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Meet an Emerging Arts Leader: Darnelle Radford

We're partnering with Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia to introduce you to some of the exciting arts and cultural professionals working on behalf of our sector. This month's interview is with Darnelle Radford.

Number of years working in the arts: 

22 years! I played the bongos in a 1st grade music program, made radio shows on a tape recorder in 3rd grade and had two lines as a police officer in a 4th grade play. In 5th grade, I joined the school choir and stayed through senior year. I was also a band geek (Head Drum Major, Senior Year). I was cast in FAME and was Stage Manager all through high school. My first professional job in arts and culture was in 2000. The Franklin Institute was my start.

Degrees/certificates:

I studied Multimedia and Web Design at The Art Institute of Philadelphia and Arts Administration at New York University.

Current occupation: 

I am the Information Technology Manager at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; Founder and Artistic Director of Represented Theatre Company since 2005; Producer and Host of Rep Radio since 2009; and a Contributor for Broad Street Review

Other work experience in the arts: 

I served on the board of The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and currently serve on the board of the American Historical Theatre. Under the Theatre Alliance, I served as a Barrymore Awards voter for 6 seasons. I have worked for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Historic Philadelphia, Inc., Plays and Players, Flashpoint Theatre, Philadelphia Young Playwrights/PTC, Curtain Call Creations, Quince Productions, Keen Company (NYC), Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (NYC), Museum of the Moving Image (NYC), and I am the Co-Founder of Just Learn Something (NYC). 

What keeps you engaged and passionate when it comes to arts and culture?

The passion and creativity of our community continues to engage me. When I sit with a theater artist and dig deep into the "WHY" that brings dynamic stories to the stage, I walk away saying, "This is why I do what I do." To me, the journey is just as valuable as the finished product. Rep Radio brings the listener into the green room and the conversation is not the typical media sound byte. Walking into the theater with "insider" knowledge helps to build a stronger foundation with not just the work, but the organization and the creative people who make it all look easy.

What’s the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your current job?

Discovery. Exploring new trends and resources, finding ways to incorporate these resources into the workflow that allows us to be more productive and less reactive is what I find exciting and rewarding in my work at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The same for Rep Radio. Searching for elements of our community's past and learning new bits of information are equally exciting and rewarding.

How did you get involved with Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia? How does being active with EAL:P fit in with your long-term career goals?

I was tagged in a Facebook post, noting that a submission [for this interview series] had been made that included my name. Then, the Cultural Alliance reached out for this interview and here we are. My long-term goals are to help build an arts hub that continues to empower creative people and gives them the resources and encouragement to pursue their artistic dreams. 

Have you had any mentors also working in this sector who have had a significant impact on your professional development?

My best friend, Daniel Corti, has been my artistic soundboard for the past 16 years. He is currently the Director of Visitor Services and Assistant Director of Operations at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. We met in college and he has always been the ear I bend. Whether it's managing cash flow, loading in a show, discussing what's wrong with visitor experience or any of my half-baked artistic ideas, he has been an invaluable resource for me and my professional development.

When I started producing, I took acting classes at Walnut Street Theatre with Bill Felty to get a better understanding of how to work with actors. He had so much energy and it was disarming and allowed us all to immediately get comfortable in the space. When communicating with him, his response time was amazing. I wondered how he did it. One day, I walk past a Starbucks and I see him in the window with a T-Mobile Sidekick, returning emails. That's how he did it, technology. Over the years, I'd quietly observe his tech upgrades and follow his trends. Communication is a serious benefit to professional development; I learned that from him. I'm not sure if I've ever told him that.

In your opinion, what is the most significant issue arts leaders will have to grapple with in the next 10 years?

Technology. On the production side, we continue to embrace the capabilities of incorporating new technologies into storytelling, but we are still behind on educating arts audiences on the benefits of the technology that connects us to the work. We will have to stop coddling the traditional arts supporters and encourage the young, tech-savvy community to engage us on the platforms they are most comfortable.

We started Rep Radio when a group of arts leaders told us that the idea of podcasting seemed like too much work for little return. We were encouraged by that. I would like to see every arts organization with an on-demand offering that can be easily shared to help foster a passion for the work of their organization. 

We have several very productive online media outlets that have come from this need. It is clear that we have the capability, we just need to shake off the traditional boxes we safely sit in and open up to the rest.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!

Freshmen year in high school, I was tricked into joining the drama club. A popular student in my class was recruiting and I said, "If he thinks it's worthwhile, I'll give it a shot." Think of a life I would have missed out on if I had not followed him into the theater that day. Best decision I have ever made!