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Meet the Staff: Jim Szekacs

The second half of the Organizational Investment Office (with Brianna Dance), Jim Szekacs is the coolest cucumber, even when that final report stack is a mile high. Always willing to talk music, crunch numbers, and keep us caffeinated with a coffee run. 

The king of puns, PJ Harvey’s biggest fan, and a bit of a daredevil—meet the OAC’s Organizational Investment Coordinator for the western regionJim Szekacs: 

Q: Before we start, how do you pronounce your very Hungarian last name?
I answer to many pronunciations, but technically it is pronounced SAY-kosh. What's so hard about that? It's like the name Smith in Hungary, you know. 

Q: You grew up in Illinois and have also lived in Virginia. What brought you to Ohio, and more specifically Springfield? 
After a year of college as a vocal performance major, I moved to Springfield with my family in the mid 1980s. My father was transferred to the Springfield, Ohio, Navistar facility (farm implement and truck manufacturer). However, instead of continuing my undergrad education, I decided to take the twelve-year summer vacation, grow my hair and try my hand as a professional rock musician. 

After spending time in Virginia, I moved back to Ohio (Columbus, specifically) to finish my undergrad at OSU (English and political science), and eventually earn my Masters of Public Administration. Now I'm back in Springfield, because that's where my family and many of my friends are.

Q: A true creative, you’re a naturally gifted visual artist (you dominated the OAC’s Plein Air painting day) and you’re a professional musician—tell us more about your past long-haired life before the OAC.

To be honest, this goes back some influential and effective teachers back in high school--particularly, the late great Dorma Lindstrum, my choir teacher and a local legend.
Dorma was a very strong woman who gave her students the opportunity to manage our events and be creative with minimal direct oversight. She had us singing in German and Latin, then running off to perform in the community with our robed and show choirs, and even touring a high school version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (yep, I was the Pharaoh). She also gave us insight to the front and back stage aspects of performing arts, and a sense confidence and adventure, enabling to feel comfortable about calculated risks. She even gave us etiquette tutorials! 


To wrap things up, after moving to Ohio, I started singing and playing guitar for a few local cover bands and then started my own group. We did the typical cover thing, but we also recorded our own stuff and toured it throughout Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, etc. We didn't get much airplay, except some of the local college stations and public radio music programs, but played-out like maniacs. I even did some parody music and skits for a morning radio show with some other local musicians at WAZU 102.9 FM (formerly in Dayton). And like other musicians, I supplemented the career by teaching music on the side, and even writing some music reviews. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun.

 Q: The best go-to for music recommendations—what’s on your playlist right now? Any Ohio bands we should have on our radar? 
Where to start...My default artist (when I need to get back to the egg) is early David Bowie. And you're right, I'm a huge PJ Harvey fan. She's very talented and creative. Recent obsessions have been anything by Jack White, Tame Impala, Alt J, Bill Withers, Queens of the Stone Age, Patty Smith, Regina Spektor, REM, Matson Jones (rock-n-roll cellos!), Yes, Morphine, The Allman Brothers, T Rex, even Hank Williams III (yes, there's a third one), and who doesn't like the Beatles, of course. I also have a soft spot for classical artists like Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Ravel in particular (thanks Mrs. Lindstrum!). Lately, I've also been geeking on some really old Delta-blues recordings--amazing stuff! 

As for Ohio artists, let's go old school and obscure. I've always been a fan of Guided by Voices, a Dayton area band that's been around since the early '80s. They're a pretty influential group for many of today's indie bands. And if you really want to get nasty, just break out the old Ohio Players records! 

Q: As OAC’s program coordinator for the western region, you mange organizational grants for half the state. Can you share your day-to-day routine and any parts of your job most folks don’t see? 
First of all, let me say that it is a high honor to work with the artists and arts organizations that fill the landscape of this state. They are all highly talented, creative and motivated. That being said, I do spend a lot of time working with constituents in preparing applications and reviewing a plentitude of final reports. I also serve as a contact for our new and established constituents to advise them on potential funding opportunities with the OAC.

