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Turning REAL’s Plans Into Reality - A conversation with REAL alumni Erin MacLean-Berko

Updated: Feb 21, 2020

Erin MacLean-Berko is the Managing Director for the Calgary Boys’ Choir Society and Manager for Spiritus Chamber Choir. She also does consulting as a grant writer in order to support Calgary's non-profit music community.

Geraldine: Hi Erin! Thanks so much for meeting with me today. This past year, you took the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program. It is now 6 months since the REAL final presentation, what has happened since then?

Erin: As a part of the REAL program, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Tony McGrath and together we identified some gaps in the Calgary arts environment. Since then, I’ve been working on creating an arts administrative incubator in order to connect individuals who are experts in their fields with small arts organizations who require that support. Areas such as bookkeeping and finance, development, and marketing to start.

Geraldine: What complex issue are you trying to solve with this idea?

Erin: I have been wondering how smaller non-profit arts groups can succeed with limited administrative supports. I have also been wondering where these groups can go to find administrative resources. For example, if a board or GM needs grant-writing or maybe graphic design work for their marketing collaterals– where do they go to ask for help?

Geraldine: Why do you want to develop this idea?

Erin: For so many reasons! Because the arts manager of a small arts organization is generally expected to do and know everything or we rely on volunteers to bring in their expertise. A volunteer might always be responsible for writing grant applications, but when they leave, it is up to the arts manager to fill that gap. Our job is always in flux in order to meet the needs of our organization.

As an arts manager, I need to be specific about what I can and can’t do and I need to work with the board to find the expertise to get the job done. Arts managers often work 10 hours/week for one organization, and they need to be flexible to the needs of that organization while still working 2 or 3 other jobs. This can lead to significant burnout and a great deal of turnover for that position.

Geraldine: Can you share what a week in your life looks like as an arts manager?

Erin: On Mondays, I work on curriculum development for St. Thomas United children’s program. On Tuesdays to Thursdays, I am at cSpace King Edward, alternating between work for Spiritus and the Calgary Boys’ Choir; writing grants, organizing concerts, registrations, bookkeeping, marketing strategies, those kinds of things. Tuesdays are also rehearsal nights, so as a manager I try to attend in order to connect with members and reassure them (and myself!) that this work is all for them and for our audiences. A good GM is always present and available - the more supported the group and the artistic directors are, the more fruitful and productive those relationships will be. Thursday nights I teach music history, voice lessons, and I direct a free community children’s choir in NW Calgary. On Friday, I try to prepare for weekend rehearsals, workshops, and performances!

Geraldine: That sounds like a very busy schedule! How do you juggle everyone’s requests?

Erin: It’s challenging. I have a duty to be working at 100% for each organization and so I really need to pay attention to the big picture. Sometimes when volunteers or board members are texting or calling me – they don’t understand that I’m doing other work. It’s challenging because I don’t want to alienate them when they have time to connect, but they also need to understand that I might be in a lesson preparing a student to take an exam, or whatever else the case might be.

Geraldine: How do you create boundaries?

Erin: The Rozsa Foundation Arts Leadership Programs have helped me to better articulate my limitations and boundaries, but also my goals and projects with board members and volunteers. I’ve also developed the ability to triage tasks and the needs of my members by putting transparency and communication at the fore.

Geraldine: You mentioned that you would like to create an arts admin incubator. What is the purpose?

Erin: My vision for this is that there will be a space in Calgary where boards and managers can go, reflect on their organization with either myself or another arts manager and identify areas that require additional support. Every organization is unique and their needs, challenges, and budgets are equally so. We would then collaboratively select a professional who specializes in that area. It’s about connectivity in what can sometimes feel like a pretty isolating area of entrepreneurship.

Geraldine: Who are these individuals you will be connecting small arts organizations to?

Erin: My aim is to provide similar work to the same people. For example, if you are an up-and-coming graphic designer but are only doing that 30% of your time and want to do more – we can connect you to other arts organizations who are looking for graphic design work. Not only will you have more work doing what you love, but the organizations will gain significant efficiencies by having a specialist doing those tasks, all while working within their budget.

Additionally, it empowers the arts manager to handle those expectations, allowing them to say: “I’m unable to complete this well” or “I need support with this ‘grant,’ ‘financials,’ ‘marketing strategy’” whatever it might be. In turn, this will help to prevent both burnout and organizations potentially losing their single administrative staff member, because there will be somewhere to ask for support.

Geraldine: What do you see as the result of your idea?

Erin: I see this as an opportunity to support arts managers because when an organization can maximize efficiencies, they then have the ability to produce innovative, creative, and significant programs. I believe this will impact and enrich Calgary’s arts/music scene.

Geraldine: Can our readers contact you to explore this in further detail?

Erin: Yes! I can be reached at

The Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program has been extended to Friday, December 13th, 2020. Ten individuals will be accepted into the program to lead and explore challenges and opportunities within their own organization and the arts sector.

Not sure if you are eligible? Have questions about the Canada Alberta Job Grant (CAJG)? Self-employed or a volunteer and need further tuition subsidies? Please contact Geraldine Ysselstein, Arts Leadership Director at or 403-245-6063 for more details.

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