So, What Do You Do?

Posted by Sharon Reid-Kane On November - 27 - 2012

Oriental Poppies (1928) by Georgia O’Keefe

“Fill a space in a beautiful way.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe.

I’ve always loved this quote and this artist. I’ve always admired her use of gorgeous colors and these powerful words. I am the proud Associate Director of Education at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Marcia P. Hoffman Performing Arts Institute. [cue reflective music here]

In 1968, the Garden State Arts Center (now the PNC Bank Arts Center) opened in Holmdel, NJ—a beautiful venue consistently ranked in the top five amphitheaters in the country and top two outdoor arenas within the New York Metropolitan area and, more importantly, a place that will forever be magical in my memory.

Judy Garland performed here weeks after it opened. Symphonies and ballet companies from around the world have graced its stage and portions of Jackson Browne‘s landmark 1977 live album, Running on Empty, were recorded here. Trust me, it is a special place.

I was blessed with parents who took my brother, sister and I here often and I always left thinking how amazing it must be to work there. And now, several years later (you do the math—my date and artist references have given me away, I’m afraid) I have the privilege of working at a performing arts center—in the education department, no less. It is a gift.

I learned early on in my career that I needed more than a job, I needed to feel that I was making a difference and was fortunate to have been led to the nonprofit sector. I served for several years as a director for a worldwide, fundraising organization and following that worked with my local school system developing volunteer initiatives and community relations programs. My background, essentially, is in the “traditional” nonprofit field—volunteer management, fundraising, public relations.

My heart was always in the arts, however, and when the opportunity came to combine all of my education, experience and personal passions—I leaped. Not without warning, though.

Colleagues who truly knew me were not on board with my decision at all. I can still hear their comments and caveats in my head daily.

“You can’t be serious. Working with ‘artsy people’ will drive you nuts. You are logical, calm, level-headed, organized and will NEVER fit in. Do you really want to deal with those kind of high-maintenance personalities every day?! If you work in the arts, you’ll never enjoy the arts again. And my personal favorite—You have a degree in sociology? That’ll be perfect.”

I was told repeatedly that while I was actually ideal for this job—no one who cared about me could, in good conscience, recommend accepting. It still makes me laugh—more nervously on some days than others, but laugh nonetheless.

So here I am four years later. I currently manage a full-time administrative staff of fifteen, with a part-time adjunct staff of arts instructors in the double-digits. I am responsible for the operations, marketing, and presenting divisions of a performing arts school that happens to be located within a performing arts center.

Each day presents new obstacles, both inside and outside of our walls. There are the “standard” challenges of the nonprofit world, combined with the world of the arts.

Is it difficult? You bet. Is it heartbreaking? Painfully so. Is it a constant struggle for resources of which there are never enough? Absolutely. Are there high-maintenance personalities involved? No comment. But here’s also what it is—it is never boring. It is never bland or void of gorgeous colors. It is fun and glorious and joyful when it goes well.

And hopefully, along the way, it is making a difference.

In just one week last month, my staff and I welcomed 200+ students into a free school-time performance, coordinated a master class pairing award-winning technicians with fifty local “tech kids” hungry to learn their trade, prepared to award several performing arts scholarships in an upcoming ceremony, and went about our usual daily business of offering voice, drama, dance and instrumental music lessons and classes to students of all ages and abilities.

All of this happening in conjunction with the performances on our main stage (this week a variety of rock concerts, plays and opera lectures). I was right—it is amazing.

Those of us who work in arts administration and education know how difficult it can be to explain our jobs and what we do. It isn’t exactly tangible. You feel it more than you see it.

The results are not always obvious or as immediate as they are in traditional nonprofit efforts. In the world of fundraising, where I started, things are pretty clear—you either raise the amounts needed or you don’t. When you do, you can see the impact. People in distress are fed, fostered, nurtured, and given the means to survive. And that is work to be proud of.

In the arts world, souls and spirits are fed. Talents are fostered. Dreams are nurtured and given the means to survive, to take flight and to “fill space in a beautiful way.”

So there’s my answer. I help to fill the space of this world in a beautiful way. I work to provide continued access to the arts. That’s what I do and I recommend it highly. Thanks, Mom and Dad. And thanks, Georgia.

