Stephanie Micas: Leading the Way 

Women in the Arts

When Stephanie Micas, 49, was growing up, she was taught she could be a teacher, nurse, or any other traditionally feminine occupation. But what she really wanted to be was a leader.

"I knew I wanted to manage stuff," she says looking back on her early career. And that's exactly what she does today as executive director of the Arts Council of Richmond.

Although she doesn't have a traditional arts background, Micas says she has been able to meld the experience she has gained as a teacher, principal, mother and college dean and administrator into the skill set needed to be an effective arts administrator.

Micas came to the Arts Council in 1994 after spending three years as assistant dean at the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership. "While at Jepson I became very interested in the idea of servant leadership," she explains. "I began to think if there was another way I could directly contribute to the Richmond community. How could I become involved in a more profound way?"

In the Arts Council, a nonprofit community organization whose mission is to advance and recognize the arts, Micas saw an opportunity to make a difference. "I sensed that the Arts Council could play a much bigger role in the community to really help the arts and improve the quality of life," she says.

She has tried to make the Arts Council more responsive to the arts community and to make it a player in the region in terms of quality of life. "We want to become a voice for the arts in a way that helps the arts become more effective and vital in the area," she says. "We want to help create a regional vision for the arts."

As executive director of the Arts Council, Micas has put into practice many of the leadership skills she taught students at UR, both at Jepson and as the founder of Women Involved in Living and Learning (WILL), a leadership program for undergraduate women.

"I have been pleasantly surprised at how easily transferred those basic principles of leadership and management are to any field," she says. "Yes, it is important for a person like Michelle [Walter of the Richmond Symphony] to understand her field, but it is even more important for her to understand management and leadership."

Micas, who came into the arts community as "an outside observer," was pleasantly surprised by what she found. "It was fun for me to discover this whole new world and marvel at the incredible talent we have here in Richmond," she says. She was also surprised about the high concentration of women involved in the arts. "Traditionally, women have been involved with nonprofits and have supported the arts," she says, "but what I was surprised about was the collective talent of these women."

Micas, who wrote her 1981 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Virginia on female school superintendents, thinks this sets a great example for her daughters, ages 17 and 18, of what women can achieve. Although she says it has been a struggle at times raising two daughters while also managing a career, she has no regrets about any of the choices she has made — including taking six years off while her daughters were young to be a full-time mom.

"A lot of women don't come into their own until later in life," she says. "I knew that if it didn't happen for me by the time I was 25, I wouldn't blow my life. I had to go with the flow, build up my skills and take opportunities as they came. ...

"I believed, and I still believe, that being a good role model for the girls was one of the most important things I could

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