Getting It Goes A Long Way

Last week Andrew Taylor put out a call for a part-time administrator for the Association of Arts Administration Educators. The comments which followed the entry debated if it were better to require someone to have significant experience in the arts or to hire a skilled administrator from another discipline with a more passing familiarity with arts administration.

The arguments on both sides being compelling, I can’t really decide on a general rule of thumb about whose resumes should be ranked more favorably by a search committee. I am, however, more and more convinced that having a clear sense of what will be constructive in advancing the organizational interests.

A month or so back I mentioned that the Honolulu Symphony got a new board chair, Curtis Lee. When I was listening to an interview with Mr. Lee, he mentioned how in his business customer service was the most important element. Since up until a week or so before taking the board chair post Mr. Lee headed a company owning the most car dealerships in the state, I cynically thought that this sentiment probably only applied up until they sold the car. For some brands, they have the monopoly and the next nearest dealer is 2,500 miles away.

Last night I had the misfortune of parking my car in the path of a man who is apparently offended by drive side view mirrors because he walked along smashing them. (My friends and I were lucky. There is another guy out there with homocidal thoughts toward tires and has been walking along the street slashing them.)

So this morning I drove down to the dealership to see if I could get my mirror replaced. I have to say I was a little shocked by the level of service. There was a man out in the driveway 20 minutes before the repair shop opened processing arrivals and directing them to open lanes. In the lanes I was greeted by another person who further processed and advised me about my repair very quickly. I got out of my car and someone moved it to another queue as I entered the lounge.

The lounge was HUGE. Coffee, danish and copies of the newspaper were situated at three locations. Comfortable seats were set in front of a flat screen television. There were also 6-8 cubicles with phones at which a person could work on a laptop computer and free WiFi service.

Two gentlemen entered the room and announced that one courtesy shuttle was heading west and the other east and began taking destinations and phone information for pick ups in the afternoon. It turned out there were more people needing rides than the shuttles would fit so they grabbed additional people from the office and keys to other vans. Destination was about 1/4 past their service area but they drove me anyway. (It was interesting that they chose Sam’s Club rather than the college I work at as the furtherest point.)

Unfortunately, the part needed for my car was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, the part actually needed is about $300 cheaper than anticipated. When I disembarked from the return shuttle I was handed a form with an appointment for repair already arranged and my poor car and I were off.

Now granted, one of people in the shuttle followed a remark about how wonderful the whole experience had been with the observation that our bills would let us know just how grateful we had been for the good treatment. The implication of his tone was that the extra $50 would be more palatable having received efficient and attentive service.

Mr. Lee may not know too much about symphonies. Dealer cash back incentive programs aren’t viable for classical music.(Unless Toyota is going to pay people to attend concerts.) But it will bode well for the Honolulu Symphony if he brings lessons learned in the car business to their organization. (And, of course, if the symphony takes them to heart.) A good experience can make the $60 paid for seats more palatable.

I have already started to formulate plans for small steps we can take to make our events more welcoming based on the experience I had today. Good lessons are where you find them.

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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