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Boom Arts: the executive chair


Kamla Hurst’s first exposure to Boom Arts, the innovative Portland presenting company for which she is now the first executive director, was Adrienne Truscott’s show Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy & Little Else! in October 2015. It wasn’t like anything else Hurst had seen in Portland. The show stuck with her and she started following Boom more closely. “A lot of stuff that’s brought by presenters is very finished polished work with large budgets,” she said. “Boom has a more grassroots feel. It’s not a spectacle.”

Hurst saw an organization bringing interesting voices and stories to Portland and leveraging them in the community in meaningful ways. Her belief in the company’s work lead her to approach Ruth Wikler, producer of the company, to join the board.

Kamla Hurst, Boom Arts executive director. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Last year Wikler came to the board and suggested creating an executive director position. “The board has known for a while that Boom Arts’ path to sustainability includes hiring full time leadership/management staff,” said Wikler. Thanks to some funds from capacity-building grants Boom had received from Oregon Community Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust, the organization was ready to make that move.


It was decided that the position needed to be established by the start of the 2018-19 season in fall. Because of the short timeline the process was fast-tracked and the board decided the first director would be an interim. Hurst was invited to apply, and was eventually accepted.

For Wikler, Hurst is an ideal person to bridge the transition to a permanent executive director. “Kamla is a professional nonprofit manager, arts administrator, and fundraiser who has worked with the leading nonprofit arts presenting organizations in the Pacific Northwest. I feel grateful that she’s chosen us for her next professional chapter.” This is Hurst’s first time as an executive director but her background in development, grant writing in particular, at organizations as varied as the Portland Parks Foundation, Oregon Humanities, Seattle’s On the Boards performance series, the University of Chicago’s Humanities Division and the University of Washington’s performing arts center has prepared her for this. “Grant-writing trains you to have a series of questions in your mind,” she said. “What are the organization’s goals? What are the outcomes? Are we reaching who we want to reach? I’ve had to answer those questions for 20 years, so I feel very comfortable thinking strategically.” After several years of supporting other leaders, she’s interested in exploring what it means for her to be one.

Hurst is two or three months into the position now, and she’s enjoying getting involved in the nuts and bolts of Boom Arts. Wikler makes the artistic decisions and runs the community engagement programs. Hurst is in charge of administration, finances, and development. “There’s a lot of trust in the room,” said Hurst. “I’ve been given freedom to implement priorities as I see fit.”

Hurst’s background in development means she already has plans for expanding Boom’s financial capacity. “We’ve benefited from a lot of grants from the funding community,” she said. “But I see a lot of opportunity for creating an individual donor base.” She sees her biggest goal as simply creating the infrastructure for the future of the organization. “It’s a much less sexy-sounding thing, but it’s so important. Especially for small organizations, you really have to be on top of it to make things run as smoothly as possible.”


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Adrienne Truscott, whose show “Asking for It” got Kamla Hurst interested in working with Boom Arts. Photo: Sarah Brown

Determining what the future executive director does will be Hurst’s legacy. Though a position description was in place when she started, she’ll be checking in with the board in a few months about what might need to change for whomever is hired next. “I don’t think it’s a great look for a board member to be hired forever,” she said. To Hurst, a public position should have a public vetting process. “With this position we’ve thought about equity a lot. What is an equitable way to hire this position? Well, it has to be posted publicly. People need to know it exists.” The board plans to begin the process of hiring a permanent director this summer.

“I think the question of what is next-level for Boom Arts is really pressing,” said Hurst. Bringing Teatr-Pralnia, a 10-person company from Ukraine, for two weeks and housing them was something on a scope Boom had not attempted before. “Is next-level bigger companies? Or companies with a bigger imprint? When you grow your staff capacity you’re going to grow your capacity generally. We’re still a young organization and have a lot of opportunity to grow and experiment. Including with this position.”


TJ Acena has been covering Boom Arts’ 2018-19 season from inside and out for Oregon ArtsWatch. His previous pieces in the series:

  1. Boom Arts’ festive revolution. Embarking on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change.
  2. Boom Arts: Puppets from Kiev. From Ukraine, a 10-day dash of song, theater, puppetry and culture.
  3. Penny Arcade, back in town. Boom Arts brings the celebrated performance artist to town for the second time in a year with an old favorite and some new projects.





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Photo Joe Cantrell

TJ Acena is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. He studied creative writing at Western Washington University. His prose has been published most recently in Somnambulist, Pacifica Literary Journal, and Hello Mr. He fell into arts journalism by accident in 2015, becoming the theatre reviewer for PQ Monthly. In 2017 he was selected as a Rising Leader of Color in the field of arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He currently writes for American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to his work here. You can find out more at his website. He also sporadically updates a burger-review blog for Portland as well. Twitter: @ihavequalities


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