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Exit Stage Knight

Departing United Arts President and CEO Margot Knight recounts her decade of creativity amid chaos

Photo: Chieu Nguyen, License: N/A

Chieu Nguyen

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Yeah, but that was political. That had nothing to do with our process. That had to do with an unfortunate series of emails that were untrue. That was somebody acting emotionally, and I include myself in that. I said something that was misinterpreted by Jose Fajardo [WMFE president and chief executive officer] that he shared with his board that got to Mayor Crotty, and, to be honest, we had a conversation about it and he said, ‘We’ll never speak of it again.’ And, honestly, I’m violating the agreement of never speaking of it again by speaking now. I so respected Mayor Crotty for that. He understood, it was done, and we moved on. It was just an unfortunate series of events.

When you throw politics into the arts blender, it all comes down to a matter of controversy. We all know the story of arts being pulled out of schools, and government arts funding is perpetually vulnerable. How much has politics polluted, not necessarily the process of what you’re doing, but the ability to do so?

The number one concern that I have is the hallucination that elected officials might have is that the arts are a frill and nonessential. And so my job is to always be an interpreter. I feel like I have one foot in business and one foot in arts to interpret the myriad ways that the arts contribute to a stronger community. And politicians and elected officials want their communities to be better, so if children having arts education makes for a better academic education, which it does, then school board members need to understand those statistics. If economic impact of the arts and the ability of the arts to attract and retain executive labor and creative workers [matters], then that’s the case. My job has always been to interpret the way that people care about their community, in ways that include the arts.

I’m hearing from people that I know that are in these meetings where the board is discussing your replacement with the arts groups, and they’re like chickens with their heads cut off. They don’t know how to replace Margot Knight.

All of us are and are not replaceable. That’s the beauty of the human spirit. Someone will come with different ideas, with a different direction, with leadership skills and the ability to live them. My most important thing that leadership is about is followership; leadership is about listening to other people.

But how do you listen when there are so many moving parts? You sleep rarely.

Think about this: eight governments and you have to make the rounds of the big ones at least twice with every commissioner, because you don’t want to violate Sunshine Laws. And the worst for me is someone sitting in the audience as someone with power who has a misunderstanding about something that we do. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me if they understand, but when they don’t understand and their premise was false, and then they make a decision that hurts the arts community, I am dying a thousand deaths.

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