January 2018

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January 2018

Thoughts from Mark Shanda

USITT President

In my new job, I am struggling a bit at learning all the ins and outs of our financial system. Despite the apparent ease of chip-embedded credit cards and online purchasing possibilities, the required sequence of events and necessary documentation to make a purchase is a bit daunting and not at all intuitive. I fully understand the need to be “fiscally responsible,” as at work I am truly spending other peoples’ money, and I try very hard to do the “right thing” with the trust that has been vested in me, but at times, a simple transaction appears to require a tremendous amount of time and effort.

Years ago, in navigating another land grant institution’s money handling bureaucracy, I presented an “emergency” request to be authorized to be able to buy some candles and artificial flowers to complete the set dressing of a production two days before opening. The kind clerk behind the counter looked straight at me and questioned how this request could possibly be an emergency. As I was attending a land grant institution with a large agricultural operation, she went on to explain, that “if the cows in the field were without feed for a day or two ... in the snow ... that might qualify as an emergency.” Once schooled in this standard, the candles and flowers seemed rather inconsequential in part to me, certainly to her, but not at all to the director. (I think I eventually just used my own money to solve the problem.)

Each of us works within systems of bookkeeping and accountability that have arisen to prevent abuse and provide transparency. At best, these systems serve to make our artistic endeavors easier, and, at worst, we are forced to develop creative work arounds simply to get our jobs done. I am constantly asking here, “are these strings that we have added to this funding, or are these strings requirements demanded by someone else.” Wherever possible, I am cutting our self-imposed strings and questioning those of others. Occasionally I am successful in my drive for simplification, and sometimes I become truly educated in “why” something must be done a certain way and then that action becomes that much more palatable.

As leaders in the performing arts, we hunger for clarity of process and acceptance of responsibility. We strive for that in our work places and require it in our volunteer organizations. This Institute heavily relies on literally hundreds of members who give freely of their time and who, when they act in a responsible manner, help us to achieve great things. From time to time, however, individuals can drop the ball and the work of the Institute suffers. At the same time, our own processes and procedures can get in our way of achieving the goals that we set out to reach. Therefore, they remain under constant refinement and have personal accountability.

Approaching our work with a collaborative and positive attitude works wonders. Maintaining an effective flow of communication and recognizing all of us are working towards the same goals helps to spread the necessary empathy to be successful. Listening with an open mind and sharing with each our understanding of the standards to be applied when taking action also works to serve us well. Working together is complex but understanding each other’s point of view is the first step to outstanding achievement.

Mark Shanda

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Mark at mark.shanda@uky.edu.