Fiction faculty gets down to business

By Lisa Schulz

An accomplished fiction writing instructor, Andrew Micheli demonstrated that an artistic vocation and a managerial career can be combined when he landed his new position as executive director at the Arts and Business Council of Chicago.

He was promoted on Sept. 15 from program coordinator in the council. ABCC provides management, consulting, board training and development for arts-nonprofits—small-and mid-sized—across Chicago, he said. The council also coordinates the groups with business professionals to promote the city’s creative community. At Columbia, the fiction writing adjunct faculty member and Master of Fine Arts alumnus teaches Story in Fiction and Film: International.

“To call him a renaissance man in this day and age makes it sound a little diminishing, maybe, but he really is incredibly adept in a lot of different arts and business areas,” said Randall Albers, chair of the Fiction Writing Department.

Albers said there are very few MFA alumni in the non-story workshop classes who continued to teach in the Fiction Writing Department. Most hires for these courses are instructors from outside of the department, but Micheli was chosen for his background in film, he said.

Shawn Shiflett, associate fiction writing professor, said there are typically more part-time positions pursued by MFA alumni.

“There are full-time professors here. Some stay and want to teach, and other times, positions open up,” Shiflett said.

Micheli came to Columbia in 2005 with a passion for theater. Formerly an ensemble performer for the American Theatre Company, Micheli participated for 12 years because “the community was in [my] blood.”

There were also an abundance of managerial duties for him to fulfill, as there are with most small arts organizations, he said.

He had an equal passion for writing and theater, but they were always separate, he said. Teaching at Columbia was a way to bring more of a balance into his life. In his current career, he said fiction is the focus.

Micheli’s written works include two books—one that remains unpublished in the drawer next to his bed, because he thought the background pertained to an irrelevant chapter in his life—and an untitled novel in the works. He said not having been published won’t stop him from writing.

“Hats off to those who can make a full and honest living just with their art,” Micheli said. “It is often a very rare thing, and most artists have a variety of ways they pay the bills. Neither thing defines them, hopefully They just are who they are. [For] me, stopping art wouldn’t occur to me.”

Even though Micheli has said he’d like to continue teaching at Columbia, Albers said he’s uncertain Micheli will have the time. He “certainly hopes” Micheli continues because Micheli’s number of talents are “incredibly beneficial” to students.

Balancing both jobs should not be a challenge, since he only teaches one course per week, Micheli said.

Now, in the council, Micheli’s agenda consists of strategic direction, fundraising, reassuring objectives in the board, handling the operating budget and planning.

“Really, this job just came around, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s perfect for me,’” Micheli said. “That’s my world—those are the people [who] I know.”

The biggest obstacle remaining for the council is fundraising. The council helps out any organization that comes to it, Micheli said.

Approximately 60 percent of the council’s clients are theater companies and dance troupes, and 40 percent consist of a mixture of musical and arts education and other cultural institutions, he said.

Micheli said he’s still trying to coordinate a balance between position changes. His new position will allow him to continue fulfilling his visions for the organization and the community.

“I feel like it is a natural progression of how I started here,” he said. “It’s a general excitement, and [I’m] trying to figure out all of the specifics to it. It’s a very different job.”