Scripps College - Bachelor of Arts in English + Theatre
Claremont Graduate University’s Masters in Arts Management
Camille Schenkkan discovered her dream job during a graduate school class in 2008. After hearing about Arts for LA, a regional advocacy group, she knew it was where she had to be. She set up an informational interview with the group's executive director about a month later and was hired the next week! Currently she is the organization's development and operations manager. She also serves as the development director for Circle X Theatre Co., a small theatre company focusing on new and innovative work. In addition to her love for arts and culture and nonprofit tech tools, Camille is an animal rights advocate and lives with three ridiculous bunny rabbits (and one human, husband, Zack, who is starting UCLA Law). She's a proud member of Emerging Arts Leaders/LA and sits on the National Council of Emerging Leaders through Americans for the Arts.
When you're just starting out, volunteer.
How did you discover your current job?
The executive director of Arts for LA, Danielle Brazell, spoke in front of one of my graduate school classes in 2008. I connected with the organization’s mix of art, politics and technology, and was very impressed by Danielle. After the session, I told her that if she ever had an opening at Arts for LA, I’d love to interview for it. That evening, I followed up via email and reiterated how much I’d like to work with her. She called me about a month later and told me she might have a part-time position for me. We went for an informational interview at a coffee shop, and she hired me the next week! I’ve since moved from part-time constituent manager to full-time development and operations manager.
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
Arts for LA is the arts and cultural advocacy organization for Los Angeles County. We’re an independent nonprofit focused on increasing support for artists and arts organizations through advocacy training, campaigns, online resources and convenings. As one of just three staff members, I cover development (which means fundraising and grant writing in the nonprofit world), membership, communications and Web management.
One of the things I love most about my job is being able to decide what to focus on each day. I can write news stories for ArtsforLA.org, updating the cultural community on arts policy issues or new research on arts education. I can work on a grant proposal to help my organization thrive. I can create a new online campaign through our powerful constituent relationship management tool, Salsa/Democracy in Action, and send it to supporters in a specific City Council district whose representative is about to vote on whether to pass a percent-for-art policy.
During ‘advocacy season,’ the time between January and June when most state, city and school district budgets are discussed and passed, my job can get stressful. Sometimes, proposed cuts to cultural funding or major policy changes are announced only two days before they go to a vote. We have to act quickly to craft our messaging, build the back-end of a campaign through our website, and launch it to the 19,500 people in our email system. It’s exciting and I enjoy the adrenaline, but I’m aware of the potential negative impact on artists and arts organizations if our campaign isn’t successful.
Although I seem to do a lot of different things in my position, all of my duties rely on communication skills. I’m constantly writing, from grants to Web pages to advocacy campaign materials. I was an undergraduate English major and definitely use my degree daily.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
Most rewarding: When an advocacy campaign brings together the cultural community around a common goal. And then, when the campaign is successful -- public funding for the arts is retained, or an arts-friendly policy is passed -- it’s an incredible feeling for everyone involved. Empowering a group as diverse as the arts community to come together and make a difference makes me happy … and deeply appreciative of the democratic process!
Most challenging: Deciding when to get involved, and in what. Arts for LA represents Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people in 88 cities (including the City of Los Angeles) and 81 school districts (including LAUSD). Every day, equitable access to arts and cultural experiences is in jeopardy somewhere in that vast landscape. We have to choose our campaigns and projects wisely. In recent years, we’ve focused on training people to become arts advocates, so they’re able to use our resources to address issues within their own communities.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Honestly, the only thing I think I sacrifice is money. The skills you use in arts management are nearly identical to those required in the business sector; in fact, my arts management degree is from the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, and half of my courses were straight-up MBA classes. However, I make much less than my similarly educated and skilled counterparts in the business world. I like to say I don’t have an internal ‘profit motive.’ Money is nice, but I can’t spend 40 hours a week doing something I don’t care about just so I can have a nice car. The mission of an organization is what makes me excited to get into the office every day.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want published in the Los Angeles Times. My boss taught me this, and it’s a great way to gauge whether you should hit ‘send.’ Would the person I mention in this email be hurt or embarrassed by it? It’s easy to fire off an angry or sarcastic message, but you never know where your words could end up. Take a breath, take a few hours or days to think about it, and if it’s a sensitive issue, schedule a phone call or in-person meeting instead.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
Arts management is an overwhelmingly female industry, especially among the younger generation! I’d estimate that at least 75 percent of the people I work with are female. The local Emerging Arts Leaders group, EAL/LA, is about 90 percent female. It’s a wonderful environment, except now I’m starting to see friends leaving the field when they’re ready to have children. Some arts management positions don’t have health benefits or pregnancy leave, and you earn more with fewer evening and weekend hours in the for-profit sector. Finding a work/life balance and a job that pays a living wage is essential if you’re going to be in nonprofit arts management for the long haul. Luckily, I landed at an organization that works hard to provide its staff with benefits and fair wages so they stick around!
