I Want To Be… An Arts Administrator!

Ashe Mischief

Ashe Mischief has been reading iCiNG forever & wrote to me offering herself up as a sacrifice to the “I Want To Be…” section! She works in arts administration, something I had never really heard of, but which sounds like an excellent profession for someone who wants to work to help the arts! Here’s what she had to say on the subject…

Tell us about what you do.
My M.A. is in Arts Administration which focuses on, among other things, marketing, fund-raising, programming, special event planning, and financial management of arts organizations. Typically the focus is on non-profit arts organizations (museums, opera, theater companies, dance), though many of my interests lie in the for-profit realm as well (film and art galleries).

Right now my 8-5 is working in Development for the University with donors and unrestricted funds (money that can be used where there is a need!), though I worked as a Festival Organizer for the Dark Carnival Film Festival as well!

How long ago did you start on this path?
Intentionally, it began my senior year of undergrad when I fell in love with the Radici Gallery, the New Orleans’ art gallery I interned at. After that, I began wondering how I could combine that interest with the business background I knew I had to have. It was serendipitous that I came to Bloomington after Hurricane Katrina; Indiana University had a Master’s program in Arts Administration, which was exactly what I was looking for!

Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
I would say that there are two significant moments that led me here: walking in to the doors of the Radici Gallery and landing that internship, and then moving to Bloomington. Had I not moved to Bloomington, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have gone to graduate school for another program.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
I think with the increasing number of undergrad and graduate programs specializing in things like Museum Management, Arts Administration, Theater Management, that in the future it may be an asset for certain! But at the same time, I think arts organizations are great at finding people who are passionate and inspiring, who are willing to work their way up in the organization. I know several people who began as volunteers at an arts’ center and eventually worked their way up to Executive Director!

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
The hardest part of this question is defining an average day! I think that anyone in this industry will say there are days that are in the 20s and days that are in the 150s! I would say on an average day, it’s probably between a 73-78. During an event, I think that the happiness level is going to waver a LOT. I had days during Dark Carnival that were a 10 and a day that was probably a perfect 100.

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
Personally, I don’t consider myself a workaholic. During school, I had to be, and I found that it was easier for me to hold on to my passion and enjoyment for my work if I didn’t bring it home with me (easier said than done!). I do think the industry definitely supports workaholics, but at the same time, I think there is enough flexibility in the field to accommodate all personality types and work ethics.

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! It’s a great way to introduce yourself to your local arts community, to get to know how the organization operates, and find out if it’s a place you want to be. It can really help you narrow down your focus, too. Are you interested in promoting the space, raising money, working with people? Volunteer work can really help you discover what you’re good at and what you like to do. Most arts groups attach amazing perks to volunteering, like free tickets to shows! If you have a really refined skill (like accounting, marketing, law, etc.), you can always inquire about being on the Board of Directors as well; it’s unpaid, but is one of two governing bodies with any arts group. It can be immensely rewarding!

…How about number two?
Take classes! Even if just at your community college, having some understanding of how marketing works, what public policy is and how it affects your local arts community, how economics impact the arts, how an arts organization is going to budget and balance their books… it all leads to a greater understanding of not only the field, but of business & society in general.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
How easily people get burnt out and jaded. I will say, I don’t think this is exclusive to Arts Administration, but to the field of non-profit management overall. It has an incredibly high turnover, and I think it’s because people are put in high stress positions and for low pay. Passion and meaning really have to drive you and your ability to work within this field. It can be really difficult to work with people, especially early in your career, who exhibit this sense of begrudgement because they have been working so long. You really have to shrug it off and continue to believe that you can make change.

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
Arts Administration is not going to make you wealthy! Because it’s typically a non-profit field, the pay can stink quite a lot. I have seen a lot of people go in to the field as performers and use the profession as a back-up career (and back-up paycheck) while they try to launch themselves as performers, artists, and more. While I think that having a background and passion for art itself is a MUST in the field, but it’s an insult to the profession to think of the administrative side as a contingency plan. Be here because you love the art, not because you’re too good to wait tables.

I think another would be the perceptions of arts organizations. More and more, they are utilizing a business structure to operate their facility, and I think this builds bigger, better, stronger arts organizations! There are going to be people who fit the flakey “artist” persona, but I think people will be surprised to find out how many savvy and intelligent people are behind the office doors.

What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
For me, it’s always about the people. Whether I’m working a concession stand and interacting with patrons who are excited to be at an event, hosting a gallery reception and seeing the look on the artist’s face, or am managing Special Guests services for a festival, I love the ability to interact with so many people. The excitement that people have is really contagious, and on a hard weekend, nothing is a better cure for a bad mood than talking to an enthusiastic artist/patron/donor.

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Honestly? My unending love and participation in the arts. The arts have been a huge component of my life since I was a child; from drawing and theater to photography and film, it’s a constant source of pleasure in my life. The second-runner up would be the people I meet who inspire and challenge me. On days I think of going back to grunt work, I think about the incredible people I’ve had an opportunity to meet– more often than not, they’ve got more passion and drive than I do, and it really inspires me to step up.

Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
In some form or another, absolutely! I think my long-terms dreams include either owning an art gallery or a drive-in movie theater. But I try to keep myself flexible, and not make too many set plans!

What are your next big steps?
I’m currently scouting the country for the next place to be– a place I can settle down, that has a thriving and amazing arts community, a supportive community, and the energy I find appealing in a city. It will be difficult to find a place that can live up to the standards New Orleans has set, especially in those qualities, but I’m convinced that there has got to be a place that can set a new standard! Maybe it’ll be New York City, San Francisco, Austin, or Santa Fe. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open!