In Surinder's words: Transportation metaphors and moving ahead during times of change in Chicago dance

Editor's note: In the last moments of my conversation with See Chicago Dance's outgoing executive director Heather Hartley (of which you can read part one here and part two here), I asked her to name something she was surprised that See Chicago Dance has been able to accomplish, as well as any unfinished business she's leaving behind. She returned to previous thoughts about the importance of health and wellness initiatives, and how with the first Day of Dancer Health (produced by SCD last April), things are just getting started on that front. A number of projects aimed at expanding the website and increasing our capacity on the editorial team are also pending funding, and something she hopes will go forward in her stead. As for her victories...

Heather Hartley: One of the things that I felt really pretty good about is, two things: The membership of the organization grew tremendously, and for me, that says that we were doing something that people cared about. If you plunk down your $50 or $100 to be a member, then that says that there's something in it that you find of value. It went from, I think it was 21 members when I started in 2012, and this past year we had 92. It also is pretty revealing that that the budget size of most of the members is very reflective the community. Something like 60% of the See Chicago Dance membership have budgets under $100,000. 

So, I feel good about that, and I feel good about the awards at the gala. Our first little benefit was a “friendraiser” – it was a blast – I think at the end of it we made something like $4,000. And now to be giving awards and recognition to people like Richard Driehaus, Angelique Power and Shirley Mordine, and to have sold out events at City Winery – we raised $92,000 last year. But what I love about it is that it's this time and space where I see people from many different walks of life coming together. And that's intentional, it’s by design.

Holding down the See Chicago Dance fort while the organization seeks a new executive director is Surinder Martignetti, who also serves as the SCD community engagement consultant. Most of the in-person initiatives, such as the Day of Dancer Health, are coordinated by Surinder, who is an invaluable cog in the SCD wheel. As interim executive director, she sees her role as maintaining every day operations of the organization and also moving some initiatives forward:

Surinder Martignetti: I really love all of the community work that I do, going out and seeing shows, talking to people and being out in the industry, hearing what people's needs are and then being able to design programs that fit what people need. How we do all our programming now really comes from the feedback that we get within the community. So, for me, the community engagement role is really important. It’s impossible to know what's happening at the grassroots level if we’re not out there watching shows, talking to people in lobbies, telling people, "I’m here for you, so use me." 

I think we are at a precipice right now, and I don't know where the organization is going to go. We’re going through a strategic planning process where the board is thinking about this moment in time and it is interesting to be in that process now. Membership is important. Community engagement is also important, even though it doesn't necessarily generate income – it's more like a soft income generation. And so at this moment when the board needs to think about how we're going to grow, if we're going to grow, and what direction the organization is going to go in, I see my role as not just keeping the wheels on the bus and keeping it moving forward, but to keep people joining the bus, you know? To keep this leadership role that we have in the community, in the city, and at the state and national level is to make sure that we don't have any dips in leadership.

Lauren Warnecke: Many people perceived [Rahm Emmanuel] as being pro-arts, and don't know how to feel yet about the new mayor. On top of that, there is this huge turnover in executive leadership in arts organizations that directly affect dance. So there’s a little sigh of relief in knowing that you're filling this interim position, and a little bit of ease in terms of knowing that the ship – we'll use another transportation metaphor – is not going to sink as long as you're there. But there might be some anxiety around whomever the new people are going to be in these organizations. So, make the case for why it's going to be okay.

SM: Well I think change is really good. The people in leadership roles have been in leadership roles in these dance organizations for a really long time, and I think, as good as they are in those roles, we can tend to get stuck in ideas and stagnate, even if we don't mean to. So, to bring in new ideas, new people, new blood, it could bring in people from other parts of the country or the world, which can only mean new ideas and new information coming into the dance field. I think it also means that there is an opportunity for the next generation of dance leaders who weren’t ready a few years ago to really step up. It could be really great time, especially if these organizations are thinking broadly about who they want as their leadership. 

LW: Because there are so many jobs available, you can actually have applicants apply to the job they’re supremely qualified for. The leader of See Chicago Dance looks very different than the leader of Chicago Dancers United, looks very different than the leader of Links Hall. You have options, rather than every mid-career person with arts administration experience going for the same job. 

SM: It's a really interesting challenge, and I think we will see some crossover between the applicants. I will be in on the interview process because I want to leave this organization with the leadership it deserves. Being part of that process is really important. The board of directors is super supportive of me, and I'm so thankful to everyone on the board for the extreme trust that they've placed in me. I know they're going to select someone who's really great.


Community members are invited to toast Heather and Phil at a going away celebration tonight, 5-7 p.m. at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave.