For almost a decade, I smelled bad. After years in the food service industry, there was no amount of scrubbing that could erase the stench of grease and questionable meat product from my clothing. Maybe it was the fear that I’d die stinky and alone that led me to seek employment elsewhere. The problem was, I had a college degree and the passion to be creative in my profession, but no practical knowledge in the big-girl office world. How could I trick an arts organization into employing an expert burger flipper?
Let me let you in on a little secret. There’s no secret knock for getting into arts management. It’s as simple as this: All industries, especially the arts, are downright thirsty – nay, parched – for the right kind of employee. If you’re considering an occupation shift into the arts, the first step is discarding the belief that the “right” kind of employee necessarily means someone with extensive knowledge in the arts or arts administration. Quite the contrary, successful arts organizations employ diverse candidates who bring different – and critically important – experiences or viewpoints.
Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, graduated with a degree in dramatic literature … then started a private investment fund. He’s produced musicals and plays and is an all-around star in the arts world … but also owned some minor league baseball teams and race horses. What do all these endeavors have in common? Rocco Landesman. It was the person who made his ventures successful, not his resume line items. While I can’t provide a Malcolm Gladwell-esque break-down of what makes someone’s experiences marry well with a job in arts administration, I can tell you common traits of great employees.
Flexibility and Adaptability: The culture of arts organizations can best be described as the most fun you will ever in a job that also feels a bit like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Visions are big and resources are scarce. This inexorable truth means you must be a roll-with-the-punches guy or gal. You will wear multiple hats and work with variety of people, and learn amazing things. But only if you’re okay with a dynamic culture.
Killer Communication Skills: “Communication Skills” act as Mayor of Vague-ville in the job description category, so let’s be more specific. Arts administration means one day you’ll be conversing with a cabillionaire, then a college intern or a vendor. It means learning jargon and translating it into actual human terms. It means working in intimate settings and learning to be respectful. It means writing a good email and speaking like a professional. People who can carry themselves with word and deed are desperately needed.
Commitment to the Mission: As hokey as it seems, if you wholly work towards your organization’s mission, you’ll inevitably work harder and more positively, yearn for more knowledge, find innovative ways to complete your assignments, spend every dollar efficiently and put in the late hours or do the tasks no one else wants to do.
The job sites will tell you to tailor your resume towards the position and stress your transferable skills, but I suggest you go one step further. Take the position that it wouldn’t matter if you were a whale trainer or a nanny, your skills make you desirable for any profession … but out of all the careers in the world you’ve chosen this one. Then tell them why. Passion and experiences can take you as far as you want in arts administration … just ask Rocco Landesman.