The Arts Community in the Nonprofit Sector
By David Liss
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 25, 2004; 12:22 PM
Here's a surprising fact. In the Washington metro area, the arts community employs more people than the legal profession.
The nonprofit arts industry provides $1.24 billion in direct expenditures and supports nearly 26,000 full-time jobs, according to the "Economic Impact of the Arts and Culture in Greater Washington," a recent study by the Americans for the Arts. Seventy-five percent of those workers are supported directly by the expenditures of the arts industry, which is responsible for nearly $896 million in personal income for residents. The Smithsonian Institution comprises 60 percent of that total income.
The D.C. arts community is more than The Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian Institution and The National Theatre. It's a rich and varied community. "D.C. is the choral capital of the world and is second to New York in the number of live onstage performances. There are 81 professional theatres in our region," says Jennifer Culver-Payne, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington. The Washington arts community is hundreds of community and regional theatres, puppeteers and opera companies. It's programs to help at-risk youth in public schools, in neighborhood development programs, prisons and hospitals. It is pottery, poetry readings -- the list goes on.
So what's the breakdown of the local arts community? How do you find the organization that's right for you? "There are two primary types of artistic organizations - service and art-producing organizations," says B Stanley, executive director of the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC). You just have to decide on which side of the equation you want to sit, or if you want to work with both the artistic and the administration side. In fact, in many arts organizations, most staff members are also artists. They use the knowledge of their crafts to get them jobs.
The Arts Community Mile High Club
A bird's eye view of the arts world follows below. There are countless organizations and art forms, but here's a few to get you started:
- Casting Agencies - Central Casting
- Choral - Try barbershop quartets, Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington, and the Choral Arts Society.
- Dance- Whether you're interested in flamenco, jazz, belly dancing, ballet or funk, DanceUSA is a great place to start.
- Film and Television - Extremely varied, ranging from Women in Film and Video (WIFV) to the Rosebud Awards, an organization founded to promote the independent film and video community of metropolitan Washington, D.C. There are also public access cable stations where you can put on a TV show like in Montgomery County or in Arlington.
- Graphic Arts - D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. Volunteering here is the most surefire way to get your foot in the door to a paying job.
- Government - Many communities have government organizations to promote and advance artistic efforts. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), sponsors an international film festival and offers grants to a variety of arts organizations and individuals.
- Literary Arts - The Writer's Center.
- Museums - The Phillips Collection,
The Smithsonian, The Hirschhorn.
- Music - There is a huge spectrum of venues for different musical tastes from band performances in bars to the National Symphony Orchestra and the D.C. Opera.
- Radio - There is publicly funded programming like WAMU, WPFW, and WDCU. You could also try national media conglomerates such as ClearChannel.
- Theatre - D.C. has everything from the Shakespeare Theatre, to The Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the Kennedy Center.
- Unions - You can find a list of most unions at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Web site.
- Visual Arts - Check out local galleries and museums to meet key people in this area. Also, check out Find Art Information Bank and the D.C. Commission of Arts and Humanities.
- Volunteers - Volunteers are needed in every arts organization; it's a great way to get your foot in the door.
One of the most comprehensive sources of information -- from federal funding organizations to theatres, opera and dance -- is the Cultural Alliance. The 25-year-old voice of arts agencies representing more than 330 organizations in Maryland, Washington and Virginia. The Alliance also provides group health, legal assistance, and office supplies.
What You Need to Get a Job
As with any job, but particularly in the arts, you must believe in the mission of an organization. "When employers are looking for someone, they want you to bring your passion for being involved in a community," says Culver-Payne. Do you read books, listen to music, go to the theatre and read the newspaper? Are you aware and involved in the arts? These are questions you must ask yourself when considering work in this industry.
"The most successful people in the arts community are those who want to make a difference, realize they can make difference, and clearly see the difference that they can make," Culver-Payne adds.
Showing your enthusiasm is critical during an interview. "The most important hiring criteria is your ability to demonstrate that you can help an organization accomplish its mission," says Barbara Benney, director of Human Resources for The Phillips Collection. "You need to frame the job against your skills that can help the organization succeed. You must have the ability to work well as part of a team."
To work in arts management, you need to think in an entrepreneurial manner as well as be able to implement plans. Money in the arts community is tight so you must visualize how a great exhibit at a museum can translate into a variety of revenue streams for the sponsoring organization. Think book sales, t-shirts, CDs and coffee mugs.
The most successful people in this environment are those who see unmet needs and rise to meet the challenge of fulfilling them.
If you want to transition into an arts-oriented job from the business sector, you must have specialized knowledge of that art form in order to work in a certain area. Unfortunately, a master's degree means nothing to a prospective employer without specific experience. You may need to volunteer to learn the culture of your targeted organization. In the arts world, the catch-22 of employment rings true -- you can't get a job without a portfolio and you can't get a portfolio without a job.
Some of the best-paying art jobs are in fundraising or development. Development staffers write grants, establish relationships with the board of directors, donors and other third parties. The need to raise money is critical, so see how your business skillset will transfer to fundraising and development.
Think Outside the Box
Be creative about the job search process. Make yourself as visible as possible. Learn about any exhibits, performances, and gatherings. Then attend those events and get to know the participants. You certainly won't get a job in the arts by sitting at home.
The Work Environment
On average, arts organizations have about six to 10 people but some places have a staff of only two or three. The Cultural Alliance estimates that 56 percent of all arts organizations have budgets less than $1 million.
The smaller the organization, the tighter the resources, the more combined positions you may find. Having a position like means that you get more experience than working for a larger organization like the Smithsonian, where your job function is smaller in range.
The nonprofits arts industry is a vibrant and rich community that needs passionate and creative folks. Working in the arts allows you to bring the gifts of imagination and pleasure into otherwise ordinary lives. It's hard to get more rewarding than that.
Editor's note: This article by David Liss, was acquired by washingtonpost.com on April 30, 2003.
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