Take My Job, Please

Come May I will be leaving Hawaii to assume the position of Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts in Portsmouth, OH. The University of Hawaii has posted my current position today and I thought I would draw attention to it since the classification of “Public Information, Public Events Planning and Publications” doesn’t quickly catch the eye of arts administrators.

My dean is rewriting the job description a little so the title is presented more naturally in the job ads. It will be posted on arts job sites shortly, but I thought I would give my faithful readers some advance notice so you can apply or pass the posting along to colleagues.

As you may have surmised from the illuminating job title, bureaucracy with all its arcane rules is the biggest impediment to the expedient execution of duties in this job. However, if you are well organized, good at planning ahead and adept at navigating bureaucracies, you can do well in this position.

The positive points about this job are numerous and are centered on the people.

The chancellor of the college is extremely supportive of the arts here. In fact, I was trying to keep a low profile about my job change but he found an article online announcing my new job and sent it around to all the deans and vice chancellors at the college. The dean of our division is also a very amiable and supportive guy who wants to help the theatre thrive.

As you may have read in some of my blog posts, there is a lot of cross-discipline activity that occurs almost spontaneously in the building. The tables in our backstage are a very social area where students and faculty from theatre, music and visual arts are often found chatting and offering advice about different projects.

Being able to engage in that conversation is key to the success of the theatre manager position. I may depart my office at a certain time, but often don’t leave the building until an hour later. Many of the problems and concerns for the facility get addressed during that period.

There will be a $7-8 million renovation of the facility potentially starting in the next year. I have overseen a large part of the planning and design. The goal was to be shovel ready once the funding became available.

Even if the renovation doesn’t happen in the next year, the theatre will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014. I have started some very preliminary planning and grant writing to support some great events.

The assistant theatre manager is really well organized and has a good instinct for design. Our website was much more “blah” when I was making the design decisions. She will actually be chairing the search committee.

The theatre collaborates with the Performing Arts Presenters of Hawaii, a statewide consortium of presenters which leverages their collective power to negotiate contracts and write grants together. I have served as an officers on the board for the last 8 years. While you can contract artists alone, you definitely get more bang for your buck cooperating with the group.

It takes some patience and tenacity when advocating for artists. Sometimes dates and artistic mix don’t synch up for everyone at the same time. In some cases, you may have to reintroduce the artist over the course of multiple years to get the buy-in you need to make the tour happen.

On the other hand, you have people who are familiar with the intricacies of your organization bringing you well-qualified suggestions, many of them great performers you weren’t really acquainted with before. In many respects, they are helping you shoulder the responsibilities that are associated with booking a season.

The theatre also has a very active rental business with over 350 public events a year (not counting classes that schedule time on the stage). There are a lot of perennial renters who can almost run the show themselves. There are also many first time renters whose vision outstrips their budgets whom you need to teach about organizing their production. Fortunately, the technical directors have a deep commitment and long experience in doing that sort of thing.

Representatives from all these constituencies will be on the search committee–theatre staff, drama instructors, visual arts instructors, a representative of the booking consortium, perennial renters, a community artist. I believe the committee numbers about 8-9 right now.

Then, of course, there is the obvious benefit of living in Hawaii and interacting with the confluence of cultures which live and visit here.

So why am I leaving? Well many of the things I value about my current job are present in the one to which I am moving. The university president and many of the staff are really wonderful people. A community board has an amazing relationship with the university and shares in a great deal of the presenting responsibilities. I am absolutely looking forward to joining the organization.

So in short for those interested, the theatre manager position is suited for a mid-career arts professional with a solid background in performing arts who is prepared to act assertively to advance the interests of the theatre.

Please don’t apply if your qualifications don’t meet this level and are not entirely sincere. The school declared two failed searches before the search that resulted in my hire so they are not about to settle.

So write a great cover letter that inspires and expresses your vision. You will be writing to a group of arts people who want to be excited by the next theatre manager.

…Just realize those arts people are constrained by a pedantic bureaucracy that makes them go down a check list of the minimum qualifications. If they can’t find evidence you meet the qualifications in your cover letter or resume, it doesn’t matter how inspiring you are.

Also pay VERY close attention to the transcript requirements. If you submit online transcripts, the committee has to evaluate whether your experience is equivalent to a degree.

I am happy to answer any questions people may have. Just submit them through the contact link atop the page.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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.


1 thought on “Take My Job, Please”

  1. Congratulations on the new job! Shawnee State is a great place, as you’ve already discovered. So welcome to the Buckeye state (and sorry about the weather.)


Leave a Comment