Written by: Elaine Chia
To be an arts administrator is to stand behind, and if you’re fortunate, sometimes alongside greatness.
I would describe myself as a competent musician. I could have been better but I never applied myself, just too busy doing other things. I have a decent ear, and bad intonation drives me nuts.
I stumbled into arts administration back in the days when there was no Diploma, Bachelor or Masters in such things. I caught the bug, learnt on the job, and learnt from the best.
I believe that to present a great concert requires three key elements:
- An excellent performance;
- an enthusiastic audience; and
- a team behind the scenes who bring 1 and 2 together.
Point 3 is where people like me come in.
I was once called a jack of all trades (and master of none). It really irked me at the time. Now, some 20 plus years on and far older and wiser, that tag is worn more comfortably.
By wearing many hats, being versatile and nimble, I’ve had a most fulfilling career bringing musicians to stages in Australia and around the world. You can think of me as:
Your eyes and ears
I try to get out and see as many concerts as I can, around 150 a year. You need to have your finger on the pulse, and you can’t do it sitting behind a desk (well, not the whole picture anyway). I see musicians I’d love to work with, get ideas for new programming, feel the audience reaction and hear the first hand feedback as I loiter in the foyers.
Let’s be honest, not all musicians are great at describing what they do in a way that’s persuasive and compelling. In a world full of noise, cut-through is vital.
First things first though, if I don’t understand what you’re performing, and why, I can’t talk about it. I also have to believe in it. Once I’m on board, I can tell the world about it.
So I believe in it. I now need to find the best opportunity to make it a success. There are numerous considerations of when, how and where. For example, timing is important. Politicians don’t hold an election during footy finals. Neither should we.
Your sales manager
How’s the concert selling? Who’s buying? The daily sales report arrives in my inbox at 5.37 every morning. I tell myself not to read it until I get into work but most of the time I can’t help it.
It’s our job to get a good audience for every concert. After we get them there, it’s up to you to make sure they experience a great performance.
Presenting a concert anywhere, even in a living room, can be a costly exercise. Performance fees are just the start. There’s a range of licences to consider, insurance, music, travel, accommodation, not to mention marketing and promotion. Budgets are essential and I can help with that, but where I’m most useful is ensuring you stick to the budget!
Missed your flight? Did the airline lose your cello? Lose your suitcase? Lose your passport? Forgot your black shirt? Left your instrument in the hotel room? Oh, the stories I could tell, but I won’t.
When on tour I always carry an extra set of music. I’ve learnt to pack light. To this day the personal section of my suitcase never weighs more than 14kg, even for an extended trip.
Your Michelin guide
Carnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lacto-ovo, nut allergy – no worries.
Just want someone to decide for you? I recall a moment in Genova, Italy following a concert, vaguely suggesting that I was off for a pizza, and that anyone was welcome to join me. The next thing, as I hopped on the tram I look around and the entire orchestra has squeezed on the tram. Finding a pizzeria for 30 without a reservation was a little challenging, but gosh it ended up a fun night.
Your seamstress, makeup artist and handyman
I’ve sewn a button on a conductor’s jacket whilst he was wearing it, I’ve stood side of stage with a mirror, powder and lipstick, and my record for setting up a chamber orchestra is 20 minutes, and would have been quicker if we had not been using wire music stands.
Your biggest fan
I work in the arts because I love it. I can’t see myself anywhere else. The job satisfaction is huge, none more so than when I jump up to my feet with the rest of the audience, and I see the satisfaction on your faces, knowing that you know that you nailed that performance, and this jack of all trades helped make it happen.
Elaine Chia, whose career spans music, theatre and visual arts, is a passionate advocate for the arts. Prior to her current role as CEO of City Recital Hall Limited, Elaine was the Director, International Signature Projects at the Australia Council for the Arts. Elaine has held senior roles at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Belvoir Street Theatre and the Australian Youth Orchestra. She has worked on numerous international projects and led orchestral tours to Asia, Europe and South America.