“I always say that if all goes well, operations has done its job,” laughs Jewel Malone, the Chief Operations Officer at Miami’s National YoungArts Foundation, one of the leading U.S. institutions identifying and nurturing America’s brightest young talent. If you’ve ever attended a performance, poetry reading or visual arts exhibition at YoungArts’ sprawling campus, then you know that their programs rarely fall short of spectacular. From the artists and audiovisuals to the cocktails and the company, every YoungArts extravaganza showcases the organization’s ability to present the most dynamic emerging artists while running an organization that consistently leads Miami’s cultural evolution.
In large part, you can thank Malone for that — though she would insist that it’s entirely a team effort. “Our staff is mostly made up of creatives and artists, so we have this internal brain trust. Allowing them to dream a little is very unique and rare, and we have certainly earned our stripes and success rate because of them.” As COO, Malone is responsible for making sure that all of the organization’s parts — from programming and facilities to staff and systems — are running as smoothly as possible. “There is no typical day, other than that every day we are striving for excellence,” she tells me in a third-floor office overlooking Biscayne Bay.
A CHANGE OF ADDRESS
Dressed in a cowl-neck dress from COS and wearing delicate Van Cleef & Arpels baubles and minimal makeup, Malone elaborates on a long and illustrious career that began at a bank and wound up turning her into one of the leading arts administrators in the nation. Born in the Philippines, her family moved to Chicago when she was 8 years old, where she lived until she accepted the position at YoungArts. Studying business and completing an MBA, Malone landed at J.P. Morgan early on in her career. But when she was assigned a community-oriented project after the market crash, she realized that her true passion was for the arts, and that her business acumen would be well-applied in an industry that seems to be in constant need of funding and innovation. She worked as the Deputy Commissioner at the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs before joining the Chicago Children’s Choir as their COO.
REACHING FOR THE ARTS
Since joining YoungArts in 2016, Malone has been busy streamlining the nationally recognized organization’s daily ins-and-outs. “In non-profit work you want your investments made toward your mission, so that means you have to solidify your foundation,” she says. “Outside of what people know of the organization, we’re strengthening the back end because we want it to look as solid as our programs.” For Malone, whipping the back end into shape can mean anything from data security, relationship management or alumni programming — and true to form, she takes it all on with a healthy dose of imagination. “I think it’s exciting to be in a place that’s truly setting the tone for the nation,” she says. “You can still dream here and make it work.”