If the arts are in your future, volunteering and mentoring are first steps to getting and giving insights into the field.
By Amy Hamil
I had just begun an internship with University of Florida Performing Arts when I found out I would be volunteering at the annual conference for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 2012. In addition to this being my first exposure to this conference, it also happened to be my first time in New York City. That gave me not only the occasion to learn about the APAP and the responsibilities involved in presenting artists on stages across the country, but also to explore a city with legendary energy that goes hand in hand with cultural experiences and exposure to the performing arts.
My assignment included shadowing new president and CEO Mario Garcia Durham and his team. To prepare, I read Durham’s biography to learn about his background as a professional presenter and his role with the National Endowment for the Arts. If I were going to travel the conference with him, I wanted to know who he was and what he had done.
My impressions were confirmed when Durham received a standing ovation from the attendees on the first day. Throughout the conference, I observed as he engaged with attendees of all sorts: representatives of the North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, the APAP board of directors, various consortia members and other leaders in the field. It was truly a privilege to have the opportunity to shadow a highly respected professional in the industry, and I saw the way in which a person of this stature must conduct himself: with confidence, warmth, diplomacy and humor.
As a volunteer, I also got to tour the EXPO Hall, where the business of the field takes place. I found this particularly enlightening because of the diverse talent in the presenting field overall. Yes, there was more traditional work such as symphonic music, chamber ensembles, recitals, opera, early and baroque music. But that was only one part of the spectrum.
The other part was world music, dance, comedy, jazz, theatrical presentations, family events, new vaudeville, contemporary music and variety artists. I was struck by the fact that there is “something for every artistic taste” for presenters in the EXPO Hall.
In addition to the work I did with Durham – representing students in arts administration, being a “runner” for important information exchange and helping the presidential team greet attendees, I participated in the APAP mentoring program, which pairs first-time attendees with an experienced professional in the industry. These mentors encourage questions and discussion in a small-group setting during an orientation session. The advice given by my mentor – an APAP board member – opened my eyes to the many facets of the world of performing arts.
If you’re thinking of volunteering, and I hope you will, I recommend – as a veteran volunteer! – that you make sure you understand your assignment clearly and that you prepare for down time. You sometimes will simply be on call, which means you may have time to read or to do other busy work until you are needed.
As a senior at the University of Florida, I am still exploring the professional opportunities that will be available to me upon graduation, and serving as a volunteer for the largest convening of this fast-paced industry has shown me that a career in arts administration is hard work, but is worth pursuing.