Arts

Overture’s first woman CEO/President strives to make arts accessible for all

CEO/President Sandra Gajic views performance arts centers as a means to bring together people from all walks of life.

Image By: Daniel Klugman

The Overture Center off State Street has long been considered a high-quality establishment to see a high-quality show. Some of the biggest acts in the performing arts have made their way through Madison and made a stop at the Overture. Many Madison residents have attended as guests or have had the privilege to work there. 

In short: It means a lot to a lot of people. 

And it is now headed by a very smart and accomplished woman who wants to make sure everyone from every corner of the city can find a way to enjoy it as well.

For Sandra Gajic – the chief executive officer and president of the Overture Center – taking the opportunity to come to Madison to lead such a prestigious arts facility came down to one internal question: “Why not?”

"I love to see the magic on stage, I come to see performances, I usually work seven days a week … whatever hours. For me, this is life and it’s a balanced life.”

Since taking the job in September of last year, the native of the former Yugoslavia has settled into her new role which she views as one of great privilege and responsibility, but one that comes naturally to her. 

“As a person, I’m very curious and I travel a lot. So, I see this as part of the journey,” she said. “I love what I do and unless I travel somewhere, I’m here most of the time. I love to see the magic on stage, I come to see performances, I usually work seven days a week … whatever hours. For me, this is life and it’s a balanced life.”

As the first woman to hold the position of CEO of the Overture, there wasn’t much else for Gajic to prove in her professional field. As the director of the Vancouver Civic Theatres and spending 16 years in Toronto before then, among many other credentials, it should be clear to everyone that she is as qualified as a person gets. 

Yet, in what she referred to as a “global industry” where women are vastly outnumbered by men, she still feels pressure and a need to prove herself. 

“I believe there is a harder-edged lens on some [women] that are breaking barriers. We are under more scrutiny … women professionals, especially earlier in their careers, feel they aren’t good enough,” Gajic said. “Gaining that self-confidence that is outside gender or whatever other labels we put on people and just be who you are as professional takes some time and support.”

“Our job is to remove the barriers … and that the community sees us as a natural place to come, where they feel comfortable.”

She went on to express a deep sense of responsibility to leave a legacy of succession to where the industry can close these gaps, transcending differences and allowing for an equal, even professional playing field for all.

Gajic feels that inclusion is the key to success. She views the performing arts centers of major cities as being a place where anyone should be able to come and enjoy live shows and cultural displays from all walks of life. 

She also wants to open the doors to anyone who might want to work or volunteer at the Overture Center, but currently experiences difficulties with transportation, applying or other obstructions. As she put it, “Our job is to remove the barriers … and that the community sees us as a natural place to come, where they feel comfortable.”

This has led to the creation of positions such as the senior vice president of equity and innovation — the second most senior staff member next to Gajic or any other future CEO/president. This role was specifically designed to implement new policies and an organizational platform rooted in fairness and full inclusion. Where and how they post about potential job opportunities, work culture and even the job descriptions themselves will all be subject to change for the purposes of advancing equality through opportunity.

This is all Sandra Gajic ever needed in life: an opportunity. Whenever one has presented itself to her, she has never backed down from it. 

Arts administration is not an easy job. It is also not a common expertise — an area Gajic believes higher education needs to take more seriously. But as far as who is out there in the field of this global industry, the Overture now has one of the best in the world.

Madison residents are proud of our image as an inclusive, artistic and forward community. Venues in all corners of the city host and entertain the hoards of live performance fanatics who come out to see a wide range of artists. It should please and comfort you to know that the future of the Overture Center, a jewel in the heart of downtown, is safe. We should all be excited to be a part of its evolution.


John Everman is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.

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