I’d Call Myself an Arts Administrator: Spoiler Alert, That Wasn’t My Plan
By Rebecca Pate
Many of us who label ourselves Arts Administrators usually reached that title through a strange and twisted path we didn’t know we were on. Generally when you meet young artists while in the early years of their college education you don’t hear them lauding “I can’t wait to be an arts administrator!” Truth be told it took me several years to realize I was in fact an arts administrator at all. But how and why do we end up with this title?
For me and assumedly many like me, our educational, and professional paths were leading us here the whole time. I started my educational path as an education major with a focus of speech and theatre. A couple years in I changed my major, not because I didn’t want to teach, but because the classes that the technical theatre majors got to take were more hands on, and frankly more interesting.
I had always been involved in technical theatre, as I was seldom cast in my early years, so the change came easily. I quickly found that I loved stage managing and I was good at it. Stopping right here, I think this was the defining moment into my career as an arts administrator.
When I got into the world of stage managing I thought it was amazing. It encompassed all the pieces and parts of theatre into one neat little binder of spreadsheets, bulletin boards, and meetings.
Even if there was an aspect I knew little about or wasn’t very good at, I got to be a part of it and know the ins and outs.
At this point I guess I could have become a stage manager and been done with it, but I decided that I wanted to take all those skills and go to grad school so I could ultimately teach college (spoiler alert, I am not teaching college). Dramaturgy and teaching became my focus. All of those wonderful stage management skills translated well into this realm, but my time running production meetings had come to an end.
Toward the end of my graduate school career, while in the post candidacy phase my advisor told me I would be considered a “theatre generalist” once I got out into the world. This was because I had done a little bit of everything, and in general I was good at a little bit of everything. In my head this translated to “you are going to get a job right away, and you will be paying off those student loans in no time.” Spoiler alert, none of that is true!
After several years of looking for a job in the arts and theatre world and becoming very creatively stagnant I landed a job as the Arts and Humanities Director for a non-arts, not for profit.
I was to run a youth theatre program as well as other arts programs. I was the only full time employee in this department, in an organization that seemed to appreciate the arts from a distance, but not really understand it. Several years in I had turned the existing program on its head, increased programming, decreased spending, cultivated a core team of artists, etc… and that’s when it happened. I realized I was an arts administrator.
I was developing, advocating, leading, and growing an arts program. There was a miniature working theatre company inside of an organization that focuses primarily on health and wellness and I was at the helm. I began to look around at what I was doing and what my career goals were, and recognizing that I loved leading this work and loved making sure that it existed.
I was ensuring that not only the day to day business was happening, but also that it could grow, thrive, and keep happening. I was and am an arts administrator. Working in the vacuum I work in, I am so much more – on any given day I am administrator, costume designer, director, teacher, janitor… But at the end of the day I ensure that arts programming is available, and sustainable, I am an Arts Administrator.