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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

They wanted nodding heads.

But I personally made a $5,000 donation, so I’m not without support. I am a supporter. There’s no question.

But you’re such a polarizing character. You may not want to go into the rumor zone, but let’s talk about the Orange Appeal magazine ordeal [Knight was allegedly, and apparently, airbrushed out of a DPAC puff piece in the magazine]. It was a little bit mean girls, right? It was the ultimate vilification of you and the vilification of truth to boosterism power.

I understand the big ‘mo’ [momentum], I get the big ‘mo.’ I understand the need to circle the wagons and the nowhere-in-the-room strategy. I get that. I just wish that was the case about the inclusiveness of the locally owned arts community, and I include myself in that circle. You yourself reported when [DPAC] says [it] talked to Fringe, and Beth Marshall has never had a conversation [see ‘Keeping up appearances,’ March 24, 2010], that’s troubling to me. That is where I have difficulty. I can even understand ‘We haven’t talked to them yet.’ I don’t like it, but I get it. But actively saying you’ve done things when you haven’t, that rubs me the wrong way.

It’s like they’re justifying something that they know isn’t there. That never happens in local government.

We are, and I say this with love, a third-tier cultural community. I don’t use the W word, ‘world class.’ We are millions of dollars away, no matter how fancy our buildings are, from being a top-tier cultural destination. Now, there is an avenue for us. I truly believe that. There’s an avenue for us because we’re number one per capita in performers and entertainers because of the theme parks. That’s a rich vein of artistic talent that I think Beth Marshall and the folks at Fringe have done a great job to expose to our local community and are starting to tour nationally. And you see it in our contemporary dance community. I think if we wanted to focus on being top-tier, that if we focus on arts education for children – or out-there art, other art – there’s a path for us there. But try to compete in the symphonic or the ballet – the traditional art forms? There are 19 full-time symphony orchestras in this country and they’re in the 20-, 30-, 40-million-dollar range – that’s the total of all our budgets, so that’s an unrealistic thing. But there is a path for us because of the sheer talent we have, so that’s what we should work.

What’s your sense upon leaving the organization? United Arts has grown into something polarizing, seminal, wonderful and despised. It’s inspired people through small grants and large grants alike.

Right, and it’s not just about grants. The campaign itself now provides 41 percent of the contributed income to the cultural community – outside of the big ones that are part of the fund – and that’s a seriously big responsibility. … But beyond that, we’re a full-service local arts council. Sometimes people think all we do is grants, and it’s so much more than that. It’s trying to be everywhere that art might happen. It’s a good job. It’s a 70-hour-a-week job, but it’s a good job for the right person. I had a bad day and I texted to somebody ‘You’d have to be crazy to get the job. No! Please hire the next person that’s just a little bit crazier!’ I try to say it without being whiny, but everybody wants a piece of you all the time. It’s like being a rich person, because people think the money is mine. But the money isn’t mine, though I do have a very big responsibility for it. And the assumptions people make are just constant. You have to be vigilant about educating, about patience, which I mostly have, but sometimes I snap. It is a constant job because the arts are not in its own little bubble. The arts are part of everything.

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