Artfully Edmonds: ECA’s Jamie Herlich takes final bow as she moves to Seattle Repertory Theatre
Edmonds Center for the Arts has bid a fond farewell to Jamie Herlich, Director of Advancement and Communications. Herlich has been asked to fill the role of Director of Individual Gifts at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. The invitation from long-time mentor Ben Moore, Seattle Rep’s Managing Director, to take the newly created position at Seattle Rep came as something of a surprise. After a recent restructure of the internal workings of ECA, Jamie was not sure that she was ready to leave.
Jamie never intended to work behind the scenes in the arts. “I was kind of the black sheep of the family,” she told me over tea at Walnut Street Coffee. As a singer coming from an all-theater family, Herlich saw herself making a career in musical theater after college, but soon realized that she would either need to move to New York or “always be piecing things together” to make it happen in Seattle, due to the limited opportunities to perform at a professional level here. An artist at heart, Herlich also knew that whatever she did for a living would need to fulfill her spiritually, so she found her way into adoption, supervising the extremely detail-dependent adoptions from Russia and Kazakhstan with the organization WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents). In the fall of 2007, Herlich was alone in New York opening a new WACAP office, and decided to go see the play “August Osage County.” It changed everything. Watching the play, the thought came to her: “Adoption is something I believe in, but the arts are in my bones,” and suddenly she knew she was supposed to be in arts administration.
Within the year, Herlich had made the decision to pursue a degree in arts administration, with the idea that she would become a managing director of a theater. But she needed some professional reassurance before making the career change. In what she called a rather “ballsy” move, she contacted the nationally respected Ben Moore for an informational interview. The Rep has been “a percolating foundation” in Herlich’s life. Since her parents relocated their young family to Seattle, they have been season ticket holders for the Rep’s renowned performances. She knows the theater inside and out, and while as a young woman she may have been more likely to imagine herself onstage, she feels as though she is coming full circle in her journey through the world of performing arts. Moore has since told Herlich that he always responds to such requests because he considers it part of his duty “to give back to the field,” but rarely remembers the names and faces of those who come to him. Herlich stuck out, and her persistence and enthusiasm transformed their mentor-mentee relationship into a friendship.
In 2010, Herlich completed her MFA in Arts Leadership at Seattle University under the direction of Kevin Maifeld. When Joe McIalwain, another former student of Maifeld’s, contacted him for a recommendation of who to talk to about directing the development department of the fledgling Edmonds Center for the Arts, Herlich’s was the first name that came to mind. She was selected from a pool of applicants to take on the role of Development Director in April 2010, and was responsible for every last aspect of fundraising. Herlich and McIalwain had both been aware of a changing trend in non-profit arts organizations away from, as McIalwain put it, “a classic division of departments” focusing separately on aspects of public participation, toward a more fully integrated model that has potential to better recognize and communicate with patrons. When Marketing Manager Beth Braun left ECA a year ago, McIalwain took the opportunity to rethink ECA’s business model. He put marketing, development, and education and outreach under one umbrella, with Herlich supervising the Development Manager, Communications Manager, and Education & Outreach Manager. He wanted to “apply the same philosophy” as was used in higher-level fundraising to the equally important “transactional relationships” with ticket-buyers and renters. The new-found fluidity between departments would put ECA at an advantage to better assess the value of individual and corporate partners, create more potential for growth and become a more versatile community center. The last of the three management positions was only filled this summer, and Herlich, historically very careful and methodical about major changes in her personal life, was reluctant to leave at such a crucial moment for the organization she had helped to grow. She told me, though, that she has complete confidence in the people she has hired, and confidence in the soundness of the organization, so she knows that they will continue on an upswing even in her absence. She sounded envious, rather than anxious, about the opportunities her successor will enjoy as ECA continues on a track of success into its teenage years.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, the much older organization has been undergoing similar change. Ben Moore, who has been at the Rep for 28 years, recognized the need for a single leader over a fractured network of external departments. He promoted Katie Jackman to the position of Director of External Relations, and asked Herlich to direct one of the arms of External Relations as the Director of Individual Gifts. She will have four staff members and an intern working under her. Though Moore has been a mentor for Herlich since before she got started in arts administration, she says she “never once talked to him about hiring [her].”
In the three years that Herlich was with ECA, the organization nearly tripled its fundraising revenue. McIalwain chalks this up in part to Herlich’s unique donor approach. “She listens,” he emphasized, and makes sure that every investment is meaningful; that ticket-buyers and board members alike feel that they have a relationship with ECA that goes beyond the transaction. “This is a spirit I’d like to instill in the entire team,” McIalwain said. While Herlich’s job title put her most directly in the public eye, McIalwain noted that every person associated with ECA brings the same level of care and attention to their work as she did — that everyone wants ECA not only to succeed, but to flourish into the versatile community center it has all the potential to be. He is certain that the philosophy of the organization will remain strong despite personnel changes.
I asked Herlich what the most valuable thing she thinks she will bring from her time at ECA to her new position. She thought for a minute, and the response she came up with touched me. She said that she has learned a lot about her own skill set at ECA; that she is a detail-oriented yet very extroverted person is a rare combination, but it suits her career path perfectly. Going into the larger organization, she already sees a rift between patron-relations and data management, and hopes to be able to close that gap. She also said that McIalwain’s leadership model has affected her tremendously. He is a strong, yet empathetic and supportive leader, and she aspires to integrate his level of compassion into her own leadership abilities. Herlich says ECA “has a clear eye on the future,” with a new strategic plan in place, a highly engaged board, and strong community support. The next steps “come down to leadership focusing on the optimal opportunity to capitalize on first,” as there are so many promising possibilities to choose from.
“I don’t imagine that I’m not going to be around,” Herlich said. She will support ECA in a minimal capacity through the month as they prepare for the Red Carpet Gala on Sept. 28 and the season opening in October, and will act as a resource for her successor where necessary as he or she learns the ropes around the place.
Sketch comedy act “The Capitol Steps” opens ECA’s 2013-2014 season Saturday, Oct. 5!
– By Juliet Brewster
Artfully Edmonds columnist Juliet Brewster, an Edmonds native and Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate, has a degree in literature from Bennington College. To have your arts happening listed, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.