A significant contributor to the success of the Arts Club Theatre Company will be leaving the organization at the end of the season. Howard Jang, who has served as the Arts Club’s executive director for 14 years, will step down June 30. Jang has accepted a position at Simon Fraser University as the director of the SFU Woodward’s Cultural Unit and a professor of professional practice in the School of Contemporary Arts.
“This is a chance to really move into some of the areas of arts practice that I’ve become extremely interested in, which is really, arts to engage community and arts to really strengthen community,” Jang told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview today (April 1). “You just don’t plan these things. I’ve been here 14 years. It’s been a tremendous run—a great journey. The word I would use is ‘transformative’. It has transformed me. I wasn’t looking to leave by any stretch of the imagination, but it was just one of those things I thought would be an amazing change for me personally and professionally that I never saw coming.”
Since 2000, Jang has helped lead the Arts Club through some of its most significant changes, including strategic plans that enabled the Vancouver company to achieve the largest subscription base of any professional theatre in Canada, renovations to the Granville Island Stage, and the reopening of the Revue Stage.
“[Artistic director] Bill Millerd has been an amazing partner for me,” Jang said. “I didn’t come from a theatre background, so I had to learn theatre at the same time as learning the business of theatre. Bill was a great teacher for me in that sense.”
Jang is also partly responsible for the Arts Club’s financial stability. He told the Straight that a change occurred in the mid-2000s that helped the company shift its focus and reach its success.
“We went from a transactional kind of company, where we offered services and people bought tickets, to a relational company that has really developed in building relationships in the community,” Jang explained, calling the move a game-changer. “We were able to start to build relationships with our community in a more historical way, a year-over-year kind of way that has really shown on the business side of it—a huge growth in subscriptions, growth in single ticket sales, growth in renewal rates, all those kinds of things.
“What I’m now seeing over the last three years is a much deeper understanding of the impact we are having in their lives with the work that we do,” he continued “We’ve really gone from a place of worrying about how many tickets we sell to really thinking about how we are changing lives, how we are impacting lives, and how we are engaging a community with the work that we do.”
Jang will be expanding on this type of work at SFU. As the director of the Cultural Unit, Jang will examine ways to engage the broader community through the arts, especially as the university approaches its 50th anniversary in 2015. His work as a professor will be built around creative entrepreneurship and helping artists understand the business of the arts.
“I think we have to get away from the understanding that the arts are about economic impact, and I think we have to think about the arts as community impact and the catalyst for community engagement,” Jang said. “I think a long-term issue for us is arts education and the things that we need to do to make sure we’re engaging our youth consistently and intrinsically.”
Jang remains on the board of directors for both the Canada Council for the Arts and the TELUS Vancouver Community Board. For now, he is focused on completing the Arts Club’s 50th season, which includes five productions presented across the company’s three stages.
“I’ve been so proud about the risky decisions that get taken and the trust that gets put into the company to make those decisions,” Jang reflected. “We’ve had an amazing group of board members and volunteers working with us, and for me right now, to leave at this time, I know we have an amazing team here that’s so strong. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat.”