Thursday, November 5, 2009

Informational Interview with arts administrator Judy Bartl

On November 5th I met with Judy Bartl, Program Director of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie B.F.A program in her office in the Rarig Center on the U of M campus. Judy had so much wisdom and light! With her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the arts, Judy has worked a huge variety of jobs (she once sold tombstones!) and has always been open to new experiences. These qualities are what brought her to where she is now: at a job that she loves.

Here's a bit about Judy:
“University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program Director, has contributed more than two decades of experience in the theater to the BFA Actor Training Program. Her arts management path took her from The Guthrie Theater's Company Manager to Mixed Blood Theater as Director of EnterTraining. She has also spent time as 'J' in J&S Casting - Casting Directors who worked with Disney films, the Ordway and many commercial projects. Her personal experience for this Program comes from playing the role of Mother for over 20 years.”

When Judy graduated from college she wanted to pursue a career in acting. However, gradually and naturally her path brought her to the administrative side of the arts. It was never her plan to end up in academia.

Judy was a company manager of the Guthrie Theater, and when the Guthrie created the B.F.A program with the University of Minnesota, Judy was asked to be the Program Director. In most instances Judy has been able to “create” her own jobs and enjoys that as program director she gets to create her own “business” within the greater structure of the University.

Because of the wide variety of things that Judy does for her job, there's no typical day, which is something that Judy likes about it.

Judy says that the most rewarding part of her jobs is watching the students develop, from the time she meets them as high school seniors to when they graduate with their B.F.A. The parts Judy doesn't like about her job are having to evaluate her faculty. They're artists, and she wants them to feel supported. Also, she doesn't like that there is always a lack of money and they are continually fighting for more funding.

I asked Judy about how the current poor economy has affected her field and she said that changes have mainly occurred in dealing with parents who are concerned about their kids wanting to major in the arts. Also, more and more arts management companies need strong leaders to deal with these difficult times.

Also, a current trend in the theater world is trying to get younger audiences, by changing theater conventions. For example, "conventional" theater doesn't exactly appeal to today's young people: no talking, no cell phones, have to dress up, etc.

For those interested in pursuing arts administration, Judy recommended getting a degree in arts administration or a business degree. It's good to study a broad spectrum of things because the career entails so many things.

Something I'm really interested in is work/life balance in the arts, so I asked Judy about that. She shared that because the arts are so demanding, it can eat you alive if you don't set boundaries. Judy wishes she would of sat down and thought about what her priorities were earlier in her career.

I also wanted to know what it's like to be a woman in arts administration. Judy shared that being a woman is always a factor in the workplace. You need to behave in a certain way; there are great role models, like Hillary Clinton.

Judy's advice to women is that it is important to be true to yourself. Women can bring positive things to the work place. Women tend to be better listeners, are more organized in some ways, are better at multi-tasking. Competition among women breeds negativity; women can get where they want by being strong and confident. However, in the arts, gender dynamics are not as clear cut, which puts a different spin on it.

Learning about Judy's path has taught me to stay open to new experiences. It's alright to be thinking about the next thing, don't get too comfortable, especially in our current economic climate.Judy has had an exciting journey because of her openness to new experiences. All of her experiences have led her to where she is now; she wouldn't change a thing.

Thank you Judy!