Association of Performing Arts Professionals logo

Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 5

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a podcast from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals about what it's like to work in the performing arts, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers.
APAP Podcast Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 4


The Human in Human Resources




Claire: So I don’t have data in front of me but anecdotally, it seems like people who lead performing arts organizations usually have a background in the performing arts.

But this is where Yukio Kuniyuki is unique:

Yukio: I am the executive director at the San Angelo Performing Arts Center out in West Texas.

??And before that, I was a recently-retired US Army officer having served 22 and a half years.

Claire: Yukio says that there are a lot of similarities between running a performing arts organization, and serving in the military.

Yukio: It seems like an unlikely marriage between the army and the arts, but really, they have a lot of things that they share in common.

In the performing arts we have a really important mission that's continuous, you have to think about near term events planning as well as long term strategic planning, staff integration, logistics management, and day to day operations.

Claire: But despite those similarities, there is one major difference:

Yukio: When I was in battalion command, I didn't realize how good I had it. I had a budget I could depend on every year, a multimillion dollar budget. in the performing arts, that’s kind of different

Claire: Yukio said his military training has not only helped him meet tough deadlines and manage logistics – but his outside perspective brought something different to the organization. It also helped him avoid the isolation many veterans feel when they leave the military.

Yukio: For veterans out there. I know, I know, the tendency sometimes is to stay close to the military and go into the Department of Defense or become a contractor or enter the corporate world. But that I think, further isolates you in many ways from the communities that you can serve and make a meaningful impact on.

Um, stretch yourself, and the performing arts community is one of those great environments to really find people who are dedicated to values that are similar to the ones that we have in the military, you know, honor, duty, service.

Claire: He encourages more veterans to join the performing arts, and he also thinks the arts industry needs to take some lessons from the military – mainly when it comes to recruitment and professional development.

Yukio: For almost 15 years, the Army has made a very focused effort on figuring out how to develop leaders to function in a multi-generational, multi-ethnic and diverse environment. And because of that, a lot of things that I learned in the military in the last decade apply today in the performing arts community. As we look more into how do we expand through diversity programming? How do we acknowledge that our audiences are more multi-ethnic and multi-generational and how do we find ways to connect?

Right because every generation requires something different.

It's very important to grow the next generation. Every leader in the Army is really dedicated to training, developing and inspiring the next generation to fill their positions sometime in the future. And I think that's really important in the performing arts community.

Because if we don't do that, now, there will come a time where we will have grown too old, to be really effective in our jobs and will wonder what happened.

>> music


Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from APAP, The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

I’m Claire Caulfield.

People are what make an organization, and decisions on hiring, firing, and who gets a seat on the board can drastically change an organization's trajectory.

So in today’s episode, we’re exploring The “Human” in Human Resources.

With stories about how recruitment, hiring practices, job descriptions, and even small comments all shape an organization's work culture.


Claire: Act One: Turning the page

Emily Marks grew up in New York City, and the public library system was a consistent sanctuary for her from her chaotic home life.

It also helped her break into the performing arts: sheet music is expensive, but librarians were always there to help her prepare for an audition or performance.

Thanks in part to the library, Emily was able to pursue a career in the arts, and she’s worked on a lot of different programs – even founding her own theater company.

And last year, she even accepted accepted a job at the library, but not as a librarian

Here’s Emily with that story and what her new job has taught her about the arts industry.

Emily: This library has been under renovation for five years, and it's about to reopen. And the mission of the library is to kind of reimagine what a library can be. So there'll be a podcast studio, video studio and a performance space. And it's been a real eye opening experience. I feel that I'm finally working in the environment that I've always wanted to be working in.

My generation, this Gen-X generation, we've been striving for an equitable field. We've been striving to kind of reimagine systems and dismantle systems that kind of exclude people.

And I've always been told that field does not exist. It's impossible, or subscribers won't support this kind of program. And I feel in the arts field it's always, ‘“Well we can't do that.” And I find that working with librarians it's, “Let's figure out a way to get to the yes.”

>> music

I like that my role has become fluid.

I can one day work and create puppets for five year olds. And then the next day I can work and coach an entrepreneur, you know, a group of artists, entrepreneurs, and teach them about growing, you know, working on their pitch, and growing their creative practice.

It used to be, you know, 20-something years ago that you had to have an MLS. Master of Library Science to have any role within a library. And so they kind of looked to see like, is that really equitable? Because there's only one program in the state, where you can get a Master of Library Science. So that immediately wipes out the playing field.

