Rialto Center Director Eyes Sell-out
PROFILE: LESLIE GORDON
Title: Director, Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University
Background: Arts and festivals
First job: Gift wrapping in a department store
Education: M.A. in Literary Studies
Lives in: Atlanta (Peachtree Hills)
How’s business? Fantastic! People want to see performances and we have some of the best to offer! We also rent our space and have welcomed clients from around the world.
Biggest challenge for your business: Marketing strategies. How do we find out how people are getting their information?
What’s going to change at your company in the next year? Higher profile on electronic media.
Company goal yet to be achieved: A completely sold-out season well in advance of the performance date!
Guiding principles for good management: Listen, listen, listen. Staff often knows best.
Best way to keep competitive edge: Be out there — network, keep abreast of new trends and be able to communicate clearly why you do what you do.
Why people like working for you: We hire people who are good at what they do. I give staff members the freedom and flexibility not only to do, but also to grow, their jobs.
Most inspiring entrepreneur? Ted Turner!
Best business decision: Personally, coming to work at the Rialto at Georgia State was a good decision for me. Subsequently, by investigating what types of performances seemed to be lacking around town, the Rialto adopted a focus on international work to reflect the changing demographic of Atlanta as well as the diverse student population at Georgia State University. This has made us a beacon for work on a global level and has increased our visibility beyond Atlanta and Georgia.
Hardest lesson learned and how you learned it: I work with international performers quite a bit. I once used someone to translate an English-language description into Spanish. However, the interpreter was from a different Spanish-speaking country than the performers and the translation actually insulted them through choice of words. I quickly learned an early lesson in respecting cultural differences — just because someone speaks the same language from one country to another doesn’t necessarily mean that the words’ meanings are shared!
Toughest business decision: When the tornado came through downtown in 2008, the Rialto roof was damaged directly over the stage, allowing water to pour in all night. When we discovered the damage, we had to make the decision about whether to close the building down in order to have the floor and damaged systems completely replaced, or to leave it open so that some of our users could be in the space while other parts were being worked on. We decided we needed to close completely, resulting in considerable lost revenue and canceled shows (not to mention disappointment by the users) but ultimately deciding the work had to be done completely and perfectly before we would reopen the space.
Biggest missed opportunity: I turned down an invitation to a marvelous music festival called Festival in the Desert in Essakane, Mali, that focused on traditional music from around the world and often on sacred music traditions. Now because of politics (the Azawadi rebellion), this Festival may never happen again. I regret not going when first asked, because I might have been able to see new performers for the first time who might eventually come to the Rialto stage.
Like best about job: The opportunities to interact with performers from all over the world and work with an amazing staff and students at Georgia State University.
Like least about job: The hours! I am never home!
Pet peeve: People who litter. I work downtown and I’m always picking up trash.
First choice for a new career: Oh, I can’t imagine doing anything but what I do now. It’s too much fun.
Most influential book: “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins
Favorite cause: The Atlanta Community Food Bank. Bill Bolling is amazing.
Favorite restaurant: Pasta Vino in Peachtree Battle (small and neighborhood-y with great servers, good food and reasonable prices)
Favorite way to spend free time: Walking with my husband on the Beltline
Favorite music: It changes. Sometimes it’s opera, sometimes it’s James Brown. Right now I’m listening to a lot of music from West Africa — Fatoumata Diabate, Bassekou Kouyaté and Bajoli.