Executive Director John Clark has been a non-profit administrator for 26 years, working in Washington DC, Miami and Atlanta before joining Ballet BC in 2017. 2020 was a tumultuous year for artists and artistic organizations alike — I sat down with John to find out how he dealt with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he predicts we’ll see in the coming season.
How did you feel going into the 2020/21 season in the midst of a pandemic?
Very anxious because all of us weren’t sure how to run arts organizations in a pandemic, and we didn’t know when we could actually pursue the heart of our missions at the time. But the anxiety was also filled with the fact that a challenge was being presented to all of us, and I love a challenge. There was this feeling that we were all in this together. How the health restrictions would cause societal, political and legal ramifications, were all unknown and new to arts leaders.
How has Ballet BC been able to adapt to the constantly changing circumstances over the past 16 months?
What I kept seeing us do, and I think it was the right thing, was to plan for the best, but expect the unexpected. I was so impressed with Medhi in regards to trying to pull anything and everything off artistically, including getting the dancers trained and back in the studio with safety protocols, and exploring collaborations with arts organizations such as The Polygon Gallery, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and other private art galleries.
We tried to be true to the mission, look out for the safety of our artists, and at the same time engage with the public, which is incredibly important. That was pulled off through our digital efforts. We heard a lot of great positive feedback from the digital offerings. Even though it’s not the core of our mission we adapted and made do with what we could.
What was the most difficult part of the past season?
This is a hard question! I think the most difficult thing was seeing the artists suffer. We are so fortunate to have such talented artists that have pursued this challenging career their entire lives. Their passion for dance drives them each and every day, and to witness them not being able to pursue it at the high level they had achieved was sad. Performing to audiences on a live stage is at the core of what they train for. We could only offer 28-week contracts, when we typically offered 40-42 week contracts. So the dancers were in the studio, and I think they loved being with each other and pursuing what they could. Let’s face it – we are all here to support artists and their dreams, and we did the best we could, but there was a sense of restraint, a sense of depression, because they weren’t able to do it at the capacity that they’ve been training for so hard.
What about the best part? Did anything positive come of it?
Absolutely. The best part of it was the communication between arts leaders in Vancouver, Canada, and across the world. I’ve never felt more connected to my colleagues in the arts because again, this was all new to everyone. Calling on another leader in Canada, or in any country, people were willing to take your calls or get on video and talk openly and honestly about the challenges and the opportunities that we were all facing. That was a game changer. I hope that that level of communication will continue amongst all of the colleagues across the globe post pandemic.
How do you feel going into the 2021/22 season?
Incredibly optimistic and invigorated. As we’re hearing from the health minister, things are looking great. For us to get back on stage and perform to audiences, and show off the well-honed talent of our artists, and to create new works with inspiring global leaders is what we do. We can’t wait to get back to it. I feel like that’s going to happen a little bit sooner than we were thinking even just a month ago. If we can go into the season doing more than what we thought we were going to be doing, that would be fantastic! So it feels great.
Bonus Question: If you could say one thing to the BBC patrons, and the art loving public, what would it be?
This is the easiest question for me, because I love the patrons of the arts, and I love the patrons of Ballet BC. First thing, to all of the patrons of Ballet BC, “Thank you!” The amount of support and generosity that has been displayed in this time has been mind-boggling. Our board, and all of the subscribers, and all of our friends and patrons have been really generous, and not just financially, but with their energy, wanting to know “when are we going to be back on stage? What are the dancers doing? How are we keeping them engaged? How are we adapting?” The interest level is so high. That’s humbling and really wonderful.
I love dance. It’s definitely my first passion, but I love all the arts, and I would say to arts patrons, “Support what you love. Hold the organizations accountable, but if you are moved by music or dance or opera or visual arts or theater, support it. They need your support, and it can only exist because of the contributions from the people who love it.”
By Kristen Lawson, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator
Support for this interview series is generously provided by ZLC Financial