Steering the Ship: A Q&A with Vermont’s Cultural Leaders | Erin Evarts
Leaders of arts and cultural organizations must draw on perhaps until now untested courage and fortitude to navigate today’s choppy seas. A viral pandemic, economic devastation, unending climate crises, and mass demonstrations to end systemic racism—all are reshaping the cultural landscape. How will these factors shape the arts now and in the future?
As part of a new series featuring Vermont’s arts and cultural leaders, we’re asking how they are navigating these peculiar times. We hope that the responses might help other arts and cultural organizations chart their own voyage.
YOUR NAME and TITLE: Erin Evarts, Executive Director
YOUR ORGANIZATION: Lyric Theatre
YEAR YOU JOINED ORGANIZATION: 1999 (as a volunteer)
MONTH/YEAR YOU WERE APPOINTED TO CURRENT POSITION: April 2019
What makes you hopeful for the future?
Seeing an increased focus on creativity, compassion, and connection in our communities. As we have been forced to evaluate what is important, I continue to see people turn to artistic pursuits, I see them getting involved in their communities in new ways, and I have watched people reach out to those they care about to share their art and what they are doing to make the world a better place. The impact of that art, empathy, and connectivity can only instill hope.
What’s the most challenging part of your work currently?
Providing a literal safe place for volunteers to create. Checking state guidelines as they shift to make sure we are providing everyone in our building the safest possible environment to make art. Also: timing. Theatre is all about entrances and exits, timing for the laugh, the cymbal crash, the high kick, the light cue; without a sense of timing, we are vamping and improvising. Fortunately, in the grand tradition of theatre, sometimes improvisation leads to better performances in the future.
How have you changed as a leader in the last six months?
I’ve started to find really large amounts of joy in small victories. Establishing a sign-in sheet that properly tracks everyone in the building, yay! A Post-it note saying thank you, WOO HOO! I’ve also found a great deal of support by trusting and sharing with others. Having the awareness to know that arts organizations across the state, country, and world are dealing with similar problems, asking for help, and accepting new ideas.
What are you prioritizing?
Continued engagement with our members in whatever form that takes and a commitment to keeping the safety of our community at the forefront. From mask-making efforts to access to our Creative Space, we have continued to both reach out to our members to get them involved while putting the health of our volunteers, staff, and audiences at the top of our list.
How do you see your relationship with your audience evolving over the next five years?
I’m anticipating a stronger voice for and connection with our audience as they help us mold what comes next. Due to the challenges we are all facing, it has really compelled us to examine who our audience is, what they are craving, and how they’d like to engage with us. We took our first steps this fall and cast a wide net. We explored simple and straightforward social media content, outdoor live performance options, and we are working on streaming content right now. We are looking forward to feedback on all these different options and seeing what direction our volunteers and our audiences are drawn to. Regardless of what type of theatre Lyric is creating, we are dedicated to remaining a community center for people to engage in volunteerism and art in exciting ways.
How can cultural institutions and organizations participate in the current call for creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world?
We can listen to the community we are a part of, we can actively seek out and invest in bringing new voices to the table with organizational resources, and we can amplify the voices of those who are already engaged in this work but may not yet be connected with the arts. This begins with cultural competency for leaders within the arts community, with acknowledgement and recognition of the many voices that have gone unheard. There needs to be transparency, accountability, and funding in the work being done to improve justice and equity in our creative spaces.
What are some lessons learned or advice that you can share with other organizations who are grappling with the multi-faceted challenges of this time?
Your history, your connection with the community, and your reputation will all remain intact if you try something new. We can’t be precious about what has been and the way we have done things. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and I think the steps we are all being forced to take right now will only enrich our organizations and expand our potential offerings in the future.