Jessica Wilt

Another school year draws to a close and I feel like I’m out of control spinning all over the boroughs of New York City from one commitment to the other with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” playing in my head. Is anyone else out there spinning round like a record, baby? Okay, that makes me sound old.

Next month I’ll be leading a Career360 Roundtable session at the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio. The topic: Community Involvement: Taking the “I Shoulds” Out of Your Life.

I chuckled upon my realization at how perfect the topic of overcommitment is for me; hence, the spinning-out-of-control vertigo I’m now experiencing.

Many arts administrators are expected to serve on panels, boards, and committees in addition to joining advocacy-related campaigns and other volunteer activities outside of the day-to-day full time job.

I’d like to explore this “I should or I shouldn’t” conversation a bit. Are arts administrators volunteer-driven because of their love for the field? Because there seems to be unspoken expectations? Out of necessity? Or a combination of all three?

I volunteer my time and energy mainly because I am passionate about arts education. I enjoy being connected to networks outside of my job, learning new things, traveling, and meeting some really interesting people…but sometimes it can feel overwhelming.

Locally, I’m involved with the New York City Arts in Education Roundtable as a former board member currently seeking reelection and a Teaching Artist Affairs committee member. Through Roundtable connections I’ve become more engaged with advocacy at the local and state levels. My involvement with the organization continues to inform me of relevant issues I face each day through my work in New York. (Hint: Common Core, evaluation, and testing).

How about sitting on a grant review panel?

Recently I thought I had lost my mind after receiving less than a week’s deadline to review and rank 35 grant applications (over 300 pages) from a cultural agency. I was however, pleasantly surprised to find the dialogue incredibly engaging and enlightening. I not only walked away with a greater sense of pride for the arts in my community, I learned what makes for a strong and fundable grant proposal—a critical lesson.

Interested in joining a school board? Why, sure!

Through a charter school board mixer hosted by Link Education earlier this year, I was introduced to an arts focused charter school where after going through a nominating and vetting process, last month I was elected to join the VOICE Charter School Board in Queens. I will see first-hand how a dedicated school board, a principal, and his staff collaboratively work together on building and governing a school that uses vocal music as its common curricular thread.

One of my favorite volunteer responsibilities is doing cool things like writing ARTSblog posts as an Arts Education Council member with Americans for the Arts (and then Tweeting about it). My service on the council has connected me to people from all over the country and engaged me in conversations about arts and education advocacy at the national level. How often do you get a chance to lobby for the arts in-person on Capitol Hill and sit next to Alec Baldwin?

I see these activities as an extension of my workday, which by choice leaves little time for anything else. Did I mention the five-month old Labrador puppy I’ve got sitting at my feet, licking my toes, and whining to go outside and play as I write?

I’m not sure we, as arts administrators, can make a clear divide between work and everything else.

How do expectations to volunteer and serve in addition to your normal work and life obligations (i.e. the puppy) change how you organize your time outside of the office?

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation in San Antonio.

Maybe during times of crazy as an alternative to thinking “You Spin Me Round” I’ll start envisioning myself spinning into a happier, more attractive Wonder Woman instead.

Which brings me to the next step on my volunteer “I should” list—volunteer for a campaign and eventually run for public office.

Just wait America; I have so much more to give!

5 Responses to “Overcommitment: Taking the ‘I Shoulds’ Out of Your Life?”

  1. Yes, nonprofit administrators and leaders are pulled in way too many directions. It’s probably true in many other professions, but this is my profession and I usually feel that I can’t even go to a local play without thinking about what I’m wearing and who I might run in to.

    Creating strategies to disconnect can be useful. But I also don’t want to miss something. Know what I mean?

    • Jessica Wilt says:

      I know what you mean Clay! How can we set boundaries and priorities when it seems like everything we are involved in has some type of work related attachment? I’m learning to do a better job of saying no. Sometimes that can be really hard especially when I live and work in NYC! There’s only so much you can do after work and on the weekends. I used to have my phone glued to my hand what felt like 24-7 (and actually embarrassed when I’m caught in a photo or video looking at my phone!), so I’ve made a rule not to have my phone on the table during meetings or at events and to “disconnect” from texting, social media and checking email once I arrive home. It’s the little habits we develop sometimes that might need a readjustment.

      • My office is AT home, so the boundaries are even harder to maintain. But it’s not just a problem if you live in NYC. I live in, get this, Manhattan, KANSAS (the Little Apple as the Chamber says) and I’m experiencing the same things you are.

        I guess it’s a consequence of building and maintaining a good network. The challenge is that we work in an industry that most people enjoy in the evenings and on weekends. If arts and culture is your profession, what are we supposed to do in our off hours? For fun? To relax?

        • Jessica Wilt says:

          Well, if you work from home I can see how creating work related boundaries may pose an extra set of challenges! I’ve been there before and remember how difficult it was to disconnect. And, I would imagine getting out of the house and participating in evening and weekend events would be rather important, not only from a networking perspective, but to see what’s going on in your community related to the arts (how, cool – Manhattan, Kansas “The Little Apple” – love that!). The only way I’ve found to truly disconnect is to actually schedule time in my calendar that is “me time” and most likely it will be an outdoors activity – walking, bicycling, hiking etc. or hanging out with friends. One of my goals this year has been to take a cooking class, or a fun activity unrelated to work. Could one of these options be a possibility for you?

          • Yep, that’s exactly what I do: get outside. For awhile, I owned and operated an event management (think triathlon and adventure racing) and getting outside was part of work, but now it’s a great escape for me. I like nothing better than getting on my bike and riding out the lake or on local MTB trails. And you have to schedule it or it won’t happen.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about being connected locally. But I do enjoy going other places to see shows and concerts once in awhile. We visited NYC for the first time in March and had a fabulous time on Broadway and at the Met Opera. But I even commented while we were standing in the lobby that it was weird going to a show and not knowing a single person (other than my wife). I guess that’s the experience of most people, right?

Leave a Reply

*

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.