By Lisa Mackay
Stephen Schroeder received the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management in 2006. At the time he was Executive Director of One Yellow Rabbit. Now the Executive Director of the Calgary International Film Festival, he spoke to me about receiving the award and the effect it has had on his career and the companies he has worked with over the years.
How aware of the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management were you prior to receiving it in 2006?
I was well aware of the award; in fact, I was nominated for the inaugural award in 2003 and was there when it was awarded to Bob McPhee at the Mayor’s Lunch for the Arts. I thought Bob was the perfect recipient as someone who had done so much for Calgary Opera and for the arts sector – I was thrilled for him.
The exciting thing about this new Rozsa Award was that as far as I knew, it was one of the only ones of its kind in Canada at that point to recognize and celebrate arts administrators. That made it special as an award that went beyond local recognition, it held national significance as well, and I really felt that when I received it in 2006.
The exciting thing about this new Rozsa Award was that as far as I knew, it was the only one of its kind in Canada at that point to recognize and celebrate arts administrators. That made it special as an award that went beyond local recognition, it held national significance as well.
What were the immediate impacts of receiving the Award, both personally, professionally, and for One Yellow Rabbit?
Well, for One Yellow Rabbit (OYR), it was huge in terms of recognizing that the company was not only creatively significant, but that it was a fiscally solid and well-managed organization. The art that OYR was putting on stage and touring was experimental, breaking molds and pushing boundaries, so to be able to pair that with an award for excellence in arts management was really meaningful. The company was growing rapidly at that time; the High Performance Rodeo was establishing itself as a major player on the arts scene, growing from audiences of 5,000 to 6,000 in 1999 when I arrived to over 20,000 in 2006. That external recognition that it was being done responsibly and sustainably, that administrative respectability, it put wind in the sails of that creative growth.
Personally, it had an enormous impact. My entire career up to that point, and indeed right up to today, has been based in Calgary, and being a part of building a great city was very important to me. Around 2006, Calgary was having an incredible economic boom, which was great for many sectors, but put a lot of strain on artists and the arts. Things like office space, rent, and housing prices were ballooning beyond the reach of people in the arts sector, and there was a lot of talk of losing bench strength in the arts as a result. The money I received with the award enabled me to really put down roots in the city with a down-payment on a house, and I am so grateful for that.
The money I received with the award enabled me to really put down roots in the city with a down-payment on a house, and I am so grateful for that.
Professionally, my career gained more attention with the award, which also helped me be able to stay here long term and build my career in Calgary.
Part of the philosophy of these awards is that by celebrating and strengthening arts managers, the sector will be strengthened as they as they move to different organizations. Do you feel that this is the case? Would you say that Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) has benefited as well?
Oh, I think so. A huge part of receiving the award is all the professional development that comes with it. Many of us recipients used to joke about being careful what you wished for, because along with the honour and recognition of receiving the Rozsa Award came a whole lot of work and a huge time commitment! The biggest part of this was the course we took at the Haskayne School of Business, prior to the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP) being established. I believe it was called Business Essentials, and it was described as a mini-MBA program. It was otherwise filled with people from corporate Calgary, and it covered aspects of modern business, from Human Resources to Marketing to Accounting and Financial Management. I remember learning so much from a course that focused entirely on negotiating. I had learned business practices on the job, and being able to go deeper into each area and match my experience with all the different theories and schools of thought made a huge difference for me.
I had learned business practices on the job, and being able to go deeper into each area and match my experience with all the different theories and schools of thought made a huge difference for me.
The other way I think the award helped with my professional development was being on the jury for the award the following year. Again, it was a huge time commitment, but it was inspiring to learn about the nominees and the amazing things they were doing with their companies. To be able to see how people were approaching the same challenges that all arts managers face with innovation and creativity had a real impact on me. It was quite humbling.
I obviously brought what I learned with me to CIFF, which was in a bit of a precarious situation when I arrived. The founders had established something really successful that was fully supported by Calgarians, but it was a victim of its own success in a way. It had just grown faster than the systems that supported it, and it’s easy for a company to lose its bearings with such rapid growth. The award had equipped me with the skills and knowledge I needed to build up the systems the festival needed, and I think knowing the new Executive Director had received the award and had this professional training helped to reassure funders and stake-holders. It helped to reset the narrative around the festival.
When you think of the impact the Rozsa Foundation has had on you, and the other arts groups and managers that have come through the awards and programs, what come to mind?
Well, the impact of the awards is clear and present. The act of celebrating great management builds credibility for the sector and links into the business community. It also creates a bar for arts managers to reach for, and the encouragement to get there. Knowing that there is recognition for your work as an arts manager can keep you motivated to excel. The awards celebrations themselves are also major events in the arts community. It is a rare opportunity to gather with a large number of your peers, from organizations big and small, of every discipline, and celebrate the hard work that you do. It a great networking and community-building event in and of itself.
Knowing that there is recognition for your work as an arts manager can keep you motivated to excel.
As for the Rozsa Foundation, it is unique in the way it systematically and thoroughly works not just to support the sector but to build and strengthen it. Its size compared to other funding bodies means it can be flexible and nimble and pivot to support the arts where it is most needed and has the most lasting impact. For me it is that really strategic approach to sector building, above and beyond providing funds, that is a hallmark of the Rozsa Foundation.
Certainly the impact the Rozsa Foundation has had for me personally is that I was able to do what I wanted and build my career in Calgary. It is also powerful to be recognized, to know that the Rozsa Foundation believes in you. This year has been rough for all of us in the arts, and indeed hard on almost all businesses, and the spring was a true struggle for survival. Those of us who ran arts companies woke up every day and thought “today I keep the company alive by the skin of my teeth.” At CIFF, we were working towards producing a full hybrid festival despite Covid-19, and we really had no idea if it was going to going to work. We can now celebrate that it was a great success, but at the time we did not take its viability for granted. It was a lot of acute stress, but every day I would glance at the award in my office, and it had a real psychological effect on me. I would look at it and feel lifted up, and start thinking “we can do it, we’re going to make it.”
... every day I would glance at the award in my office, and it had a real psychological effect on me. I would look at it and feel lifted up, and start thinking “we can do it, we’re going to make it.”