Michele Emslie Loves Art

Michele Emslie doesn’t even try to disguise her enthusiasm for her job as an arts administrator.

“ I love art. I love artists. I love what they give to the world,” she declares.

The Yukon Arts Centre’s community programming director is proud to live in a “fairly isolated and remote” place that “can boast a classical concert series, and a jazz series, and an arts centre, and, and, and, and…” she says.

“ The fact that we have all this art happening, created within our community and coming in from outside, is essential to our health and well-being.”

Emslie was entering Grade 2 when her family moved north from Fort Macleod, Alberta.

“ I remember that trip, and thinking my parents were dragging me literally to the end of the world,” she says.

After graduating from F. H. Collins Secondary School, Emslie went to the University of Lethbridge to study history and English.

In 1987, she landed a summer job with the Yukon Arts Council that included helping out with the first Yukon International Storytelling Festival.

From university, Emslie went to work for the Alberta Foundation for the Performing Arts in Edmonton.

“ I loved supporting artists,” she says. “I loved helping them achieve their dreams.”

During a Christmas visit home in 1990, she ran into storytelling fest co-founder Anne Tayler, who told her about an upcoming job opening.

“ I thought about it, and then came back to run the festival.”

At the time, Emslie had no idea studying arts administration at the post-graduate level was even an option.

“ I sort of got to where I am through really good mentors, astounding mentors,” she claims, rattling off such names as Tayler, Louise Profeit Leblanc, Chris Dray, and Laurel Parry.

In 1995, just before becoming pregnant with her first son, Emslie began a 14-year stint as organizer of the Whitehorse Concerts classical music series.

“ I loved that job and the people I worked with. It enabled me to work from home and bring up my children.”

Emslie admits her chosen career is not a path to fame and fortune.

“ If you work in the non-profit world, you’re not going to get rich and famous. It’s not something I really care about, anyway.”

Apart from being able to tell “the odd tall tale,” Emslie doesn’t claim much artistic talent of her own.

“ But I know artists need appreciators as much as they need anything else,” she says.

In addition to her paid jobs, Emslie has been an active volunteer with numerous organizations, including the Yukon Arts Centre’s (YAC) board of directors.

She resigned as vice chair of that board to take a contract administering the Culture Quest program.

For nearly six years, she also worked in the private sector for Magnum Opus Management, learning “the other side of the business, in terms of touring and supporting artists, and booking them.”

In 2009, she took on a “significant project” for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, working with Andrea Burgoyne from the YAC’s gallery office.

“ The two of us worked at one desk, and we’re still friends,” she quips.

With that behind her, Emslie’s role at YAC began to shift focus, to include administering the territory’s Culture Industries Training Fund.

“ Al Cushing had come on as CEO, and really wanted to find a way to start reaching out to the community more.”

One outgrowth of that new focus is this month’s Yukon Arts Presenters Summit at the High Country Inn, which will bring people together from the whole territory to share ideas and plan new ways to present visual and performing arts in their communities.

“ The people who are doing that work really, really hard. They’re often underpaid, and often working in isolation,” Emslie says.

“ It’s going to be remarkable having these incredible brains in one room,” she says. “I think my job is really to listen. What do these people want; what do their communities need in order to go forward?”

The three-day conference, funded by Arctic Winter Games legacy money, will include presentations by several heavy hitters in the Canadian arts and culture sector.

The main facilitator will be Jerry Yoshitomi, chief knowledge officer of the California-based MeaningMatters, whose mentorship in arts marketing is in demand worldwide.

Earlier this year, he conducted a four-day board and staff retreat for YAC that produced what Emslie calls a “quite visionary” set of new goals.

The summit itself represents the culmination of Emslie’s long-standing dream of bringing Yukon’s arts and culture presenters together.

“ When people come together with a common cause, amazing things happen,” she enthuses. “I think the stars are aligned, and the summit is going to inform the way we move forward.”

Additionally, Emslie was recently named to the board of the Canadian Arts Presenting Association, CAPACOA.

She hopes to bring an often-missing “voice of the North” to the national table.

Michele Emslie really does love art.

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