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A Journey from Follower to Leader

by Jessica HuangJessica Huang

Strange to think I’d never been to a national theater conference before last year. Now I feel like an old hat – having been to one in Philadelphia, one here in Minneapolis, and about to hop a plane for my third – in Dallas. All that travel, as well as the additional workshops and conversations are thanks to the Mentorship and Leadership subsidy from NPN that afforded Pangea and me the opportunity to develop my fundraising/grant-writing skills, as well as introduce me to Pangea’s work on a national level through attendance at multiple theater conferences.

My journey with Pangea began in 2009, when I worked as an artist on The Bridges Project, which involved mornings of Open Space conversation that convened around race, gender, class, aesthetics and so forth, and afternoons and evenings of rehearsal that then transformed those conversations into a performance piece. I participated in various projects in the following years until I joined the staff in 2011 – first as a part time contractor, then as a full-time member of our team. I also have grown individually from my time at Pangea – I used to be silent in all meetings with outside participants, terrified to misspeak and incorrectly represent what I believe to be vitally important work. Now I have interns reporting to me, and am comfortable articulating our practice and our vision for others.

I mention all this because I feel it’s important to note: my growth at Pangea was not constrained by the MLI grant period – during my whole Pangea experience I transitioned from artist to administrator, part-time contractor to salaried employee, and follower to a leader participating in the shaping of the next 17 years of our organization’s development. However the MLI grant made my development as a team-member front and center, and also made particular opportunities affordable for our small staff/budget.

My MLI grant covered my travel costs and registration for several national conferences that I attended as a representative of Pangea. Until I had the opportunity to attend NPN, I had no grasp of Pangea’s position and responsibility in the national theatre conversation. My experience at the NPN annual gathering widened my understanding of what is possible in our field, as well as what work is being created out there all the time. During breakout conversations, I learned as much about making work as an individual artist as I did about curating performances and effectively running an organization that puts social justice in the forefront of our consciousness. I also got to attend a bit of the inaugural Minnesota Theatre Alliance conference here in Minneapolis – which was a critically important gathering of theater artists from the Twin Cities that emphasized organizational structure, collaboration and partnership, and an ever-intensifying commitment to inclusivity in our local ecology.

I was also awarded funding for the growth of my development skills. Back when I began at Pangea as a part-time contractor, I was a playwright with a degree in journalism and absolutely no experience with grant writing or fundraising. But Meena Natarajan, our literary/executive director, took time and care cultivating my skills as a fundraiser to the point where now the majority of Pangea’s grant proposals are under my purview. The MLI was crucial for this – funding allowed me to attend several development workshops where I learned the nuances of maximizing the use of social media or the potential within our website to leverage funds. Our organization has affected institutional change based on some of these learnings – we created a part-time social media marketing coordinator who has increased our presence online considerably, and – whether coincidental or not – our local presence has also seemed to have grown concurrently.

I’ve just booked my tickets to TCG for the upcoming Learn, Do, Teach conference in Dallas – also funded by the MLI, and I’m so excited to attend. I know I’ve grown so much since the NPN gathering just six months ago, and I’m excited to take in more knowledge about audience development, artistic creation and how best to be an inclusive organization. Of course I’ll hope to bring back more field-wisdom about fundraising as well – which I’ve frankly fallen in love with over the past year. I’ll be representing Pangea by myself at this upcoming conference, and while it’s a little nerve-wracking, it’s something I feel I’ve been given all the tools and training to do well.

June 2013

The Mentorship and Leadership Initiative, as part of the Community Fund, is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), the MetLife Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and American Express.


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