by Aaron Shanks
Frank Stilwagner is the Director of Development at Village Theatre in Issaquah and Everett and Co-Chair of Fundraising for the Arts Task Force. Like many professionals who find themselves working in arts administration, Stilwagner began with a passion for performing.
“I started performing in Theatre and Show Choir my Freshman year of High School and knew that I wanted to spend my life in the performing arts,” recalled Stilwagner.
This lead to earning a BFA in Performing Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University, living for ten years in Chicago as a working actor, and eventually to participate in a startup theatre company, Terrapin Theatre.
“I did a lot of marketing for Terrapin Theatre—I just seemed to be drawn to it and enjoyed it. When I found myself between acting jobs in Chicago and my partner at the time had taken a job in Seattle, I thought why not head west and see what the arts scene is like in Seattle.”
Of course, he found a vibrant Seattle art scene and because he is a “jump in and see what happens” kind of person he also found all kinds of work, onstage and off. Time with Taproot Theater, ArtsWest, Kirkland Performance Center, and Flying House Productions (FHP), home of Seattle Men’s Chorus and Seattle Women’s Chorus, led to well-rounded experiences in marketing, public relations, fundraising and communications.
“One thing led to another, and I didn’t end up performing again. Instead, I ended up as the Executive Director [of FHP]. I was proud to lead the organization as the nation saw Marriage Equality and the world seemed to be a path of support and acceptance of its LGBTQ citizens.”
“I do what I do, because it inspires, challenges, and fulfills me personally and professionally. I found myself in the arts at a very young age, and then again through Seattle Men’s Chorus which brought the crossroads of being gay and my love of performing together.”
Stilwagner’s work evolved, and again he continued to work in his element – the intersection of what he loves and what he is good at – this time in development at Village Theatre.
“Village Theatre is far more than a producer of Theatre. It is an organization that is committed to supporting youth through the arts. Providing safe places for young people to be whoever they are and allowing them to find themselves through the arts. Our youth education motto is “Skills for Theatre… Skills for Life.” I truly believe in this, as that is what it did for me.”
Was new at his Village position when he met Jamie Herlich, who was also new at Seattle Repertory Theatre. The recognized a need for a place for arts and culture fundraising professionals could gather to talk shop. They worked with 4Culture, the cultural funding agency for King County, to found the Fundraising for the Arts Task Force. Stilwagner is one of its Co-chairs along with Herlich, now Director of Development at Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Errin Patton, Membership Manager at Town Hall Seattle. It works collectively together to share best practices, develop ideas and projects that help promote the arts regionally.
When asked if LGBTQ donors have unique qualities, Stilwagner responded, “This is an interesting question. I am not sure that LGBTQ donors are any different than any donor. I have found that people who are philanthropic are just that—they want to help in any way they can no matter what their capacity to give may be.”
Aaron Shanks is a Seattle-based actor and is currently the Director of Development at Showtunes Theatre Company.