From Washington DC to Salt Lake City:
How Nancy Boskoff became Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council
I met Nancy Boskoff when I was in law school in Washington, DC. She was a refreshing change from the intensity of the legal profession. Nancy balanced her love of the arts with a love of reading which dates back to winning the local spelling bee in junior high school. She’s been the Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council since 1987. Her sister, Susan Boskoff, is the Executive Director of the Nevada Arts Council.
WRR: How did you become an arts administrator?
NANCY BOSKOFF: Our parents introduced us to all types of art when we were growing up (theatre, dance, music, visual arts, literature). I stopped dance (mostly ballet) classes in junior high because I thought I was more interested in music at the time. However, when I was a freshman in college, I took a modern dance class to fulfill a phys-ed requirement and just loved it. I went to modern dance performances (I was going to school in Chicago) and the choreography really spoke to me. I had always liked ballet; I think it was the contemporary expression in modern dance that won me over.
After a break, I ended up at the University of Maryland which had a dance program, and that’s what I chose as my major. I loved all aspects of the studies (physical expression, music, lighting, costumes, choreography, history). Altho’ I was an adequate dancer, I wasn’t good enough to make it in New York, so I moved on, teaching dance after I graduated and finding other day jobs to earn a living. One aspect of studying dance that has served me well ever since was the discipline I learned from the program. As musicians rehearse, as athletes work out, as writers write, dancers have to take class every day and put in the hours both for physical development as well as to perfect the details of a performance.
One of my day jobs was working at a neighborhood art center in Far Northeast Washington, DC. I did a combination of teaching young people and administrative work in the office (thank goodness our dad made us take typing classes). From there, I moved more into arts administration and less into the teaching and performing aspects of dance. Now I’m a long-time arts administrator.
WRR: You grew up in the East. What culture shocks did you find moving West?
NANCY BOSKOFF: The West is quite beautiful so the daily aspects of life here always include great vistas, nearby mountain ranges, a diversity of plants and animals (sometimes deer visit our park in the winter). So the physical setting was not shocking at all to become accustomed to. In Utah, when I first moved here in 1980, there wasn’t a lot of cultural diversity so that took some getting used to. There were so many blonde-haired, blue-eyed folks, I felt a little like an ethnic minority (just kidding). We have had quite an immigration of people from around the world (for jobs, as refugees, and to some degree because of the LDS [Later Day Saints] Church), so that aspect of living here is now much less homogeneous. Utah, I think, does differ from other western states because of that homogeneity. There is less direct confrontation when people disagree, altho’ that is changing, especially with the next generation of folks and the evolution of politics which is now so closely tied to the Internet, which I think is very healthy.
Salt Lake City, Utah. Image Courtesy of the Utah Office of Tourism and Steve Greenwood
WRR: How did/does being Jewish/half-Jewish, liberal/somewhat liberal factor in to working in Mormon/Republican towns.
NANCY BOSKOFF: Because I work in the arts, those have really not been issues for me. I think had I worked, especially when I first moved to Utah, in public education or banking, for example, there would have been more a feeling of inclusion or exclusion, depending on background and politics. In the arts, people tend to be less mainstream, regardless of their background.
WRR: What’s the general scope of your job as executive director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council?
NANCY BOSKOFF: We’re a municipal agency (public employees) and our offices are in a 75+ year old building in a city park that has been a community art center since its doors opened in the early 1930s. As director, I’m a manager of people, budgets and planning, and a representative of the City in the arts community. Our work is balanced between public programming like visual arts exhibits, a folklife festival and a huge summer concert series, and support of other arts activities in the community through a grants program, technical assistance and information services (www.slcgov.com/arts).
WRR: How much is devoted to the administrative end (fund-raising, hiring/firing, etc.) vs. focusing on creativity. How does the administrative part impact creativity and vice-versa?
NANCY BOSKOFF: I’m not working in this capacity as an artist. I do think, however, that all good managers are creative and that’s particularly true in the arts and nonprofit sectors. We finally added another staff position a year ago, which has freed me to do more in the areas of advocacy and raising our profile, which does engage the creative side of me. We also do a lot of publications and of course, the writing and the design involve creative activity as well. We believe in hiring professionals (to recognize their skills and experience and to help them make a living in Salt Lake) so we engage exhibit installers, graphic designers, sound engineers and so on.
WRR: What are the pros and cons of being women in the arts? Having a sister in the arts?
NANCY BOSKOFF: I couldn’t swear to this but I think there are more women than men working in the arts. I think that is partly due to lower pay and more demands for your time. So it’s really not as much of an issue as it might be in other fields.
It’s been great to have a sister working in the same field. We share stories all the time; and give each other assistance and information that is helpful. Because I’m working at the municipal level and Susan’s working at the state level, we often have access to information that the other doesn’t. It’s also good for a laugh when people hear we’re in the same field. People also confuse us by name, but that’s pretty much happened throughout our lives. Our parents were somewhat puzzled when we both became arts administrators. Our path to this profession is not uncommon. Many people study an art form in college (Susan has a degree in film and video) and then move on to administrative positions to make a living.
