Working in arts administration lets Alexandra Holder, one of the 2021-2022 International Thespian Officers, combine her business savvy and passions for theatre and helping others.  She created her successful nonprofit event, Arts Take Action, in Arkansas in an effort to give teens the opportunity to help other teens.

The recently graduated high school senior engineered the nonprofit’s headline event, which is a “competitive performance event where local teenagers, just high schoolers, can compete in singing, acting, dancing, instrumental, and visual arts. All of the proceeds go to Immerse Arkansas, a local nonprofit that helps teens in crisis.”

Years spent performing as an actress taught her how to be attentive to detail and how to emotionally relate to others using soft skills like patience and problem-solving.

Working in arts administration requires a unique balance of artistry and business instinct. Day-by-day operations for Holder have included everything from brainstorming how to create an interactive audience voting system for Arts Take Action, to consulting a media manager about how to host virtual events. From coordinating her team of students as they recruit competitors, to organizing the logistics of filming a virtual event. Working with a local community theatre to obtain performance space for Arts Take Action has also been a critical part of the process.

Arts administration Alex Holder ITO 2021-22Holder’s success proves that it is possible to be a full-time high school student and still make time to create initiatives that bring art and service to the world at large.

Below are tips from Holder’s experiences to inspire a new generation of arts administrators!

Arts Administration for a New Generation

Establish Credibility
Holder explains that her first attempt to advertise the event was a “little letter explaining what I wanted to do… I sent it to other schools and got no response.” That experience taught her that to throw such complex events, “you have to have some sort of established credibility.”

So she continued to work and gain make a name that was at least recognizable. She collaborated with local news and the newspaper to feature her  initiative, which helped to make Arts Take Action a fixture in her community.

She also hones her skills to present more polished marketing devices. She learned graphic design and how to be interviewed. She studied social media marketing to create a program that snags her target audience’s attention. Engaging marketing is a sign of professionalism and credibility.

Holder’s background in acting for both school and community theaters gave her a sense of how to capture an audience’s attention through artistry; it has also given her poise while talking about her work.

What It Takes to Succeed

Be Flexible
Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, Holder decided to adapt her initiative for a virtual setting. “There was this whole new world of digital events,” Holder says, “and I consulted with The Arkansas Children’s Tumor Foundation. They did a virtual event and I consulted with their media manager. That helped me to understand the legalities of everything.” Seemingly simple things like streaming music became complicated in the virtual world because of copyright. However,  theatre students like Holder are especially equipped to bounce back because of their experience having to adapt their theatre performances for virtual platforms during COVID’s initial precautions.

Holder’s team raised $4,625 for Immerse Arkansas during the pandemic despite the challenges of the virtual setting! That would not have been possible if her theatre background had not taught her flexibility.

Arts Administration Needs to Be Forward Thinking

Focus on Sustainable Growth
Holder’s work also includes training a successor to uphold the annual event after her graduation. When managing an arts organization in high school or college, it’s important to plan for what happens after you graduate. After all, you want your work to have a legacy that extends beyond your leadership.

Mentoring another student or creating a shadow program so that younger students can watch you work are some easy ways to search for who will lead the next generation of your initiative.

Any theatre student knows that it isn’t possible to perform constantly without fail. It is why professional theaters hire understudies. In the same way, as Holder’s story demonstrates, arts administrators train people who will eventually replace them to ensure that their work can continue and benefit as many community members as possible.

Arts Administration Requires Both: Passion & Worth Ethic

Use Your Business Mind
At first glance, theatre and business may seem like opposites, but Holder’s work proves that there is power in the overlap. The years she spent performing onstage taught her how complex and difficult it can be to put on a performance. Certain productions may require thousands of dollars for sets and costumes, not to mention the necessity of paying actors and crew members. Her theatre experience provided her with an understanding of the complicated financial processes that go into producing work.

“If you don’t do your cost estimates right, all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter how many tickets you sell,” Holder suggests, referring to theatre companies. “The theatre people that I’ve interacted with run their small theatre companies well. But some theatre leaders don’t realize that it’s not just putting on a show.”

Because she treats the theatre industry like the business that it is, Holder has learned how to market and produce theatre work so that it is sustainable, while never losing sight of the artistry that made her so passionate in the first place. 

Dylan Malloy is a playwright and director who currently attends Emory University as a playwriting major, with a double major in business on the arts administration track. You can find her on Instagram @dylan_writes.

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