So that's that's how someone like me can come into the library system.
I have a colleague that's studying urban planning, another colleague that has a background in marketing, another colleague that's a photographer.
When you bring all these different perspectives to the table, you have really exciting programming.

But also you have a whole entire system of staffing that looks like our city.

>> music

And then I look at the regional theaters and arts education institutions, as well as performing arts centers.

That's a national problem. You know, I had a friend that had a M.A., and directing and they're like, no, you have to have an MFA in directing in order to be considered for the, this job. There's so many dancers that I know that are mid-career that are doing really exciting work, but they're not eligible to teach at a university.

And so I just think that it's time to let go and even to further that point: So many elders I know, they're amazing community connectors and they're amazing educators.

And I work with an artist and she’s a former Black Panther, and she didn't get her undergrad ‘til she was in her sixties. And she is one of the best people I have ever worked with that can talk to teenagers and–the respect that they have for her–and she can get them to really express themselves.
And as an arts administrator, if I put that hat on and said, ‘“No, you only need to have this requirement in order to do this work,” I just… things would get really, really boring.

>> music

So you know, I invite, like all these artists and practitioners to really go and get your librarians on your boards and involved with your projects and hire them because they're they're just they're way ahead of the field.

>> music

You know I was at this conference a couple of years ago and people are like, “How do we get more voices in leadership? How do we get more voices in the room?” And I said something. I was very direct

I was like, “If you want more voices in your organization, maybe it's time to retire. You've had this position for 25 years.”

And all of a sudden there were crickets.

And I wasn't very popular that day, but, um, *laugh*

You know, 20 years ago, arts administrators were trained through a kind of very corporate model of counting beans and audience development. You know, they're not going to change into a system that doesn't benefit them.
You know because people will say they want to change, but sometimes they only want to change on surface so they can check a mark in a grant box.

>> music

Y’know and this is not just in arts organizations, this is in nonprofits, that you have this mentality that you have to have people of wealth on your board or people from the business field on your board.

And I think there's just this thinking of the business world knows how to run organizations better than the actual people that they're serving. I think it's a generational kind of mindset.

And so I think that's one of the main challenges of the field.

>> music

Claire: Emily Marks is an arts programmer for the Cossitt Public Library in Memphis, Tennessee.


Claire: Act two, an inside job

Monique Martin is a creative producer in Harlem, New York.

As a creative producer, she works with artists and theaters to design events. Which means taking into account not just the show itself, but the venue, the audience experience and how each performance aligns with an organization's mission.

But in her career, she’s seen plenty of examples where organizations publicly say they want one thing, but their hiring practices and internal structure tell a different story.

So today Monique’s shares about a time when she applied for a creative producing job, and was excited about the organization’s commitment to reaching out to communities and groups that they hadn’t served in the past.

But the experience made her realize there are still organizations that see producing and events as entirely separate from their communities.

Monique: I've had the privilege of presenting and commissioning artists to create work for outdoor spaces, primarily in parks for about uh, 15 years,
both with River to River Festival and SummerStage. And then during the pandemic with Open Streets and Open Boulevards.

So all of those outdoor experiences are very different and nuanced with the same goal of meeting artists and communities where they are.

>> music

So one of the challenges that I had during the pandemic is my job was eliminated at Harlem Stage.

And then I began to think about, well, where do I want to put my my work next?

And there was an opportunity that came my way for a venue that I won't name. But it was a wonderful three interviews with the recruiter with another person in the in the recruiter's office. And then the CEO of the institution. We had an amazing conversation. And this is an organization that presents work in multiple venues in their city. So I love that idea because it aligns with the work that I did with SummerStage.

Because SummerStage is in one location in Central Park, but it orbits around the city.

So the CEO talked about some of the things that they had accomplished during the shutdown in reaching audiences in different communities that they hadn't previously engaged with.

And he was concerned that the board did not see that as a long-term investment for the organization, that they're ready to go back to, you know, back to normal.

And he was very excited about this new audience, but of course fear that the board would not support that.

And so I talked to him about some of the challenges that we had at SummerStage because our board was similar. They love the programming in Central Park. They felt, quote unquote, safe in Central Park. Let's just say that. And to go to the South Bronx, to Queensbridge Park, or name that city that has been framed as poor or dangerous. All of those buzz words that often are in some of our grants. 

