I've gotten your emails and your phone calls, expressing your frustrations and wondering why a life as an arts professional has to be so damn hard.
I've heard you talk about how the stress imposed upon you by a collective of self centered artists, lack of executive leadership and limited resources have hurt your health and impacted your relationships.
You have pulled me aside after workshops and presentations and whispered "I love your ideas, but my boss will never let me do it."
I've seen your passion for the job get swallowed up in a swamp of rules that make no sense.
Here's some things I want you to consider:
1. It doesn't have to be like that. I know you've probably convinced yourself that all the garbage you deal with is just the cost of being in the field.
It isn't. If the group you work for is being run poorly it is because people are ACTIVELY making choices that allow that to happen. It isn't just a matter of circumstance. It's an outcome of choice.
You deserve better then that. You deserve to work at an organization that produces great art, treats people with respect and pays fairly. No matter how much people may tell you otherwise those three goals are NOT mutual exclusive.
2. You are not the savior.
You're smart. You see the problems in the organization. You care. You want to play a part in fixing them.
But not everything wants to be fixed. Some organizations have been run so poorly, for so long that they really can't fathom another way. Don't make it your responsibility to save them for the path they have chosen.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't fight for change. You should.
But only to a point.
If you have been at a place 3 or 4 years and things haven't significantly improved, they probably aren't going to change.
Move on. Find another place that will welcome your ideas and energy. They are out there.
And if you decide to move on and the place you are at begs you to stay, remember this next point:
3. Don't let them use your passion against you. Consider this:
Imagine you were a lawyer. What if I told you that there were some law firms (not all, but absolutely some) that didn't get a damn about their employees? What if I told you that some firms were designed to bring in people and get as much out of them as possible before they burned out?
Would you believe me?
Of course you would. Hell, because it's the legal profession you would expect such behavior.
Here's da rub:
Some arts organizations are the exact same way.
Just because the end product is art and not a legal brief doesn't mean the place automatically values their employees. Just because the place is a non-profit doesn't automatically make it a nice place to work.
But here's the really messed up part. At some of those arts orgs, if you complain that the hours are unreasonable, or the pay is low, or your input isn't valued . . . they imply that your commitment to the "cause" is low. They convince you that if you really were passionate about your work, you would put up with the sub par conditions.
Don't fall for it. It's a trap. Remember point 1, it doesn't have to be like that . . . you deserve better.
4. Have the end in mind. If you are really frustrated, really close to burnout, give this a try.
Pull out a calendar. Give yourself a year. May 19, 2010. Decide that in that year one of two things will happen:
- You will have marshalled the credibility, support and skills you need to make at least one significant, visible positive change in the place you work for.
- You will have a new job.
One year. That's enough time to figure out where you stand. Just stick to the date.
5. But don't quit the arts. Quit your job, that's fine. Just don't do it without a plan (use that Year in Step 4 to develop it)
If you can't find a job as an arts administrator in a great organization . . . maybe you get out the field for a while. That's ok. You can come back.
But the arts need you. They need your skill, your experience, your energy. So maybe you join a Board of an organization, maybe you volunteer. Maybe you start your own organization.
Whatever you do, please don't let a bad experience at an organization (or two) sour you on the business of art.
I feel strongly about that one, because I almost let it happen to me.
I work at a good place now. I'm treated like a professional. Paid fairly. We produce great art (told you it wasn't mutually exclusive). It isn't perfect. Nothing is. But I have learned a lot and I think I have been an asset to the place.
I also do rewarding work as a speaker and a coach. It's good. I'm blessed.
But it almost never happened.
I worked at another place once, gave it my all. Got swallowed up in the swamp. Gained 10 pounds. Slept four hours a night because of stress.
I just quit. No fall back plan. No idea what would happen next. I don't recommend the strategy, but sometimes it is necessary.
I was done with the arts. I turned bitter. I hated artists. Hated Boards. Thought the whole damn thing was a waste of time.
I guessed it was time to break out the ol' law degree.
But then I remembered . . . I had been involved with the arts since I was 17. Theatre still mattered to me. The arts still mattered to me.
And wasn't going to let a few individuals run me out the thing I loved.
I didn't know how, but I was going to make a living in the arts. And if left the arts field one day, it would be on my terms.
So maybe the place you are working for isn't the right place.
There are other places.
Maybe the people you are working with don't respect your skills.
Whether you are a former artists embracing the work of administration, a person moving from the corporate side to the non-profit side, or a person who has been groomed for arts administration . . . never forget that you are needed.
This thing you love, the arts . . . it is your world too. It's your world just as much as it belongs to any poet, any dancer, any actor.
It's vital you remember that because along your path you will be confronted by those who alternate between seeing you as completely irrelevant to the artistic process on one hand and the great oppressor of artistic ambitions on the other.
Find your place. Use your skills. Help get great art into the world. It can't happen without you.