As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.
C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.
With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Lara Smith.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I’m the Managing Director at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
My mom was a high school drama teacher and I was in my first show when I was seven. I was in thirty shows before I was eighteen. I knew I wanted to be in theatre. It wasn’t until I was in college that I fell in love with the administrative side of things.
Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up?
Honestly, when I was younger I was a bit of a theatre elitist. I wanted drama only –something that reflected the realities of the world. It was only as I got older that I appreciated musicals and comedy.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
Definitely my mom. She is the most courageous person I know. She greets the world with honesty, humor, and joy. Through a brain tumor, heart attack, multiple bouts of spinal stenosis, and other medical and personal crisis, she’s always found reasons to joke, take care of others, and find joy in the small things in life. I’ve learned how to prioritize my life, what compassion means, and how to show up for others in my life because of the example of my mom.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I’ve always known I’d be in the arts. From the time I was in my very first show at the tender age of 7. From 7 until 15, I thought I’d be an actor. Then from 15 to 20, I thought I’d be a stage manager. Then I knew I should be a Managing Director. I worked towards that goal until I was lucky enough to land my first gig of Managing Director at twenty-four. Which means I’ve been in this profession for six years now.
How is art a passion for you?
The thing I’ve always appreciated about the arts is that it creates connections where other things cannot. You create connections with the other audience members and with the artists. You think you’re about to sit back, relax, and enjoy a show, but in reality, your whole worldview may be put into question. It’s because you weren’t expecting this that you are in a place where your own opinions and world views can actually be changed.
What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts?
As a woman who co-leads a theatre that specializes in an art form traditionally dominated by men, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about equality and representation in general. It’s an issue that goes beyond theatre or arts, so it’s definitely too complicated to put together a quick response for a blog post. Organizations, art, and basically any group of people are stronger the more diverse the group is. For me, it’s about creating more opportunities for people to join the dialogue. We need to create safe space for women, and other groups that traditionally haven’t had space at “the table” to be part of the larger dialogue. That’s why I’m so excited about Dad’s Garage’s season planning process– we don’t put it in the hands of just the artistic staff. Rather, the entire company gets to pitch and vote on projects they’d like to see on stage. In this way, we’e able to create a direct path to the audience for each of our artists.
What in your profession has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?
I cannot believe Dad’s Garage purchased and renovated the space at 569 Ezzard. It was a lot of work, and when it all came together it was incredibly fulfilling. In one short year, we executed at $2.8 million project with no history of capital campaigns. It was truly a team effort and it was incredible to see how we all worked together.
In terms of what I would change, I’ve got a specific story for a general issue. I got my first job as a Managing Director when I was only 24, and the majority of the board were men and over 40. I really struggled with finding my voice and taking charge of the room. I did an Executive exchange and got a piece of advice from the now-Managing Director of Seattle Rep. He told me that if I felt weird about my age, so would the people around me. It made me realize that I needed to embrace every single part of me. Age, gender, vulnerability, emotions, goofiness and all.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
When our Artistic Director Kevin Gillese moved to Atlanta, he described it as the Wild West. Basically, if you had an idea and felt passionately about it, you could get it done. I still think this is true. Atlanta has a wealth of talented individuals excited to try new things. And I think that’s a big part of what sets us a part.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community?
I view my job as an arts leader as removing the barriers for those around me to succeed. For Actor’s Express, that was helping find the funds to keep operating and for Dad’s Garage that’s been helping secure the space to continue operating. Atlanta has no shortage of artists with creative visions, and I believe my contribution is to help folks reach their potential in doing so.
Where can I learn more about your organizations and work?
For tickets and more info on Dad’s Garage: Dadsgarage.com
Lara Smith was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was in her first show when she was seven. By the time she graduated from high school, she had performed in nearly thirty shows. However, during that time she also discovered that she much preferred to be behind the scenes. She attended Webster University’s Theatre Conservatory and graduated on the Dean’s List and Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Stage Management. While studying, she created an internship at the Alliance Theatre in administration and production as well as at the Municipal Opera of St. Louis in administration.
In May 2007, Lara moved to Atlanta for the role of Development Director of Dad’s Garage. While there, she served as panelist and panel chair for the Fulton County Arts Council Small and Emerging Arts organizations panel; a panelist for the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Theatre panel; panelist for the Georgia Council for the Arts Theatre panel; and as founding Treasurer for the Inman Park Business Association board. She was a member of the 2008 Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta class.
Lara became the Managing Director of Actor’s Express in August 2010. While there, she helped lead the organization through a financial crisis and ultimately retired 26% of the debt in two years. In partnership with a consultant, she led the organization through a five year strategic planning process. While there she completed a certificate program in Nonprofit Governance Essentials from the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.
From there, Lara returned to Dad’s Garage in August 2012 to become Managing Director. She helped lead the organization through losing their home of 18 years, including securing temporary space and purchasing a long-term home through a nontraditional capital campaign. The new home, located in the Old Fourth Ward, opened to the general public in December 2015. Lara is a graduate of the LEAD Atlanta Class of 2014 and received a scholarship from the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta to attend an executive education course, Strategic Perspective in Nonprofit Management, at the Harvard Business School in July 2014. She is a board member for The Farmer Fund, which provides disaster relief to help keep farmers farming.
Lara was named one of the 40 under 40 in the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2015.