We like to talk about reaching those audiences, but it is framed in more of a community outreach effort versus I really see them in the same bucket as I do my patrons, my subscribers. Right? So how we've created these false delineations, I think is something we should think about.

>> music

And so we talked about that. And he's taking notes, and he says, “You know, I look forward to our next conversation.” So I was super stoked. Like, this is this is this is going to be my job. I'm really excited.

So then I get, a call from the recruiter stating that the CEO really enjoyed meeting with me, I gave him a lot of ideas. However, I will not be moving to the final round because he felt that I would be better suited working in the community.

He said, I wish I had a job for Monique where she could work in the community, and honestly, like my voice is wavering, just saying that because it was like a gut punch, because it reduces the value of the people in that community. It just really makes me sad.

>> music

Uh, I was informed that I wouldn't go for the position that I was actually applying for. But if I wanted to work in community, then that might be an opportunity. I felt as though I was kind of relegated to I mean, I'll just be blunt, to the ghetto.

>> music

The thinking is, the board members, the subscribers, the patrons have more value. So we use the word community in a reductive, redactive way. We don't say the board members are the community. When we think about 
community, we think black, brown, marginalized, poor.

Saying this now. *sniff* I don't think I've acknowledged until this moment how painful that response is not just for me, but for our field.

>> music

And that, I feel, is missed with a lot of my colleagues because they think in segments of people. This particular play that has this theme. And so this audience needs to come in the room because it has LBGTQI themes or it is about Mexican migrants or Caribbean or name that marginalized group *laugh*. And so we want you to impact our bottom line through ticket sales, group sales of these audiences that we have no relationship with.

So when the CEO was talking about this audience, he did not understand, there's not a phone that you can pick up and get all the black people or all the, you know, queer people. It just doesn't exist. They form communities, and those communities are very intersectional and they're not a monolith.

So this is a flashpoint in rethinking, reimagining. Going deeper in what is the experience, not what is the show? What is the experience?

Claire: Monique Martin is a creative producer in Harlem, New York.


Claire: Act three, essentials

The Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County is known in the area as simply, The Music Center.

And Carolyn Van Brunt has worked there for more than 20 years.

She oversees compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is the Vice President of Guest Relations.

But when the pandemic started, and suddenly The Music Center didn’t have any guests… her job changed. As did the lives of the 400 employees in her department.

Here’s Carolyn with the story of how the events of 2020 changed her entire approach to the arts workplace.

Carolyn: When I got the notice that we were actually going to shut down, it was not a pleasant time. It was a scary time for us all. But there came a moment when we had to announce to these 400 Ushers and all of the Guest Services staff who were not only co-workers or direct reports, many of them were longtime friends, And all of a sudden, it was time for them to go because furloughs had been enacted.

>> music

And we had to do this over a Zoom call because everybody was at home at that point.

And I was not the host of the meeting which I would have preferred probably because that seemed a little more personal to me. But our human resources director was the one who had to give this instruction.

And I wanted to appear professional and unemotional about this all, but inside I was just a wreck. I was nervous, my hands were sweaty, I didn't want them to think I had anything to do with them being furloughed, but I did.

>> music

I just couldn't even speak until the very end of the Zoom call. And at that point I offered what I felt was a very weak lame-ass apology that they had to apply for unemployment. That was bad enough. Especially given that I had spent years telling my employees and feeling myself that they were essential, because the arts are essential, but suddenly, in this circumstance, you are non-essential workers.

How could we be in guest services when there were no guests? I mean, that made sense. Just didn't feel good. Didn't feel good at all.

And looking at their faces. Just… I don't know, just broke my heart. Really, it just broke my heart.

>> music

Then came the guilt, the guilt of surviving. Why survivor's guilt? Because I did not get furloughed.

I did take a pay cut, but it's not the same. I still was deemed essential, although I didn't feel it because I felt like, “How can I be essential if the people who support me and who are the foundation of my successes are not essential?” It just didn't make sense to me at all.

>> music

So sitting at home, I'm feeling sadness, and I'm feeling guilt. And then I’m watching a lot of TV because what else is there to do? And I'm watching over and over and over again, the footage of the murder of George Floyd. And watching this horrific murder, just brought about anger and frustration on top of all of this pandemic stuff. I mean, here we go.

