Two months into her new position as the new executive director of Nazareth College’s Arts Center, Rita Mannelli’s career has taken her everywhere from St. Louis, Missouri to Chicago, Illinois, all the way to Nazareth College here in Rochester, New York. And it all started with a parking spot.
I meet Ms. Minnelli in her office just outside of Callahan Theatre. Minnelli welcomes me with a warm smile, and her lively personality is immediately apparent as she jokes about how she isn’t “camera ready,” upon seeing my camera. Dressed in a red, fitted blazer, the bubbly Minnelli recounts how the girl from Illinois ended up as the new executive director at the Nazareth College Arts
Minnelli attended the University of Illinois, where she completed her bachelor’s in speech communications. With a passion and involvement in the arts her whole life, Minnelli knew that corporate America was not her goal, but did not know have a clear idea about how to incorporate the arts into her communications degree.
Cue her light bulb moment.
“One night, I was walking back to my dorm from class and right next to the auditorium where we would bring [bands], a car was parked,” Minnelli explains. “Parking on campus, at the University of Illinois, was very, very difficult… I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, that would be the best parking spot. I would love to have that parking spot.’ And then my brain said, if I was in charge of that theatre – in charge of the auditorium – I could totally park there. That could be my parking spot.”
Following this “light bulb moment,” – as she describes it – the immensely determined Minnelli, a sophomore at the time, made an appointment with the current director of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.
“I didn’t say this exact quote, but in this kind of way, I said: ‘Ok, I want your job one day. What do I have to do?’”
From there, Minnelli was introduced to the concept of arts administration, and would go on to intern at the Krannert Center, eventually leading her to the Metro Theatre Company, and then to her position as the Director of Marketing and Communications for the School of Music at DePaul University.
Now at Nazareth, Minnelli is working to bring more acts and touring productions to the Nazareth and Rochester community for next year’s season. She will be going to a conference in January in order to solidify some of the choices.
“My philosophy moving forward with what I want to bring in is to continue to collaborate and get input from people here on campus, as well as the community, as to where their interests are and what new things are out there,” Minnelli explains.
Her passion for what she is doing – something that Minnelli sites as an important factor in her life’s work – is evident as she continues to chat about her excitement for the upcoming acts, everything from the “Rockin’ Road to Dublin” to the “Stunt Dog Experience.”
Though she does not reveal what surprises she has in store for future seasons, her lively personality and excitement for the future of the arts center radiate off her as she teases, “Well, I can’t reveal, yet… Next year is our 50th anniversary season, so we’re really looking for it to be a celebration of 50 years of the arts at Nazareth.” I can’t help but get excited for whatever that may be.
As we begin to wrap up our chat, I ask Minnelli what her advice would be to students who came to her and said that they wanted her job. In an answer that is both practical and optimistic, Minnelli advises, “If in five years you’re not at your dream job, don’t worry. Keep dreaming, because it can happen.”
This certainly holds true for Ms. Minnelli as she begins her journey at what she considers to be a dream job, as the new executive director for the arts center. Though not the most traditional career path for a speech communications major, Minnelli sums up her journey very well:
“How do you find your way in the world? Sometimes it’s a parking spot.”