The Joys of Arts Management

This ironic tribute to producing a dance festival was written about 15 years ago.  The Early Years of SUMMERDANCE were a steep learning curve for all of us, which could be fun but also disastrous.  Our motto was to try not to make the same mistake twice. It’s only If I did that, I could call myself “stupid.”

On the occasion of DANCEworks 10th Anniversary, I think it’s ok to go back to the Early Years if only to see how far we’ve travelled.  SUMMERDANCE BEGAN in the auspicious year of 1997.


For those of you who think running a dance festival looks like fun, think again. What looks from a distance like it is nothing but one rock and roll party from beginning to end, can be, in reality, the food for distressing physical and emotional meltdown.

Reserve a beautiful ballroom with a sprung floor for a performance at the Carrillo Recreation Center and learn a week before the heavily promoted performance, that the person who reserved it neglected to inform the person who runs the center, because the two can’t stand each other and try whenever possible, not to talk to each other. She, therefore, did not know that a church meets in the space regularly at the exact time we reserved it. You suddenly begin to believe in the power of prayer.  (It worked!)

Learn not to schedule anything for a Saturday afternoon mid-summer.  No one comes.

Try to prepare an important grant before a looming deadline with a development associate who has a splitting migraine and can’t remember where she put anything.  It was only after a year of her repeated migraines that I realized the associate was not the right person for the job.  The migraines appeared every time a grant was due.

Have repeated anxiety dreams along the lines of “I dreamt I produced a dance festival and nobody came.”  Fortunately, these scenarios remained only bad dreams.

Hire a new grant writer who tells you months later she never completed a graduate degree because of a problem she has completing things.  Learn not to trust resumés.

You are preparing to print the much-anticipated annual SUMMERDANCE Festival Guide when you’re told by the printers that they’ve have lost the disk your graphic designer needs to complete the job.  Weirdly, I can’t remember if or how that one got resolved.

It’s the year 2001.  It’s a week before the festival.  You have an international dance company scheduled to arrive, but they are all having problems getting visas.  You must hire a high priced attorney from San Francisco to expedite things.  You also have no idea what you will do if the dancers are denied entry into the USA.  It all worked out a day or two before they travelled.

It’s time to put up 200 posters around town the weekend before the festival.  When you look for them around town, the posters are nowhere in sight. The “poster boy” took off with the posters and never did the job and was never seen again.

Have what you think is a strong verbal contract with a local theater only to find when the theatre is contacted for a written contract, the performance date has been given away. You have no choice but to cancel the performance.  Not a happy moment.

Have your bookkeeper tell you that she simply “didn’t have time to do the budget” before an important board meeting and therefore hurriedly produced numbers that made no sense to anyone at all. Then she was insulted because the board questioned her figures.

Have one of your lead artists casually inform you a few weeks before the festival that he has no intention of taking the stage during a performance when the main reason you’ve invited his company is that he’s such an amazing performer.  You just assumed he would dance.  Learn the maxim,”Never assume anything.  It makes an ass out of you.”  Still holds true.

Have an artist cancel a visit to town the day before you’ve arranged for 35 important supporters to come to your house to meet him and promote his residency.  If I hadn’t made a telephone call to check out his travel plans, I would have been one very embarrassed hostess.

Get summoned by the UCSB campus police at the end of the festival to come out to campus immediately because a visiting artist has totally trashed the apartment we rented for him in the most embarrassing way possible before leaving town. You are invited to look at the appalling mess. You’re mildly amused at the way the police force you to look at all the evidence, but sure you’ll never be able to use this resource for housing again. It must have been a hell of a party!

After a terrific performance that contained some mild nudity, you are told by a board member that you will NEVER get a grant in this city again.  Don’t pay attention to this.

Notice that you have a definite proclivity for hiring not – yet – recovering alcoholics.

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