Some people with a strong background in science, like Galileo and Einstein, also have a passion for the arts. For David Bander, MFA ’13, his undergraduate work in applied biology became a foundation for pursuing his passion for theater.
Bander began performing as a young child and acted in college but majored in applied biology. Realizing he wanted to stay within the arts, Bander looked for a program that put his math and science skills to good use. The MFA in Arts Leadership enabled him to “make creativity his day job,” exactly as the program advertises. Today, Bander is the Director of Operations at the Kirkland Performance Center, a 394-seat theater.
Located in the heart of downtown Kirkland, WA, the center had fallen on hard times just a couple years ago. Under new leadership, the center had its best season last year. Shows are selling out, and audience numbers are up. Bander plays no small part in this continuing success.
Bander develops the first draft of the organization’s master budget and works closely with the Executive Director and Director of Finance on the overall vision and direction of the theater. He supervises the Box Office Manager, Technical Director, and House Manager, the heart and soul of the organization's day-to-day operations. He also manages the Director of Programming who scouts all the talent and brings him proposals for shows. Bander must carefully determine not only the costs involved in bringing in a show but the audience it will attract.
“I’m looking at a group to see how much it will cost us, what the average ticket price is, what the average ticket sales are, and how well they are selling at other venues to see if it would be a good fit for what we are doing here in Kirkland,” he said. “I do a lot of number crunching. To be successful, we need to bring in programming that people want to see while still maintaining our artistic vision. My job is to make sure that at the end of the day, we have a strong bottom line that will enable us to continue to provide arts and entertainment to the community.”
Bander credits the MFA’s educational model as giving him both the classroom skills and practical knowledge to help lead an arts organization. His classmates worked in theater, ballet, opera, museums, and galleries, giving him insights into the various ways arts organizations operate. The foundational classes gave him the necessary skills to address all facets of leading an arts organization--even though he was “terrified” of taking a fundraising class, he helped raise a record amount at the annual auction during his practicum with the Kirkland Performance Center. Not only was that experience a highlight of his practicum, it also led to a permanent position.
“Every day I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work,” he said. “The best part of my job here is that I get to really make a difference. I get to see great performances, and I get to make sure that through my skills and working with my staff, I am still able to bring great performances to Kirkland.”