PORTLAND — Retirement didn’t last long for Stephen Shiman.

He and his wife became full-time Mainers in October, after both retired from jobs in the metropolitan New York area. For more than two decades, Shiman served as executive director of the Newark School for the Arts.

He thought he had put the working life in the rear-view mirror. The couple moved to their summer home in Naples, to which Shiman has been coming every year since he was born.

Perhaps a winter full of snow drove him stir-crazy.

Shiman recently took over as executive director of the Portland Conservatory of Music.

“I did not intend to work full time. I did not,” he said in a recent interview at the Portland Conservatory office at Woodfords Congregational Church. “But I am used to running schools. After three or four months, Carol (Elowe) asked, ‘You’re not interested in running this one, are you?’ “

He said yes.

Elowe is founder and artistic director of the conservatory, which trains musicians of all ages. It has an enrollment of about 250 students.

Back in Newark, Shiman directed a school with an enrollment of 600 students and a budget of $1.25 million.

The Portland Conservatory budget is considerably less, somewhere in the vicinity of $250,000. Shiman is still trying to get a handle on the finances of the school, which he described politely as “challenging.”

Shiman promises to run the conservatory with financial discipline. “We will be well managed, and we’re not going to lose money,” he said.

“This school has spent a lot of time living hand-to-mouth. I would like to change the culture. The financial end of the things is where I am spending all my time.”

On one hand, that’s good. It means programmatically, the school has a solid foundation.

If not, Shiman would not have taken the job. But because he believes in the school’s artistic accomplishments, he felt comfortable committing to its financial turnaround.

“We have good programs and a strong artistic presence. This is the thing that attracted me,” he said. “We have a story to tell. We can fund-raise on the power of what we are doing. We are a unique school in this area.”

On the other hand, the challenging nature of the school’s finances means he has a lot of work to do.

So far, his work has involved internal restructuring. He’s actually created some part-time positions — one for a bookkeeper, the other for a grant writer — to complement the conservatory’s sole full-time employee.

The school’s previous director handled all the attendant tasks, which was simply too much to ask, Shiman said. By diversifying the internal structure and allowing people to concentrate on single goals, he hopes to improve both efficiency and results.

“We’re going to match talent with needs,” he said.

The conservatory actually looks good financially from the outside. A year ago, it received a gift of $300,000 as a scholarship endowment. It allows the school to expand its need-based and merit scholarships.

For a small school, that’s a huge gift and an impressive endowment.

But as Shiman noted, he can’t touch that money for anything other than its intended purpose.

For now, he intends to explore his options and tap whatever resources are available, and he hopes to spread the good word about the conservatory to anyone willing to listen.

He’s got a chance coming up. This coming weekend, the conservatory hosts its annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, with concerts at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. April 17.

Shiman, who trained as an oboist at The Juilliard School, sees similarities in his current post in Portland and his job in Newark. Though vastly different in size and scope, the schools are similar.

“They are both providing the opportunity for people to develop themselves with arts as a fulcrum to do it. It gives opportunity to people who otherwise could not afford it.

“That is the real gift of the school.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Follow him at Twitter at:

twitter.com/pphbkeyes

 


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