10 Ways to Become a Young Arts Professional


By: Sarah Marczynski

A few weeks ago, a post from PostGrad Problems about ways to become a young professional came across my Twitter feed. It was a funny post with some…practical tips about attending Happy Hours and self-organization, but not quite as applicable to arts management as the Clyde Fitch list that came to by inbox the next day.  I appreciated both posts and began to wonder what my advice to new graduates would be.  So, behold, my graduation gift to the the newly diploma-ed and hooded arts managers.

10 Ways to Become a Young Arts Professional

1. As an arts manager, your schedule is wack.

Yes, your office hours are 9 to 5 with a one hour lunch break.  But, you will never keep just those hours.  We work early morning board meetings, afternoon education concerts, weeknight rehearsals, weekend fundraisers, and sometimes all of those in the same week.  Not to mention, with the ability to connect your email and your org’s social media accounts to your phone, it’s likely that you’re in some form of work pretty constantly.

It’s a lot, so don’t let it overwhelm you.  Work with your co-workers to schedule manager on duty shifts for concerts or events so you don’t need to be at the (whole) event.  Work with your boss on flexing your hours: worked 9 to 5 and then stayed 6 hours to work the concert that night? Ask to come in later or leave early the next day.

AND, if possible, turn off the email and social media notifications to your phone.  The world will not end if you don’t respond to the patron’s 8:45p request to add a ticket. They can hold on until the next day.

2. Be careful on social media.

Millenials are pretty wired and social; this isn’t a surprise.  But, things that may have been appropriate to post in undergrad or graduate school, may not be appropriate when you’re working.  Board members, artists, donors, other people you network with in the community will friend and follow you.  Social media is all about self-curation, but pay attention to what you’re self-curating.  If you’d be freaked if your boss saw it, it’s probably a good idea not to post it.

3. Voicemails – Check them.

True Life: I once had 29 voicemails.  True Confession: I. HATE. VOICEMAILS.  There is no explanation for it, but like many 20-somethings I hate listening to voicemails.  But, shockingly, people will call you and if you’re not there, they’ll leave you a message.  And expect you to call them back with the information they asked for.  Suck it up and check them regularly.  Make a game out of it; each voicemail you listen to, you get an M&M.

If you really have a problem checking voicemails and your boss approves this, you can change your voicemail greeting to say “Please do not leave a message, but send me an email.” People will still leave you messages, but at least you warned them.

4. You have to be nice to everyone.

From the Clyde Fitch article I mentioned

You never know who someone is and who they know and people will know you more than you know them. I recommend creams and ointments to counteract the smile lines you’ll get. People don’t just have to like you, they have to respect you.  Sometimes that’s easier than at other times, but it is essential that you try at every turn not to make enemies. Lighting your way by the fire of the bridges you have burned is a recipe for disaster. Take the high road, always.

You may never know that the patron you’re talking to has made a planned gift or that the server is the daughter of a corporate sponsor prospect.  Be nice.  End of story.

5. Get to know your board members.

Knowing the faces and names of the people on your board, their professions, and their workplaces will help you.  Check with your Executive Director to determine how ‘in contact’ you can/need to be with board members; some EDs want to be the single liaison between the organization and the board, some are fine sharing the wealth.

If your organization has a culture where staff members work closely with board members then knowing who they are is even more important. These un-caped crusaders are people who will come to your aid often.  They open doors for you and, in my experience, will often go to the mat for your ideas and for your well-being (better desk chairs, more staff, raises).

6. Befriend the artists you work with.

It’s super easy to get an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing going on between the administration and the artists you work with; I think it’s particularly super easy if the artists are members of a union because then you become ‘management’ said often as a grumble and a fist shake or other choice gesture.

At the end of the day, though, you are both working to get butts in seats, bodies in museums, and dollars in the door.  Yes, you can do it if you have no idea who the lead actor or your principal bass is, but it makes it a lot harder and patrons can see it.  You need them as much as they need you, so get friendly with them. Learn their names, their instruments or favorite plays, drop in (if permissible) on rehearsals to say hi at the break.  You’ll both create some allies and it can only help grow your network.

7. Eliminate the terms “reach out to” and “connect with”.

I’m on a personal vendetta against these.  I shiver every time some says “Yeah, we’ll reach out to you in a week.” What is that? It’s vague. You’ll send me an email, you’ll call me, you’ll drop by my office.

There’s a bigger lesson than just eliminating those terms from your communications.  You need to learn to be specific. You need to learn to be intentional.  Community Engagement and Education are buzz words and bringers-in of grant dollars today.  You need to be specific about what you’re going to do, what community you’re going to serve, what need you’re going to fill, and how you’re going to do it.  There’s not enough money to go around without specific and intentional programs that fill the needs of your community and of your organization.

8. Learn to use AND fix the copier, postage machine, and any other office equipment.

Learn to use them and you’ll have a job for a day.  Learn the magical words to whisper over your jammed copier and you’ll have a job forever.

9. Stay humble.

It is an AWESOME feeling when you finally move from the intern cubby hole to an office with a window and the chance to order your own pens.  But don’t get so caught up in your big-person job that you forget where you came from.  Take the interns under your wing, sit with them and help them stuff the 10,000 annual fund letters that need to go out.

Stay humble with your colleagues too.  You are never to big to watch the Box Office while your Box Office Manager takes a lunch break.  Setting up 100 chairs for the pre-concert lecture  is good for the soul and the biceps.

10. Stay passionate.

You are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed right now with your brand new blazer on.  You are a wonderful asset to your organization and will change the arts world; we will, I know it.

But it is very easy to get defeated.  Your grants don’t get funded; people don’t show up to your event; you’ve worked from 9a to 10p every night for a week.  This field is not for the weak or for the lazy.  Realize your limits, take care of yourself, and when you can, sneak up to the balcony, sit in the crowd, and watch the show YOU helped to create.

When I am straight up D.O.N.E., I know that heading up to the last row and watching my friends on stage, thinking about my colleagues elsewhere in the theatre, and letting the music flow over me, will always re-invigorate and re-inspire me.  Let it do the same for you.

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Sarah Marczynski
Sarah joined the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera in 2010 working with the Marketing and Development staffs and quickly became interested in community engagement and education. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration focusing in Nonprofit Arts Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where her capstone and other work under Dr. Christopher Horne examined attendance patterns in high-art cultural institutions and network relationships between local arts agencies and cultural partners. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Vocal Music Education from UTC, where she studied under Dr. Kevin Ford and Ron Ulen. Sarah has been active in the Chattanooga arts community, serving as the founding chair of the Chattanooga Young Artistic Network (CYAN), graduating from the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, and working with the Chattanooga Boys Choir, the Choral Arts Society, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Bach Choir. Outside of the arts world, Sarah pretends to be an excellent cook (but she's broken 2 ovens), reads Jane Austen novels, and watches way too much House of Cards.
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