“Feed your brothers and sisters simply, graciously, with generous care, and you will secure a place in their heart.” Maximillian Degenerez
The artistic director of a large choral organization in a suburban Midwestern setting, Dina* was astonished by the lack of communication between art groups when she first arrived in the community. Always one to reach out, she began to attend every art event she could and introduced herself everywhere. A true Renaissance woman, she had a minor in art history as an undergrad, paints in acrylics and watercolors and was not only interested in the performing arts, but ALL arts.
Dina intended to become involved in the art scene and was on the board of directors of a local art gallery for two years. When first asked, she thought it would be a wonderful way to connect with other art groups in her community. Or perhaps they could do joint events; the gallery and her choruses. She resigned last fall because she realized she got herself into a huge, self-righteous, self-grandiose clique. She didn’t like it. And is very sorry she joined but looks at the whole thing as a sort of learning experience for her own chorus leadership structure.
Each Board meeting was more obnoxious than the last. The agenda was only an afterthought because what was thoroughly discussed every meeting was; their gallery was perfect, everyone else had no taste or was minutes from bankruptcy or was undermining them because they were jealous or something like that. Gossip was de rigor and every Board member was expected to contribute to the stew.
The Director of the Gallery was, according to Dina, a “piece of work.” He picked his favorites on the Board, usually having to do with how much money they donated or how much he hoped they would donate. He ignored new board members until he saw how they reacted to him or how much they kissed up to him. The “Talent” was off limits to the Board (other than deciding what works would be included in a show and how to pay for it) or until they proved themselves worthy by donating a bundle for an event. Declaring the Gallery—the Patrons, the Board, the Artists—“family,” he ignored the actual family members of the Board and the Artists. Many of the Board followed his lead by ignoring and snubbing them as well. This did not go over well with quite a few of the spouses and children of the Board or even the Artists but he seemed to be able to “make nice” before someone took their money or art away in a huff. Or most of the time he did.
After debating for six months whether to resign or not, what finally cinched Dina’s resignation was her observation of how the spouse of a Board member was treated at a fund raising event last summer. Hélène* reluctantly attended the annual event because she believed in the mission of the Gallery. She hated how she was made to feel; being ignored, while her spouse was courted. And treated like a “nobody” all the while she was in possession of their checkbook. When the Gallery Director approached her spouse for a contribution for a special Gallery show (with Hélène standing right next to him), he looked right through her, not even acknowledging her. Dina watched as Hélène gave her husband the checkbook and walked away, with no mention or acknowledgment from the Director. This made Dina really sad and uncomfortable and finally understood why her own spouse did not like to attend any event for the Gallery.
Dina’s take-away from her experience was to never take anyone connected, no matter how distantly, to her choral organization for granted. She’s spoken with her own Board about cultivating the parents of their children and youth ensembles by greeting them by name. Spouses of singers, Board members and staff are welcomed to concerts and even the occasional rehearsal, creating a cultural shift for the better. While never having the same acceptance of gossip as the art gallery, she discourages any sort of “trash talking” about any other arts organization in the area, even That Gallery. The concept of “family” is very much promoted, not only in word but in actual deed.
Dina asked Hélène to join their Board this past January. In the short time she’s been involved, Hélène has proven her worth to their organization several times. She’s a lovely woman and Dina is so happy she is with them and part of their family.