Posted on: April 9, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Photo courtesy of Tianna Conway

By Aidan McGuire, News Editor

Tianna Conway keeps a color-coded calendar for her deadlines. She loves Star Wars, loves to organize, and most importantly, she loves to leave an impact on future generations of artists. 

Conway is the new managing director of the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Moraine Valley, but her deep passion for the arts extends far past the MV community. She holds a unique position within arts administration, something that many people overlook when they think of the theater and art world. 

Last October, Conway was hired as a successor to the previous director, Tommy Hensel. Since then, she has made it a mission to reshape the FPAC and bring life back to the facility in a post-COVID world. 

Conway grew up in a small Wisconsin town surrounded by music and education. When she was 10, her elementary school music teacher introduced her to the clarinet.

“I did not like it,” she said. “But I finally got to play saxophone, and it just stuck.”

Conway auditioned and was accepted into the Wisconsin Ambassadors of Music, and at age 15 was one of the youngest participants to go on a two-week tour playing music around Europe. 

Today, her childhood saxophone collects dust sealed tightly in its case while she pursues her career in arts management.

When she was in high school, she dreamt of becoming a music teacher, seeking inspiration from her math teacher father. To this day, she says, “Students of his will come up to me and say that he changed my life or he made math fun, and I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life.”

I wanted to make sure that all generations can sit through a performance together.”

MV FPAC managing director Tianna Conway

Throughout her career, Conway has worn many hats and seems to have a constant urge to put yet another on top of her head. Yet she enjoys this amount of headgear.

“When I look back, it’s very rewarding all the hats I got to wear,” she said. “It’s a privilege.”

Prior to her position at Moraine, Conway spent 19 years weaving her way in and out of various art management positions. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in music performance at University of Wisconsin Platteville, Conway held a student job as a house manager in the Center for the Arts.

“I was a saxophone player, and when I graduated I really didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to try a few things to see what sticks.”

Conway got her first taste of professional arts management when her superior at Platteville left and she was invited to apply for the role of box office manager at the school. “I applied for the job and got it,” she said.

It was at this point that Conway began to find the hat she wanted to wear.

“If I could give anyone advice, soak it all in,” she said, “because though at the time sometimes it felt like I was being overworked, I really learned so much on what I found a passion for.”

Conway went on to pursue a master’s degree at Platteville in their new master’s of cultural arts management program. Conway was one of the first students to go through this program.

“I was able to create independent courses that met the needs of what I wanted to do in my career, which was phenomenal,” she said.

Sometimes you just have to try a few things to see what sticks.”

MV FPAC managing director Tianna Conway

After graduating, Conway went on to hold a similar position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Seventeen months later, a job opened up at an independent arts center where she would serve as director of education.

“But I missed working at a college,” she said. “I found that I love working at colleges, I love working with students and faculty. I feel that I am helping mold the future generations in the career I got started in at a college.”

Conway went on to become the first-ever ensemble events manager for Carthage College after the school spent more than 17 years facilitating a series run solely by the dean and student workers. 

Although at times she struggled to use the limited facilities at Carthage, the faculty made up for this, she said: “We were able to make wonderful music and bring in amazing artists in a limited space.”

This is her first two-year college position, and her job at Moraine is widely diverse. Daily, it is her responsibility to manage the FPAC facilities and work with faculty on marketing academic performances. Additionally, she coordinates the professional series at the center, which is entering its 30th season.

She attends many artist conferences throughout the year to find potential artists to hire for the professional series. Conway also serves as Secretary for the Midwest Arts Xpo, alongside the group’s president and former FPAC director Tommy Hensel. The expo, recently founded after Arts Midwest was discontinued, has a focus on art connections in the Midwest and aims to “strengthen artist touring relationships and support arts advocacy,” according to its webpage.

When I look back it’s very rewarding all the hats I got to wear. It’s a privilege.”

MV FPAC managing director Tianna Conway

As she navigates the professional art world, Conway sets a goal to create a series at Moraine that caters to anyone who may walk through the revolving door in the front lobby of the building. 

“I wanted to make sure that all generations can sit through a performance together,” she said when reflecting on the upcoming season.

But above all, Conway’s focus lies on academic arts. She stressed how she has no problem moving around professional shows in order to accommodate the academic performance calendar. Fitting everything in is one big puzzle, and Conway loves solving it.

Once she becomes more established here, Conway would like to dust off that saxophone and possibly join one of the community ensembles at Moraine.

“That saxophone has been in its case for way too long,” she said, laughing.