Alexander Koutelias is a U.S. citizen from Sarasota, Florida that has been involved in the arts and culture from a young age. He worked at an art museum, a university foundation, an opera company, and an NGO in the Netherlands before joining MMIAM’s 7th cohort and graduating in August 2020. He chose MMIAM because of the program’s global perspective in a managerial setting. He currently lives in Montréal, Canada and is the Administrative and Development Coordinator for the Orchestre classique de Montréal.
What skills gained from the MMIAM program do you use at your current job?
In the arts world, there are always crises. Sometimes you will have to drop what you’re working on and start doing something else instantly. Then, a few hours (or days) later, you have to return to your original project. Given this reality, I’m glad I learned time management and how to prioritize a lot of tasks at once through my MMIAM coursework.
In my role, I oversee all of the fundraising initiatives, but I also have to be ready to help out the Executive Director or my other colleagues whenever necessary. My regular work includes handling our corporate sponsorships and relations with the three governmental arts funding bodies: the Montréal Arts Council, Quebec Council of Arts and Letters, and Canada Council for the Arts, and overseeing all our fundraising initiatives and donor stewardship.
An important part of my MMIAM out-of-classroom learning was when we met with SMU alum James Jillson , who is now the Director of Development of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. James’ presentation on fundraising and stewardship strategy was a particularly eye-opening lesson.
Additionally, my work concerning the three governmental arts funding bodies involves a lot of financial statements and spreadsheets, so I use budgeting and financial analysis a lot in my role. I’m thankful for the MMIAM courses that helped me become proficient in reading and analyzing financial statements, particularly Maureen Mixtacki ’s class at SMU.
What kind of connections were you able to make during the MMIAM program? Have these been beneficial to you?
I am deeply grateful for MMIAM positioning me to have a good entry into the arts sector. I got a job offer the day after my thesis defense in a foreign country and in a province where the official language is not my native language.
The best part of the program was the opportunity to meet such a diverse array of arts leaders from many different companies and organizations. In Dallas we met with Heritage Auctions, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the Dallas Opera and many more. In Montréal a professor linked me with a major leader in the Montréal art world who is now a mentor and has continued to provide me guidance.
Given my current work, I’m thankful for how MMIAM taught me how to ask the right questions, what tools to use to address problems, and how to balance the expectations and needs of the many stakeholders in the arts and cultural sector.
How have you seen or experienced the impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture, especially in Canada?
Living in Montréal, I went from attending two in-person performances per week to zero performances from March to August. I was able to attend three more when the city was back open in August and September, and then everything shut back down in October. It has been very tough on Montréal which is a city with a large arts and culture sector and a population that appreciates it.
In the summer and early fall, there was a lot of controversy because the provincial government was putting restrictions on performance halls and arts organizations that were harsher than those implemented in higher risk enterprises: restaurants, bars, and gyms. Indeed, a leader of a major arts organization and a bishop of Montréal sent a joint letter to the provincial government about the unfairness of the restrictions that were imposed on religious institutions and arts and cultural institutions.
The Orchestre classique de Montréal has responded to the pandemic by hiring a broadcasting company to broadcast the entire 2021 season. They hired this company back in the summer, so it was very good planning on their part. This has allowed us to continue to produce a full season of concerts, despite so far not having an in-person audience.
One thing the Quebec provincial government is doing to help arts organizations is allowing them to apply to receive lost revenue from ticket sales funds. Each arts organization is eligible for 75% of the total expected lost box office revenue between October 1, 2020 (when the second partial shutdown began) and March 31, 2021.
This is our first time selling tickets internationally and it’s been quite successful. So far this season, we’ve sold tickets in 11/13 Canadian provinces and 21/50 U.S. states, as well as in Mexico, the UK, Italy, Austria, and Australia. My colleagues and I are impressed, not only with the success of online ticket sales, but also with the generosity of donors beyond Québec who are appreciative of our efforts to produce and present high quality performances online.
What are your long term goals in arts management?
From a young age, I’ve had a deep passion for the arts that came from being born and raised in a culturally vibrant city, Sarasota, Florida. From 9 to 18 I sang opera in an opera program, the Sarasota Youth Opera, which is organized by Sarasota Opera. The program impacted me a lot. It’s open to any youth who is interested in the program, regardless of talent or ability to pay. Having a welcoming arts organization and passionate arts professionals as a constant in my youth made a major impact on me.
As I grew up, colleagues and mentors helped me realize that I had a potential knack for business. I knew I could use my talents to benefit the arts and causes that I was so passionate about. For any prospective students who might be applying to MMIAM from a liberal arts school, don’t be intimidated by never having studied business. My liberal arts background allowed me contextualize my coursework and to have a deeper understanding in how to balance the perspectives and needs of stakeholders in decision making.
In the long term, I would like to be the executive director of an arts organization. Arts managers are the stewards of the arts of the past, but we are also capable of and must listen to and amplify the voices of the people, artists, and communities of the present. And we need to do both with the utmost quality and respect for the cultures and perspectives from the past and the present. This is one reason I’m so glad to be working with the Orchestre classique de Montréal – I think they are a good example of this.
Additionally I enjoy the wide variety of people I get to interact with in my line of work: artists, business-minded people, donors, board members, stage technicians and soon once again, an in-person public. I especially enjoy working with passionate people, whether they be colleagues in the office, donors, or artists. That is something I really appreciate about the arts: for art to be created, it brings a wide variety of people together, and much of the time, they’re driven by this deep passion.
*Alex Koutelias’ headshot by Keegan Boulineau.