Friday, August 18, 2006

Girl Friday: Polly drove steel like a man (and probably kept the books, too)

As much as I blab on and on about being a good mother and wanting to be a good musician and be a writer and change the world through this music and all that, one thing is inarguably me.

I am a closet administrator.

That’s right. I turn the screws, I find other people to turn them, I can tell who can’t turn them. Somehow, despite years of wandering in the wilderness, my sister and I both find ourselves with rather a natural bent toward managing people and where possible, leading change.

And someday that’s where I imagine I ultimately will make my contribution. It’s kind of boring, I suppose. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but what will make my idea work is not my being all passionate about music, or being a good musician, or even having the drive and fearlessness to go gathering with the people in the hills and then traipsing back to the table at Rounder or Sugar Hill or some university somewhere. That’s all important, but what will get it done is my ability to make a business case for it, and find the best people to do it.

This will surprise some people who have known me long. But its true. At the end of the day, a fine organization isn’t worth the paper its chartered on if it don’t run right. I love stuff that runs right.
A lot of what I do on a daily basis is get paid to get to know really good administrators, many of them in arts and cultural institutions and many, if not most, who are women. I also have to watch organizations struggle when a weak leader is in place and is creating a culture of mistrust, inefficiency, and average performance. The lesson I am learning is that there are a ton of really strong women leaders in the arts and cultural field. If I am lucky, maybe I can recruit one of them to run my gig!

Yesterday I spent quite a few minutes talking with a leading artistic administrator in a fairly strong mid-sized orchestra in the South. She is fortunate to be at the crossroads of many kinds of music, rubbing elbows with a wide range of performers, conductors, composers. She gets them to play nice with her Orchestra, and everybody has a good time. It is not always an easy task to get the show to go on.

There are a number of prominent orchestras run at the top by women. And lots of organizations with critical programmatic components run by women. One that fits these pages is of course the International Bluegrass Music Association, whose special projects director is Nancy Cardwell.

Nancy is not only responsible for the week-long World of Bluegrass conference and three-day fan fest coming up in about five weeks, but she also runs the Bluegrass in the Schools project, and the Leadership Bluegrass professional development program. Somewhere in there she makes time to be a freelance writer.

Here's to Nancy and to all the behind the scenes administrators who oil the gears, keep the lights on and ultimately bring up the curtain. Sample this favorite tune from that wonderful trad band Uncle Earl, hailed on their web site as "...the all female old-time band winning the hearts of the pigtailed future of bluegrass worldwide." That's a worthy mission, and Nancy's on it.

Old Bunch of Keys


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