And it just got to be too much for me. But I had to push those feelings down because I couldn't be the angry black woman. I had to push down my feelings, continue to participate in conversations at my job about diversity and equity and inclusion and moving toward a non-racist society and all of that, but I didn't feel that that was really authentic. I didn't feel that I could be my authentic self, or express my true feelings because it wasn't professional, or because would make waves, especially given that I, at that particular time, was the only African American woman in an executive position. And that put me in a very strange, uh, circumstance because I wanted to speak as a black person. I wanted to speak as a professional. However, I had to balance who I am as a person and who I am in my position. So that was really hard.

I found myself, although deeply involved in discussing the culture of my workplace and our response to the Black Lives Matter movement. All of a sudden, we were in a debate about “All Lives Matter”.

In some of our meetings, I could hardly resist busting in there with some of my choice words to express my frustration. But I shut up because I knew no good could come of that. Again, the angry black woman is not welcome in those environments.

>> music

And I thought, I've had enough. I've just had enough. I need to express my anger, my anxiety, I need to find an outlet.

So I picked up a pen and a notebook. And I started writing. I didn't even put it on the computer. I wanted to feel it come through my fingers.

I even put a couple of curse words in there. Because I felt that that would express really the depth of my emotion.

So finally, letting out the sadness and the guilt and the anger. I came up with a poem that I just entitled: To Whom It May Concern, because I wondered who is concerned about all this stuff that's going on in the world? Who really cares about this like I do?

>> music

To Whom It May Concern by Carolyn Van Brunt. August 2020.

These times, these times,
Oh yes, they are a changin’.
Can’t go to school or church, we all in danger.
Careers in question, furloughs all around.
Survivor’s guilt and sadness abounds.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired,
Still the last hired. Still the first fired.
It matters not that we’re the foundation,
Our blood, sweat and tears helped to build this nation. [Listen to the entire poem here.]

>> fade down poem

>> music

So even though I was a little nervous about it, because again, I'm protecting my professional reputation and all that, I decided, I’m gonna post this. I don't care. I'm going to put it on any platform that I think will get an audience because I want people to know how I felt.

So I put it online. And I started getting very, very positive feedback from my friends from strangers, whoever read the writing, and I was very much encouraged that I was not alone. There were many, many people feeling the sense of loss, feeling the anger and the frustration, and even the helplessness of it all. And I think that was really cathartic. It was cathartic. I know it was, for them and for me.

>> music

Now I believe that my authentic self is essential. That's my takeaway from it all. The arts are transformative. It can take your feelings and turn them right upside down to make yourself feel essential, important, validated, And I believe that we need to build in all arts workplaces the support that people need to be their authentic selves in their workplace, in their creative expression and in their everyday lives.

>> music

Claire: Carolyn Van Brunt is the vice president of guest relations and ADA compliance for the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

You can hear Carolyn’s entire poem on our website, and there’s a link in the show notes.


>> music

Claire: Thank you for listening.

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at

I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.

Jenny Thomas is our executive producer.

And our music is from Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.

Other thank yous to Sherri Larsen,

The APAP staff and board of directors

our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter. and arts workers ARE essential.

Speaking of stories If you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast visit

And if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review. It helps other people find the show.

Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. *laugh* That’s real *laugh*

>> music

And next time on ARTS. WORK. LIFE….

Roselie: If I stood up too fast, I would get dizzy. If I stood up too long, I would get dizzy. And I just remember thinking, I can't… I have to make a choice.

Randall: And so there it was, suddenly I was now a member of the Great Resignation or the Great Retirement.

Madia: And with these now with both women, as I call, being my guardian angels, I can firmly say that I am soaring.

>> music



The following resources may be helpful to our listeners.

INTRO: You and Whose Army?

ACT ONE: Turning the Page

ACT TWO: An Inside Job

ACT THREE: Essentials


This podcast made possible with the generous support of The Wallace Foundation and listeners like you. Donate here.
Wallace Foundation logo
Photos: Lynn Neuman at a recycling facility; Thamara Bejarano courtesy of storyteller; Taylor Gordon photo by Jon Tayler; Craig Knudsen returns to the opera stage in 2018.
Copyright © Soflyy
Copyright 2021
Privacy Statement
Terms Of Use
Copyright © 2024 - APAP - All Rights Reserved
© Copyright - APAP - 2024 | Website built by Argent Innovations LLC All Rights Reserved
envelopephone-handsetmap-markerchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram