A day in the life of an arts administrator

A lot of people ask me what I do. What an arts administrator is. What’s involved in concert production.

So I decided to tell you about yesterday, when we had a run-out concert. We don’t do run-outs that often, but this was a fairly typical day for that kind of event.

Morning: I got to work and checked my email. Among the messages:

  • a note about some press coverage for the evening’s concert
  • a note about scheduling dates for an off-site recital in the spring
  • a prompt about a workplace employee survey
  • a list of program selections for an upcoming concert
  • news about an award for me to add to the news blog
  • a short series of emails about scheduling a meeting, canceling, and re-scheduling
  • a reminder to send in an ad for an upcoming concert

So there’s a random sample of the stuff I read. I dealt with info that needed to be dealt with. I got a phone call about comp tickets for that night and told him to send me the list so I’d have it in writing.

Two performers for the night showed up; a colleague was going to drive them to Penske to pick up a cargo van so that we could schlep the large stuff (percussion, amps) to New York. About half an hour after they’d left, my colleague called.

Colleague: “They don’t have a van.”

“But we reserved a van.”

“Yes. But there’s no van here.” They had the reservation. They just didn’t have the vehicle that our reservation had, in theory, confirmed.

Panicked pause.

Me: “What are we supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Panicked pause # 2.

Me: “I’m going to make some calls.”

I searched for the first car rental company that I could think of that had a location nearby. I called. “By any chance, do you have any cargo vans?”

“Sure. When do you need it?”

“Um… now.”

“Yup, we’ve got one sitting right here.”

“Really?” (He must have thought I was awfully peculiar, or stupid, or something.)


“Can I reserve it?” Uh, yes. So I did. And texted my colleague that the van was waiting for them.

My colleague had offered to drive me to the train station, but this little change of van plan made that impossible. So I called a cab, knowing that sometimes the cab company takes 20 minutes to send someone over.

Two minutes later, a robo-call: “Your taxi is here.” I grab my stuff and run.

Ten minutes later, I realize I’ve forgotten all the will-call tickets for that night, as well as the ticket manifest listing who’s sitting where. I tell the cabbie (a very chatty guy) that I need to go back. “Is it imperative?” “Yeah. It’s imperative.” So we go back. I get the tickets, get to the train station, buy my ticket, and hop on.

I got to the concert hall just when the van did and went inside to find the crew who would help us load in.

“Where’s your security list? You never sent in your security list.” (The concert hall requires a list, in advance, of all the personnel of visiting ensembles so they can let them backstage.)

“I sent it in. Once last Friday, and again yesterday.”

“Well, we never got it.” I sent it again from my not-so-smart phone. They didn’t get it. They called IT to figure out to access their spam box. Nothing there either. So they sent me up to some workstation on the third floor to access my email and print out the damn list.

Meanwhile, the stage crew from the wrong concert hall showed up at the curb. They grumbled about being called for the wrong performing group, but they loaded in our stuff anyway.

Sorry this story is so long-winded.

So we went to the box office and dealt with a few minor annoyances. The rehearsal and sound check started. We went to turn in a copy of our ticket manifest to the house manager’s office, where a very grumpy person wanted nothing to do with us, because he wasn’t the person working on our concert that night.

The rehearsal went fine. The performers showed up when they were supposed to and were good sports about the cramped dressing rooms. I gave timings of each piece to the backstage attendant. I gave the extra tickets to the performers, so they could sit in the house when they weren’t playing.

The concert, however, went slowly. Not the music – the stage changes. One stagehand moved all the chairs, all the stands, all the percussion, one piece at a time. When there was a lot to move at once, it took approximately forever. And then he had to move it all back. I wished I had noticed during rehearsal that we could have used another stagehand. (The guilt when something could have gone more smoothly….)

I noticed that the program neglected to list the movements of one of the pieces. Which is my fault. Not to mention that in my proofreading spree to correct all sorts of incorrect dates of birth among the composers, I’d missed one and made him two years older than he really is. More guilt.

After the concert, we had half an hour to clear out of the hall, including the backstage area. Equipment came off the stage and started getting piled onto dollies and moved down to street level. Performers packed up their music (or left it strewn around), shut instruments in cases, changed out of black concert clothing.

And then… things didn’t quite empty out. A couple of rented and borrowed instruments were abandoned in the stairwell. Someone dashed in to claim a bag and a couple of instruments. At the foot of the piano in one of the dressing rooms lay a pair of dirty tube socks and a plastic bag. I used the bag to transfer the socks to the garbage.


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