AS MANAGING DIRECTOR of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Colleen Bailey is responsible for all Festival operations, managing the staff and the budget. But she shares check-signing duties with Tim Jackson, the Festival’s longtime artistic director. (See Performing Arts People, Nov.10, 2014.) With the 58th Jazz Festival this week, Bailey will have been on the job for less than nine months.
Colleen Finegan Bailey was born and grew up in Salinas in a family where music and performing arts were always enjoyed and encouraged. “My dad’s passion is music, especially jazz. I like all kinds of good music.” She remembers dancing and singing since age three.
But her route to the Jazz Festival went a long way around. As a youngster she attended Sacred Heart School and, for high school, Robert Louis Stevenson in Pebble Beach. She attended the University of Southern California as an undergraduate, and earned her master’s degree in theater and theater directing from Northwestern University in 2000. “Directing is what I really wanted to do,” she says.
On returning home, she soon was teaching theater at her high school Alma Mater where she remained for eight years. She continued that career for two years at a private school in Colorado and for five more at the Sage Hill School in Newport Beach, where she rose to become head of the theater arts department. “The arts were critical to the curriculum,” she says. “Students took as many arts classes as anything else.” The then-new Sage Hill was conceived as an arts school then added academics. “At Sage Hill we did our performances in a tent or outside. You make it happen.”
Ever homesick, Bailey returned to Monterey County. For a time she worked as communications director for the Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel Valley. Soon she was hired as director of Community Engagement and Learning at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. “They were looking for connections to the area, someone with a background in performing arts and education, and that was me.” Then in 2009 the Center’s director left and Bailey became its executive director. “I learned on the job,” she says. With that promotion, “the Packard Foundation sent me to the Executive program for Non-Profit Leaders at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.”
Looking from the outside, Bailey’s years at the National Steinbeck Center seem phenomenal. She established relationships with Salinas-area schools and with Rancho Cielo which serves at-risk students and young adults. That relationship led to the establishment of Youth Orchestra Salinas (YoSal) which emerged out of Rancho Cielo and uses the El Sistema program that originated in Venezuela with goals similar to Rancho Cielo. She led the Steinbeck Center in taking over Sherwood Hall, which was faced with shutting down, and, as executive director of YoSal, thereby found the space needed for the students to rehearse. “We kept Sherwood open for three years. It was a big risk that I was willing to take. The community needs that facility.” She also established a working relationship with CSU Monterey Bay. In 2013, she collaborated with Fran Spector of SpectorDance in the creation of the gang-culture dance piece East West which is currently in revival. “We did 100 programs a year at Steinbeck, including guest speakers and student projects. We created content, brought in artists, celebrated anniversaries, did stories on video,” adding, “You do good things and you surprise people.”
Still on YoSal’s board of directors, Bailey says, “It’s a big program, serving 300 students, now in five different schools, with an $850,000 budget all contributed. It’s a huge job and they’ve gone through a lot of turmoil in recent years.” YoSal has paid teaching staff but a very small administrative staff. “There is only one full-time person. They are really fortunate to have board members who do a lot of work as volunteers.”
In 2013, to examine the relevance of Steinbeck’s Nobel-winning novel 75 years on, Bailey produced a documentary film, The Grapes of Wrath: We Shall Overcome, literally retracing the Joad family’s journey from Sallasaw, Oklahoma, to the San Joaquin Valley. “We commissioned a filmmaker, a playwright and a visual artist who traveled in a van and an RV,” she says. “It started at the Sallasaw Library, the cultural center of that little town. Everywhere we went we interviewed people and collected stories along the way.” For the 2014 Steinbeck Festival, and to celebrate the anniversary of Steinbeck’s novel, she worked with El Teatro Campesino. “We asked the artists to create a new play, The Mother Road, for a feature film. Like the documentary, which was directed by PJ Palmer, the idea was inspired by the book. James Franco was interviewed, along with a couple of other people from the Broadway production of Grapes, but that project stalled for lack of funding.”
Did Bailey’s graduate university education equip her to become an administrator? “Not at all,” she says with a laugh, but then reflects, “Being a theater director is about managing. You have to know the tech, the actors, costumers, musicians, how to articulate the vision then put all the elements together. I’d probably say my background in theater did help.”
After five years as ED for the Steinbeck Center, the Monterey Jazz Festival successfully enticed Bailey to come on board. “I have to admit it was a hard decision. Steinbeck is a very special place with a wonderful board and staff,” she says. “I’m so proud of the Grapes documentary project. And as a Salinas girl I felt passionately that Salinas deserved a quality cultural presence, that we could build on the foundation of the Steinbeck Center. But my heart is with the performing arts and the Jazz Festival is like coming home.” In terms of articulating a vision, “I know how to bridge over to Salinas. They thought I was somebody who could lead that.”
Look out Salinas Valley, Colleen Bailey is bringing the Monterey Jazz Festival your way.