why is this LIT different than all other LIT? four lovely ladies of literature answer the age-old questions: episode one, christine leahy

some of the most interesting ladies on nyc’s indie lit scene are busy toiling over their answers to our burning questions! first to get her homework done: christine (of course)!

CHRISTINE LEAHY program officer, new york state council on the arts, a state agency


christine on her career path: at one point in my career, it seemed like i had arts experience, and then i also had non-profit experience, but they were not necessarily related. i had worked in museum education, as an assistant to an artist, i wrote fiction and i did some freelance, arts-related journalism. while freelancing, i began some recurring odd jobs with a couple of non-arts non-profits, just to pay the bills. that’s really how i learned about nonprofit operations.  i later helped my best friend, as she founded a non-profit called Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, by serving as chair of her advisory board.  at nysca i’ve served in the visual arts, literature, museums, architecture & design, facilities, and folk arts programs.

one amazing benefit of my job is daily exposure to all kinds of art – chicken soup for the soul! other perks include the creative and good-hearted colleagues, and the sense that what i do for a paycheck is helping to make the world a better place.  in our world, you also tend to have a better life-work balance than, say, a corporate lawyer.  the challenges include: keeping on top of all the new developments in the field (pretty much impossible), trying not to lose track of your own creative projects, and, if you are not blessed with a wealthy spouse, parents, or perhaps a rent-free apartment, making your paycheck actually cover your expenses can be a puzzle!

christine on community: people of mixed heritage often talk about feeling that they belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  working in more than one arts discipline will create a similar feeling, as will working for a funder, where it can seem that you are one step removed from the actual funded projects.  there are so MANY communities in our field, centered around neighborhoods, sub-genres within a discipline, online activity, etc, and this multitude is what makes the field so vibrant and so exhausting.

in general, i appreciate the broad sense that the nonprofit arts sector is canada, to the u.s.a. of various commercially-oriented arts sectors. a few of the communities that have impressed me recently: ‘grantmakers in the arts,’ a network that’s pooled resources and info about the funding community’s response to superstorm sandy; ‘you’ve cott mail‘ and ‘arts journal,’ two virtual communities that deliver all the latest arts news to my inbox every day; and a relatively new community coming out of the visual arts world called ‘w.a.g.e.,’ working artists and the greater economy, which is engaged with the idea that all artists should be paid for their services by the nonprofits they work with, and that these organizations should be subject to more transparency. i’d love to see a similar effort take root in the literary community.

christine’s advice to the novice non-profit arts administrator: be humble, be patient, and work hard.  you will learn more than you realize, even in an entry-level position or internship. the gratification is definitely not instant, so don’t complain about having to do something you perceive to be grunt work.

more to come from…

BETH HARRISON editor, spinning jenny

JEN BENKA executive director, academy of american poets

BETH WEINSTEIN world voices festival & public programs manager, pen


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