Who are your role models?
One of my favorite parts of my job is spending time with incredible artists. I have no desire to be an actor, but their tenacity and self-empowerment is inspiring. To be successful as an artist, you have to believe in yourself, be brave in the face of failure (because you’re going to fail regularly, no way around it), and drive your goals forward every day. Even the most successful actors usually don’t know what their next project will be. If they want to continue following their passion, it’s up to them to make it happen! Actors who have had long, active careers are the bravest and most driven people I know.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Everyone is doing the very best they can. Arts advocacy depends on active participation by arts administrators and artists. I remind myself that people in the arts are already working at 110 percent capacity, so if they’re slow to respond to a campaign or call to action, it’s not because they don’t care. They’re probably on a ladder trying to fix a projector before the audience arrives for opening night. This also is helpful to remember when you’re in a long line at the post office or on the phone with customer service.
Also, try to break a sweat once a day. That rule’s courtesy of Matthew McConaughey. Working out (or just taking a brisk walk around downtown LA) helps me clear my mind and stay healthy.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
It’s all about relationships and reputation. Whether you’re an actor, marketing director, grant writer or photographer, you have to be diligent about building your network and your personal brand as a creative professional. The few times I’ve been having a bad day and snapped at someone it has come back to bite me. I’ve had to work with that person on a project or ask them for a favor -- every time!
I assume that everyone I meet will re-enter my life, so I try to be friendly, engaging and cultivate my relationships. Facebook, LinkedIn and networking groups like Emerging Arts Leaders/LA are low-pressure ways to stay in touch with people you meet at arts events and conventions.
And whenever you can ask for advice, do it! I have my social media guru friends, my marketing whiz friends, and my crazy-fundraising-scheme friends. We bounce ideas off of one another and trade favors. It keeps us connected, and lets us learn one another’s skill sets.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
You know, I’ve never been good at imagining where my life is going, and I don’t have one big career goal. My husband and I recently decided to write down our goals, both individual and shared. We didn’t plan it, but all of them focus on happiness, fulfillment and sense of purpose, instead of gaining a specific level of achievement or other outside success. Here are a few examples from my list:
-Time for writing, other art practice and reading
-Respected in my field for generosity, collaboration and mentorship
-Work for a nonprofit in the arts, with a mission I believe in
-Have a cat, dog, goats, bunnies, potential capybara, chinchilla, various other animals
So I don’t know if a capybara is really in my future, but reading our list always gets me excited about the future. It’s important to me to focus on why I do what I do and to what end, instead of getting hung up on extrinsic measures of success.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
When you’re just starting out, volunteer. Be the person who shows up at 7:30 a.m. to run the registration table, or who sweeps the floor after the event. Do the job well, smile, ask questions of those in charge, and stay in touch with them. They’ll remember you and opportunities will keep coming up, until you’re the one in charge!
And then: Make sure you talk to those volunteers at the registration table. When actor Kevin Spacey spoke at Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Day, he talked about his own mentor, Jack Lemmon’s, commitment to ‘sending the elevator back down’ to empower those just starting out. Even if you still consider yourself an emerging leader in your field, you can still send that elevator back down for the next generation.