Every time I read a grant proposal or review a final report, I am just astounded by what they do.
Along with being the regional contact for our organizational grant programs, I am also on the front line for the implementation of funding initiatives, and assisting constituents with special funding opportunities, whenever that funding is available. I also work with other OAC staff to plan our panel reviews, tackle some of the logistics of setting up and executing our panel review process, and reaching out to potential panelists.

When not in the office, both Brianna and I are making efforts to spend more time in the field to see first hand what grantees are doing. I gotta be honest, though. I almost feel guilty about that, because it is so fun to get out there and see the wonderful work they are doing.
Also, since the OAC is a sixteen-person agency, being versatile behind the scenes is a must. I've been able to play a role in our strategic planning process, I occasionally get to take part in evaluation activities (I've actually grown to find statistics interesting, now that it serves a purpose), and serve the OAC in other ancillary roles. Such roles include being the agency's EEO Officer and Floor Marshal, the Records Retention Officer, and I even know my way around a Pitney Bowes postage meter. And, having been a former grants office associate and helpdesk contact, I am privileged to avail myself to work with my grants office colleagues whenever needed, be it assisting with technical tasks, or whatever it is they need. 


Q:  The OAC’s new grants system, ARTIE, launched this month. Any big things current and prospective grantees should expect?
Unlike the previous system, ARTIE will allow applicants to upload or attach links for application support materials, thus making the application submission process simpler for applicants. It will also allow OAC staff to customize and simplify application forms on a moment's notice, thus helping the OAC become much more nimble and responsive to constituent suggestions and to programming requirements, as they arise. If you haven't already done so, go to the new system at ohioartscouncil.smartsimple.com to get acquainted with ARTIE. We've already migrated your profile and grant history information to it, but you will still need to renew your username and password. Feel free to contact me or grants staffat if you need additional guidance. 

Q: While most major grant deadlines have passed, Building Cultural Diversity is a program that is currently still accepting applications (until December 1). What does this program entail and how can one apply? 
The Building Cultural Diversity program (BCD) is a program intended to support arts and cultural organizations that have significantly diverse staff and provide diverse arts and cultural programming that enrich and broaden the cultural horizons of their communities. 

You should contact me directly to verify funding eligibility, receive access to the online application module, and initiate the application process. I'd be happy to get to know your organization! 

Q: Your Monday morning ‘what I did this weekend’ stories are always more action-packed than most. Can you tell us about your life in the fast lane? 
I see what you did there. Yes, during the summer I drive race cars--dirt, circle track racing in open-wheeled modifieds, to be exact. I can generally be found in any of a dozen tracks throughout northwest and southern Ohio, and in parts of Kentucky and Indiana. It's a hobby I never thought I'd get into, but after I got out of the music biz, my father (who has raced for over 50 years) offered me a ride in one of his older cars, and after a couple weekends of sheer terror and getting in everyone's way, it finally slowed down for me (ironically) and I became competitive. In fact, it has actually become therapeutic. There's a rhythm and a calming solitude to it...until someone wrecks you, of course! 

Finish these… 

My proudest moment…was when I went back to college to get my degree. 
My silliest moment…I don't know what you mean by that. I don't stand for baloney you know. 
I can’t live without…Stauf's coffee! It is my life-blood. 
My favorite art…I've always enjoyed Rene Magritte's surrealism (no piece in particular) and I am rediscovering Fauvism (Matisse and Rouault). I like their disruptive use of color...good eye candy. I am absolutely enjoying the music of Alt-J at the moment, particularly their record, This is Yours (very eclectic and not what you'd expect from a contemporary alternative/indie rock band). In the literary arts, The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a quotable must if you ever go to an art exhibition and reception! 
The best advice…do what you love to do, and give all people a chance. If you can't do what you love to do, then give yourself a chance. 
To me, the arts in Ohio are…people and that element which represents who we are, who we were, and who we want to be. 

Questions or comments for Jim? Email him at jim.szekacs@oac.state.oh.us



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