Love What You Do

**Unlike most of my other entries which have some thoughts on the implications of situations and suggestions, today’s entry is essentially a discussion of why I remain passionate and involved in the arts.**

An interesting thing happened while I was writing my entry yesterday. I got an email from the place I last worked asking if I was interested in coming back to help with the festival for two weeks.

A little background first-I worked at this place for 3 years handling the operational end of concerts and the large outdoor music festival. A year ago Feb, they found out I had been searching for other work, not for the sake of getting out, but to better my lot in life. After the festival was over in June, I was told that they were afraid I would find a job in the middle of the season and that even with the 30 days notice I was required to give, there wouldn’t be enough time to find a replacement and so..adios.

Rather annoying to say the least. But they did give me 6 weeks notice, didn’t hesitate to pay me for my 4 weeks of unused vacation and didn’t impede my unemployment claims. I left on fairly good terms with a general letter of recommendation and they have been attentive about writing specific letters of recommendation for some positions.

On the other hand, unemployment has run out and their optimistic belief I would be snatched up for another job hasn’t emerged. (And I have applied outside the entertainment industry if I thought my skills were applicable.) Honestly, I feel that I should be angrier than I am. I had saved well, so money isn’t an immediate problem and my sister is allowing me to live with her so that is another problem solved. I just can’t be angry at them for the sake of being angry I suppose. I just wonder if that means I have an evolved outlook on life or if I am delusional and insulating myself from my anger.

Outside of examining the whole psychology of the matter, I have started to think upon the way people become enamored of the arts. Despite knowing the negatives full well, people gladly devote their lives to the arts. Even though they know that they will probably end up waiting tables or temping more than performing and will search couch cushions for food money while friends buy houses, they are full of hope and optimistic about their future.

Now even as someone in the arts, I have pretty much viewed these folks as living in denial and self-delusional. It is to escape that fate that I have eagerly embraced my interest in the administrative side of things. I may not make much, but it is steady so I know where rent and food is coming from and I usually get some basic health benefits.

Yes, my current situation belies all that, but it shall not always be so!

But the thing is, as I am sitting here seriously considering going back to a place that fired me, I have come to a renewed understanding of myself and these folks who flock to NYC and LA with the hopes of making it big. In our own twisted ways that defy logic, we can’t help the fact that we love this stuff.

At some point in the life of every person in the industry, someone speaks the phrase “If there is a part of you that can see yourself doing something else…do it.” I still remember the guy who said it to me. At the time, like most people, I was so young and enthusiastic, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

Now that I am older, more jaded, disillusioned and cynical, I have to say it is still pretty dang hard to imagine doing anything else. Even worse, I take notes and collect information from everywhere I work and interview at with the ultimate goal of eventually returning to teaching people how to do what I have done. Of course, I am teaching them the right way to do things so they are well prepared! I also utter the phrase warning them to turn elsewhere if they can imagine another path with the sincere hope some of them will.

I don’t want any of them to fail, but am certain most of them will experience some very hard times. I just see it as my duty to try to turn from the path those whose love of the arts can’t stand against a doom and gloom lecture in a classroom. Their love of what they do has to be strong enough to ease the pain of the bad times. It is because of my love for what I do that I am tending toward returning to the festival.

I have a real sense of ownership in that festival. I put a lot of effort into it and the successes of each of them were due to me (the problems were due to the weather). As far as I am concerned, the festival belongs to me and the people who preceded me in the job and to those who follow. Even now that I no longer work there, I feel it belongs to me more than it will ever belong to the rest of the staff regardless of how long they work there.

Yes, it is ego, but it is also true. It is physically and mentally draining, but when you are finally able to lift your head again…ah the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment! It buoys you the rest of the year and helps you to forget what you hate about the process by the time the event comes around again.

Because she is entering the fraternity of festival coordinators, I have actually been corresponding with the woman who replaced me and have given her tips to avoid the problems I faced. I had intended to volunteer for the festival day to provide guidance as the woman who preceded me did for me. The fact they want to pay me to do it and will put me up makes the decision seem all the easier. I will be going in knowing my fate, doing what I enjoy, see old friends on the staff and volunteer corps but won’t have to work or worry as much as I have done for past festivals.

Like a love a mother feels for a recalcitrant child, arts people defy all sense and logic for the opportunity to reconnect with that part of what they do that excites them. In the visual arts, there are pieces that people find incomprehensible and that others pretend to understand. Then there are those who smile quietly and say “ah, yes.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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