23 Responses to “So, What Do You Do?”

  1. Nice picture, nice script, nice job, nice future… Let you once visit us in Paris!

  2. Julia says:

    Well said. Approaching the work from this perspective one will always keep a sense of wonder. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Julia: Another phrase I love – “a sense of wonder”. Yes, we are all educated professionals but let’s never lose sight of the joy in our work. Thank you for sharing, as well…,

  3. Jillian says:

    Such an amazing task, trying to describe a job in a field of so many unknowns! This is really powerful and shows a full circle journey. I truly love the way you described what you do, what we do, what the arts do. Filling space in a beautiful way. Living in a time where the world around us is uh, not the most beautiful, and still striving to help and create- despite all of the challenges- is ABSOLUTLY admirable. I also love that photo. Great job, and keep on striving to paint the world and fill space, because you are doing beautifully.

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Jillian: What a gift your comment was – please accept my thanks. Lots of beautiful phrases seem to be emerging such as your “striving to paint the world”. It is clear that YOU are doing beautifully, as well…,

  4. Melody says:

    You’re right, it is difficult to explain not only what we do but everything that we do. Kudos to you. You have done it brilliantly. Your very accurate eloquence is a reminder of why I love what I do! Thank you for that.

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Melody: Firstly, your lovely name certainly left you destined to work in the arts, didn’t it? Thank you for your comment and kudos right back to you, Comrade. May the melody forever linger on…,

  5. Dan Kidd says:

    This woman is my new hero. It’s easy to find text on best practices and statistics but rare to find a reminder of what led us here in the first place. I shared this with my staff and few dry eyes survived. This is the kind of message we REALLY need to hear on a regular basis. I vote she is recruited to speak at Arts Advocacy Day and the annual convention. I’d sign up for her session in a heartbeat.

    Sharon, I’d love to meet you at either event to thank you in person. Lunch, drinks and/or dinner is on me!

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Dan: Wow, thank you so much. I am so pleased that my thoughts connected with others. Mission-driven work is, by nature, trying – as you know. It is also, in my opinion, without question the most rewarding with the power to truly change lives. I am a huge proponent of continuous professional development and the “technical” text you mentioned, but think it is equally important to keep the conversations going about our passion for this field, as well. Sometimes all it takes is sharing a story or anecdote about our own memories, or the phenomenal cello player you were able to present, or how adorable the little ones in your “Tiny Dancer” classes are in their miniature tutus to refresh and re-energize us. What an honor for me to be given the opportunty to share mine – so glad you enjoyed it.

      PS: I like lobster…,

  6. Suzanne says:

    Great job, Sharon. I’ll take you to lunch too.

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Suzanne: Thank you for your comment. Knowing how busy schedules are, I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond. I’m thinking it would be more appropriate for me to pick up the check!

  7. Cindy says:

    Thank you for sharing your passion for arts education! What a great reminder that it’s people, not statistics that non-profits work so hard for. I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with people who share your passion and vision.

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      As have I, Cindy, and you are absolutely accurate – it is a blessing. Thank you so much for your comment…,

  8. Ellen says:

    You captured the essence of why we do what we do and its importance so well, all the while not painting an unrealistic picture that fails to acknowledge some of the challenges we all face. Kudos to you. What you wrote is brilliant and so well expressed. I hope you are invited to speak – many places. You are an inspiration…

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Ellen. Personally, I hope we are ALL invited to speak (and speak loudly!) about our dedication and passions. Always spreading the word and planting seeds, right? I appreciate your lovely response…,

  9. elissa says:

    If this isn’t a testament to why arts education is SO important, I don’t know what is. For me, personally, the arts made me who I am today. They are truly mind shaping. Nothing connects people more. I love how you said ‘you feel it more than you see it’. That sums it up completely. Beautifully expressed!

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Elissa: I, in turn, love your statement – “the arts made me who I am today” – how powerful! Shaping lives, uncovering talents, making connections (as you said) and truly making a difference – not a bad way to spend your days. Many thanks for your comment…,

  10. Mary Cahalane says:

    Sharon, we must have grown up near each other! I lived a few miles from the GS Arts Center. I was there for that Jackson Browne concert. And was irritated enough at what seemed to my friends and me to be a subdued audience reaction to add some enthusiastic screams… you can hear them in the break in The Road.

    I also agree with everything you’ve written here. Working in the arts is both challenging and rewarding. But mostly rewarding!

    Thanks for a great piece, and for making me smile with memories!

    • Sharon Reid-Kane (author) says:

      Mary: Hello, newly discovered neighbor! It truly is a small, wonderful world indeed. Firstly, it goes without saying, that Jackson Browne is awesome, right?! Secondly, I will be playing and re-playing “The Road” to hear my new friend in the background for days to come. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond – sending smiles back your way…,

  11. SO LOVELY WOMEN YOU ALL LOOK LIKE! ARTS MAKE YOU PRETTY… CULTURE ENLIGHTS YOUR SENSITIVITY… THE RESULT IS BEAUTY!

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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.