Zenetta Drew was at ARCO from 1974 - 1985, holding various roles in accounting and management, and was the first female African-American manager at ARCO. She is currently the Executive Director at the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and has been since she joined the team in 1987. Most recently, Zenetta was honored as a Distinguished Alumna by the Alumni Association of Texas A&M University-Commerce, at their annual Alumni Awards Gala in April 2016. What follows is our interview with the ARCO alum.
Q: Why did you decide to go into the arts after ARCO?
A: Going into the arts was not a choice or a deliberate decision for me. I had retired from ARCO for two years to be a housewife and mother, when a friend talked me into volunteering to write a grant proposal for a small dance company. During those two days, I saw the business growth potential of the organization and days soon turned into months.
After three months, I finally met DBDT’s founder who had recently been seriously injured in a car accident and not expected to ever walk again. She shared with me her vision for the organization to become a respected institution in the City of Dallas, on par with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Dallas Opera, and other cultural treasures, as well as have full-time salaried dancers with benefits. I thought that my finance background could help her achieve this vision, and I could use the business expertise I learned at ARCO to benefit the community.
My finance background and the business expertise I learned at ARCO has helped me work with our community to achieve the Founder's vision.
Q: What does your position as Executive Director entail?
A: As Executive Director, I am responsible for the organizational management of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, including marketing,fundraising, accounting, staffing, facility operations, external affairs, and government and board relations.
DBDT operates without an endowment, so payroll for the entire organization must be raised every two weeks, along with other expenses. Gathering financial resources to create the desired output in business often takes as much creativity as the most beautiful choreography – and we have never missed a payroll!
Q: Can you tell me what the transition was like moving from ARCO to DBDT?
A: In transitioning from ARCO to DBDT, I went from having vast money and resources to no money or resources. It was a stark contrast to suddenly have no staff, finances, business structure, or permanent facility and still produce dance programming.
During my time at ARCO, corporations in America were reluctant to advance minorities to management positions. As a result, ARCO invested several hundred thousand dollars in all types of high-level management training to delay my promotion to supervisor in accounting as a black female. To my benefit, I was able to use the experience training and networking with top-level executives, which has greatly impacted my fundraising success as Executive Director.
Designated an American Masterpiece Touring Artist by the NEA, DBDT has performed for more than 3.5 million arts patrons and 2.5 million students in 31 states, 15 countries, and five continents, including two Cultural Olympiad engagements.
Q: You have received several prestigious awards, including the Women of Color Achievement Award in 2013. What makes you most proud?
A: While I appreciate the awards and recognition I have received over the years, I am proudest of the organization’s accomplishments collectively. I am gratified by my part in growing DBDT from a small community-based organization to an internationally recognized company with performances on some of the nation’s most prestigious stages, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Designated an American Masterpiece Touring Artist by the NEA, DBDT has performed for more than 3.5 million arts patrons and 2.5 million students in 31 states, 15 countries, and five continents, including two Cultural Olympiad engagements.
The DBDT business model shows that an artistic background is not a required component to managing an arts organization, and that artistic and business-minded individuals can successfully work together to accomplish a common vision.
Q: How has your position on advisory panels and boards contributed to your overall growth?
A: During my time at DBDT I have served on 30 to 40 boards, and all of them provided me an opportunity to give my time as well as develop relationships, gain knowledge and create multi-faceted partnerships. I have been able to change the perspective of arts management to a professional level and set an example for business practices, decorum, and philosophy in the arts community. The DBDT business model shows that an artistic background is not a required component to managing an arts organization, and that artistic and business-minded individuals can successfully work together to accomplish a common vision.