of us owe our ability to pay our bills through work in the theatre to these trailblazers.
However, to say that no one is ready to take the reins, or that those who are out there are woefully unskilled or under-qualified for the job is ludicrous. Look around (you don’t have to look too hard). We are the artistic directors, associate artistic directors and managing directors at small and midsize theatres; we are the regional theatre directors working at your theatres, or your peer theatres, for over a decade; we are the marketing and development directors within your own organizations who volunteer their time to serve on the boards of other nonprofits. We are here and we are more qualified than you think. Those years at smaller organizations have given us concrete knowledge of the same things that you learned as you grew your organizations into the multi-million dollar institutions that they are today. The time we spend on these other boards have taught us to look at the big picture and developed our skills in board leadership. We are passionate about the field and the mission-driven work. We are more likely to take calculated risks that reaffirm that mission than the corporate folks your boards seems so enamoured with over the past few years.
Worried about the lack of institutional knowledge? Perhaps that isn’t what the organization requires right now. We bring a new perspective, one that is sorely needed. One that puts aside the things you may still only be doing because you’ve always done them and can run honest analysis of multiple options without the baggage of history. A perspective that honors why you built this theatre in the first place: to create great art. The financial and production history we can easily learn. We can read financial statements and examine budgets with a new eye. We can also debate the finer points of the voice (or lack thereof) the organization is using on social media sites.
We may or may not be attending the fantastic Emerging Arts Leaders meetings that Americans for the Arts and local arts advocacy organizations facilitate across the nation. We may not see ourselves as “emerging” at all, but rather fully present and arrived. We may not be of your generation, your race, or your gender, but we are here and we are ready.
Side note to those leaders who are emerging: if you look to take the reins yourself one day and currently see gaps in your skills, take action now. Check our the emerging arts leaders groups, here’s the link for more info about the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition’s meetings. There are fantastic classes that can teach you the knowledge base, but, also, get yourself onto the board of an organization you love. Your skill set will grow and your perspective will broaden in ways you can only imagine. Set yourself up for success. Your passion will take you the rest of the way.