Camille Schenkkan is a theatre management professional and educator, passionate about career development for artists & arts managers.

Archive for June, 2012

Nonprofit Rockstars, EXCELLENCE and a Chinchilla

(cross-posted from Emerging Arts Leaders/LA)

“I kept looking around and wondering: Do I belong here?  Do I want to belong here?  I mean… What if I don’t want to be a nonprofit rockstar?”

The question hit me hard.  I was leading an informal roundtable on work/life balance at the Americans for the Arts Convention, and a young mother was talking to me about her experience at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference.

She was referencing the second of two mind-blowingly awesome sessions by Rosetta Thurman, a 29-year-old writer and career coach who co-authored How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career  with Trista Harris, Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. In the session, Rosetta led us through the seven tenets of the book, including Developing Expertise and Practicing Authentic Leadership.  You’ll have to buy it to find out the other five.  I did buy it, marking the first time I’ve purchased a speaker’s book immediately after leaving a session.

There’s something weird about being in a room filled with really, really motivated young people.  This was a room with the future head of the National Endowment for the Arts, the next Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, the budding arts manager who will re-envision the museum-going experience for the 21st century.

And then there’s me.

At least, that’s always where my brain goes.  Not in a good way—more of a “Why am I here and why am I in a suit?” way.  As you’ll find out if you spend more than five minutes with me, I’m from a town of about 600 people in rural northern California.  I think that’s part of the reason I never feel comfortable in my business gear, and why my redneck accent creeps back every time I’m in one of these go-getter, emerging leader, nonprofit rockstar rooms.  It’s a not-so-subconscious act of rebellion against a lifestyle I’m afraid I’ll slip into, the kind where I’m still at my desk at 8pm while my husband microwaves a pizza and my friends go to happy hour without me.

The young woman now sitting at my table had two small children waiting for her at home.  She said, “I sat there listening to the importance of networking, self-promotion, building my online reputation, and all I could think about were my sons.  I don’t know that I can do those things and still make my family my priority.”

I think we had both missed something important.

When I went to Rosetta Thurman’s book signing, she surprised me with how soft-spoken and shy she seemed.  Her first session at the Emerging Leader Pre-Conference focused on crafting a personal mission statement based on your values; she used a photo of her grandmother to illustrate her own top value, family.  She talked about being true to yourself and seeking what feeds you.

And then I—and the young mother—went to lunch, forgot everything Rosetta said, came back to the next session and chose to feel inadequate and anxious in a room filled with smart, motivated people.  When Rosetta asked someone to share what he wanted people to see as his #1 trait, he said “EXCELLENCE” with such conviction that I felt like going back to my room and finding the Hoarders marathon that is always available on hotel TVs.

I firmly believe everyone was miserable in middle school.  This is something I wish I’d realized at the time, as it would have made it easier to empathize with the other miserable little wet rats trudging the halls at Scott Valley Junior High.

Here’s my attempt to share a similar belief that might make us all a little more honest at leadership convenings.  I believe everyone in the room—even (or especially) “EXCELLENCE” guy—has that moment of self-doubt.  For some of us, it leads to posturing or defensiveness.  For others, it feeds into a pattern of perfectionism that points toward chronic stress and early burnout.

Take it easy, guys.

I like you all and it breaks my heart to see so many amazing arts managers leaving the field at 30 or 35 because they’re tired and they want to have a family.  You don’t have to walk around with your hand outstretched, business cards at the ready, to be a stellar arts leader.  You can live a mindful, meaningful life, and those around you will see and appreciate this.  I have a strong feeling Rosetta would agree.

My heroes are not the executive directors who spend 70 hours a week behind a desk.  They’re the funny, irreverent women leaders who turn off their computers and go home to their families or a large glass of wine.  My hope is to have a fulfilling life that includes children, plenty of time with my brilliant husband, and a career I love, not to achieve a certain level of greatness or storm the Kennedy Center.  Also I would like a chinchilla.  And a yard with some vegetables and a hammock.  These are not lofty goals but they’re far more important to me than what my title is.  That’s not to say I don’t work my butt off at the office—but I also commit to my relationship, my volunteer life, and watching every episode of Fashion Star.

We all belong in the room.  We are smart and passionate and we are all leaders, regardless of where we lead.

I will see all of you at the 2030 AFTA convention.  So turn off your freaking computer and go home.

Camille Schenkkan is the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group.  She is also the volunteer Development Director for Circle X Theatre Company, sits on the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/LA, and is the current Co-Chair of the National Emerging Leader Council.  She spends a lot of time annoying her two rabbits, Eeyore and Bumblebee, and watching bad television with her husband, Zack.

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Advice for Interns in Arts Management

I asked a group of colleagues to give me their best piece of advice for interns working in arts and arts management.

You’ll see some big recurring themes in their answers, including:

  • Asking questions.
  • Shaping your own experience.
  • Being proactive.
  • Communicating with your supervisor.
  • Finding a mentor.

What did they miss?

 

What advice would you give to an intern about making the most of his/her experience?

“Ask questions. Observe operations and then figure out where you can fit in… and then put yourself there if you can.”

“Strive to make a good impression on everyone you meet.  Theatre is a small world, and the same people you meet during your internship will continue to come into your life in many other contexts.  You never know when you could be talking to your future boss.”

“Sometimes your supervisor doesn’t have the time to mentor you. Instead, consider the resources of the organization you’re working for. Pitch a project that you know you can do and follow through. Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity– the internship is the opportunity; now use the resources available to you.”

“Always be looking for opportunities to observe the work in action. Your mentor won’t always have the time to instruct you but you can learn a lot just from watching.”

“Keep a little pocket notepad during the internship to keep a log and notes of things that were done throughout the day, or notes on certain policies and/ or procedures. This is always a nice thing to do because later they can be reviewed and it will better remember it for later on. I know how it gets with so much information going on, it’s hard to try and remember it all.”

“If given the opportunity to write pretty much anything, take it.”

“Meet and talk to as many people as possible and learn about them, not just about their jobs.  Find out how they got here and how a career with an organization like Center Theatre Group is satisfying not just in the salary-and-benefits sense, but in the way it nourishes the soul.  As a corollary: see every show you can, both on our stages and with the companies that are run, staffed and peopled with the colleagues they meet here at CTG, and then talk to people about the work.  This is an amazing opportunity to build a network and to further develop the foundation and vocabulary of a creative professional career.”

“Take every opportunity thrown your way!”

“Talk to EVERYONE willing to talk to you about what they do, why they do it, how they do it – especially the aspects of the company you’re either not interested in or know nothing about (they may surprise you).  Use the internship as an excuse to learn as much about Los Angeles as possible. Find all the hidden gems of art throughout the massive metro area (I know for a fact there were many I missed out on due to time constraints and distance and blah blah blah… It’s my biggest regret). Even if they’re an LA native (or maybe especially if) there are going to be all kinds of people and places to get to know.”

“Read everything! Whenever you’re asked to make copies or file things, you can learn a ton just by reading all that stuff.  Ideally the intern experience won’t ONLY be copying/filing, but since that’s probably a part of it, make it useful.”

“Do informational interviews, ask for big projects, be proactive. Also, keep a learning journal!”

“Take initiative, work quickly and accurately. The more proactive and engaged you are, the more you’ll benefit.”

“Ask lots of questions!”

“Don’t be intimidated and always ask. Ask tons of questions and want to know the answers. Be proactive.”

“Have an expectations talk with your supervisor. Make sure you share what you ‘expect’ from him/her and the internship in addition to hearing what is expected of you.”