A piece of the puzzle
Profile by Jane Ledwell
What kind of business acumen does working in arts administration get you? Ask Kate Gracey-Stewart. The busy mother of three with an eye for detail can tell you that in an arts non-profit, where “it’s all hands on deck all the time,” the opportunity is there to learn everything.
“The line I use all the time,” Kate says of the joy of behind-the-scenes work, “is we all have the same goal—we just have different parts of the puzzle.”
Since an unexpected career twist ten years ago landed Kate in arts administration, she has worked with the East Coast Music Association, Music PEI, Atlantic Presenters, and the Cavendish Beach and Big Red Music Festivals on every aspect of the music industry, from artist relations to protocol to sponsorship to booking to marketing and communications, for artists and venues alike. She’s wound every gear that can make an event tick, and in December launched her own business, KGS Management Services.
“If I had tried ten years ago to get a career in the arts, I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. It was not my master plan,” Kate says with wide eyes. Willingness to try and confidence to learn have taken Kate far. More than once, sometimes more than once a day, Kate has been called on do work “not in her wheelhouse,” but she says, “We people in the ‘event’ world know each other, and we know we’re winging it. We’re finding solutions, and finding solutions in the moment,” and loving it.
Kate hasn’t had to seek out new clients, and jokes that she is “almost too busy to look into the future,” with contracts to work on block-bookings for Atlantic Presenters, sponsorship for the major Contact East industry event in PEI in September, ad sales for the Indian River Festival, and overseeing marketing and communications for the Credit Union May Run Music Festival & Bell Aliant Canadian Song Conference—two new components of what was formerly Music PEI Week. “My clients are my mentors,” Kate says.
Kate remembers some of her first work in the music industry with ECMA: “You did the admin-based stuff until the event happened, and then it felt like you were part of something special: you see there are people’s hopes and dreams on that stage, their hopes for a career.”
Access to arts administration is too valuable a puzzle piece to leave in the box, Kate realizes: “Artists don’t have the flexibility to hire people. They need the help and can’t afford the help. I would encourage them to join organizations like Music PEI, to take full advantage of every service they provide for members.”
It’s a win-win, because, she says, “What’s rewarding is when someone is moved by a performance… Or when a tour comes to town you worked on the year before, and sales go really well and the audience loved it, and you can say, ‘I brought that here. I had a part in that.’”
She adds, “The value of the arts is mental health and wellbeing, and every community deserves to have that in their community.”
What Kate wants to do, “once I get more established, is to do things that are really important to me.” She says, “It’s great that on PEI, people need people like me. Businesses need help, and they can’t afford to hire people full-time… I would encourage anyone who wants to try their hand at their own thing: there’s lots of room.”
Reflecting on music in her family and her future, Kate says, “I was married young and had kids young. I didn’t get out to festivals and theatres and shows.” Through Kate, her children have had a more direct link to performances. She recalls taking one of her children to hear Joel Plaskett and explaining, “I get this feeling in my stomach when I see a live performance. It’s like I feel full. I feel joy.” And her child said, “I know what you mean. I felt that too.” Kate knows the artists—and the less visible team behind them—make that feeling happen.