Tera Beach was looking at a long career in politics.

Politics introduced her to the world of arts and culture.

The new executive director for Spectrum Dance Theater in Leschi, Beach’s introduction to the organization solidified her desire to lead it.

“It happened a lot quicker than I thought it was going to happen,” she said.

Beach worked for former congressman Jim McDermott for 18 years.

“When I started in Jim’s office, I was 21 and fresh faced — it’s baptism by fire,” she said. “The last person in the office gets dumped with all the issues no one wants, so I got arts and culture.”

When McDermott announced his retirement in 2016, Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur described Beach as his “right-hand staffer,” and that she spent 320 hours listing everything the congressman was sending to the University of Washington to archive.

Beach said she learned a lot about arts and culture during her time in McDermott’s office, including just how much of an economic driver it is for the region.

“They bring in more money than the sports teams combined,” she said. “They create more jobs than sports, but you don’t want to be arts-versus-sports.”

Spectrum Dance Theater had gone a long time without an executive director, and the job wasn’t one Beach initially thought she wanted.

“A friend of mine contacted me, and I originally wasn’t interested,” she said. “I was pursuing a career in politics.”

Beach met with Spectrum board president Russ Stromberg for 2 1/2 hours, she said, and then with longtime artistic director and renowned choreographer Donald Byrd and three Spectrum team members.

“Ms. Beach’s background uniquely positions her to lead Spectrum into a new phase of growth and mission driven work,” Byrd said in a Spectrum news release. “She has shown great dedication to supporting the arts in our community, and has a unique ability to compassionately and authentically intersect with people across all dynamics of background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, power and privilege.”

Beach said she found the institution combined her love for arts, civics and politics.

“Spectrum can be provocative and political with its art,” Beach said. “That’s not for everyone — and that’s OK.”

Spectrum is broken into three parts: a dance school, dance company, and outreach and engagement organization. Founded in 1982, it is Seattle’s second-largest dance institution.

Beach said strategic planning starts in December, and she’s already looking at what is on the horizon by the time Spectrum’s 40th year rolls around in 2022. The institution has a “lean and nimble staff,” she said, and she’s hoping to see it increase.

“I’m just in awe of the work people have been able to do with the limited staffing,” Beach said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently revealed her proposed budget for next year, and Beach said she’ll be looking at how it could help or hurt. Spectrum has operated out of a building on Lake Washington Boulevard that’s owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation since its inception.

Beach is also a trustee for the Wing Luke Museum and Humanities Washington, and was recently appointed to the 4Culture Task Force, which she said is a 27-member group that will assess a possible arts-and-culture levy to ensure equity among all cities served in the county. King County’s Prop 1, a tax measure for arts, culture, and science education failed in the August 2017 primary election.

Find out more about Spectrum Dance Theater at spectrumdance.org.