A friend and colleague was honored last week with a Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts (in Wisconsin). Lynne Watrous Eich is certainly deserving of the award, after three decades of thoughtful, innovative, and responsive service to Dane County, Wisconsin, as Director of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.
Because this was the first year an administrator had received such an award (previously reserved for philanthropists and arts organizations), Lynne took the opportunity to express to the convened donors and dignitaries what exactly an Arts Administrator does. I thought her remarks were well worth sharing. So, minus the thanks at the beginning and end, here they are:
Being the first recipient in a succession of administrators who are ”long enough in the tooth” to warrant [this recognition], let me tell you briefly who we are and what we do.
We are the left brains in a right-brain industry. We are the executive directors, the general managers, the curators, the development associates, the grants officers, the marketing specialists, and sometimes — as in my case — the utility infielders who try to cover all of the bases, most of the time. We run the orchestras, museums, dance troupes, theaters, opera companies and, at least in one case, a small cultural affairs agency in southern Wisconsin.
We straddle the creative and business realms, producing and presenting the arts to secure for them a vital presence in community life and Wisconsin’s economy. We are the worrywarts. We work behind the scenes, away from the limelight, to bring to our nonprofit organizations our best business practices and management skills. We bring heart, vision, muscle and gray matter.
In truth, arts administrators are the direct descendants of Hercules, Atlas and Sisyphus, with collateral links to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (and we probably could be making a whole lot more money if we had listened to Uncle Fred long ago when he advised us to go to medical school).
Instead, somewhere in our star-struck past the arts worked their magic on us, and life took a delicious and dangerous detour. We pioneered other paths and emerged in a high-risk fast lane as the drivers of Wisconsin’s cultural institutions, championing the audacious belief that, not only are ”the arts for everyone,” they are key to a fulfilled life, a healthy society, and a civilized world.
In our profession, there is no greater reward than to successfully bring the arts into full flower and full force in our Wisconsin hometowns, and by our efforts — in small but measured ways — help to elevate and transform the human condition. This is our life’s work. And we love it. Lucky us.
Lucky us, indeed, to have Lynne in our ranks.