I love this field, despite the downsides. It’s challenging and rewarding. And I know that I’m contributing to the community which is a value instilled in us by our parents.
WRR: What about your arts is unique to the Salt Lake City/Utah region? Is there something Utahn about the Creative process.
NANCY BOSKOFF: People are sometimes shocked by the quality and quantity in the arts in our state, particularly considering the size of the population. There has been a grand history of the arts here, starting of course, with the Native Americans. When the pioneers came to settle, they included the arts early on and the Utah Arts Council was founded in 1899 by the Legislature, the first state arts agency in the country.
I think the physical surroundings affect artists directly in their work, either by incorporating a strong sense of place or by expressing themselves in opposition (urban art forms, political work, etc.). In Salt Lake, we have some terrific venues. The public cultural facilities are both beautiful and functional. I love the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (which Susan helped to develop). Artists love working in the space and the audiences love it too.
WRR: Are you involved with Sundance and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
NANCY BOSKOF: Sundance is now a global phenomenon which happens to be based in Utah. It is dedicated to the work of the artist (screenwriters, playwrights, directors, actors, musicians, etc.).
The Tabernacle Choir is one of the great large vocal choirs in the country, and requires great time commitment and dedication from its members.
WRR: What venues should people know about?
Two programs that we manage: The Living Traditions Festival (a Pow Wow Demonstration is show above) and the Twilight Concert Series do surprise many out-of-staters. The first is a folk-life festival (celebrating its 25th anniversary last year) like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Considering our image as homogeneous, we worked with the Utah Folk Arts program to identify and present art forms from ethnic groups who make Salt Lake City their home, from Irish and Scottish to Sudanese to Vietnamese and of course Mexican. It’s quite successful (attendance about 50,000) and brings people together to enjoy our diversity while eating great traditional food, watching music and dance performances, playing bocce ball or talking to ethnic craft artists.
The second program is a free weekly concert series in July and August with an audience that now averages about 20,000 to 25,000 people per concert. The Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau loves it for putting Salt Lake in a cosmopolitan light as much as the locals do, because each concert is a music festival in itself. The artistic direction has always aimed for the adventurous and is now focusing on indie-rock and indie-folk. We have a lot of talented artists and a number of good colleges and universities at which artists can study: Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Utah Valley University, Southern Utah University (home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival), Utah State University. They all have solid music, dance, theatre and visual arts programs.
WRR: Do any art forms dominate more than others – voice, theatre, dance, art, etc.
NANCY BOSKOFF: In the past, the performing arts, especially theatre, have been embraced by Utahns. This is a center for dance and we have a strong ballet company (Ballet West) as well as two very good modern dance companies. (Repertory Dance Theatre, which I saw perform at the Kennedy Center when I was in college, and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company)
Our symphony was founded during the WPA era. In the last 10 years, it has been rewarding to see the visual arts garnering more interest and we have a lot of galleries, artist studio complexes and a very successful monthly Gallery Stroll. Writers have always been hard at work here and we have reading series, writing competitions and some small presses who publish their work.
WRR: Your websites indicate you focus on individuals, schools and organizations. How does one impact the other? How much support do you get from other entities?
NANCY BOSKOFF: In our case, about half of our funding comes from Salt Lake City and the balance is from earned income, grants and program sponsors.
WRR: What Utah art-related events do you enjoy?
NANCY BOSKOFF: I just attended a Utah Symphony concert with the new conductor, Thierry Fischer. The energy between him and the musicians was terrific. I also attended the opening screening in Salt Lake for the Sundance Film Festival: good movie, great cast. And I read a novel over the holidays written by a Salt Lake native, Ron Carlson, which was wonderful.
Joe practiced law in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 14 years and designed large scale databases for AT&T for five years. He currently works for NextLevel Web Strategies, a legal marketing firm based in Princeton, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received his J.D. from George Washington Law School and he has a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Drexel University.
Joe’s book, Philadelphia Originals, was released for publication by Schiffer Publishing in 2009. The book shows that the unique styles (how Philadelphians paint, sing, practice law, tell a joke, cook) of Philadelphia’s most notable professions can be traced back to the perfect complement of the spiritual William Penn and the practical Benjamin Franklin.
His second project. Philadelphia Before You Were Born, is a study of the last time Philadelphia newspapers used artists for all their illustrations. It was published in 2011.
Joe’s many other published writings include a humorous look at book clubs for the Bucks County Writer and the literary stages of a baseball season for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also writes the Interviews with the Famously Departed Column for the Wild River Review.
Joe Glantz in this Edition
Dick Perez: Sports Artist for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Phillies
From Washington DC to Salt Lake City: How Nancy Boskoff became Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council