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Taking the Barnes by Force

     See you tomorrow morning at 7am, P3 of the Katzen Parking Garage. 
Thus began our morning adventure to Philadelphia to visit the Barnes Foundation with fellow classmates and professors.
 But it wasn’t just a visit. Gradually inferring from the carefully crafted itinerary and follow up emails, and especially when we arrived in the board room of the Barnes, it was apparent that the awesome people who organized this access for us were thoroughly investing in the arts leaders of tomorrow.

The architecture of the BF is stunning--here, walking up to the entrance.
The architecture of the BF is stunning—here, walking up to the entrance.

     Mark Mills and Katie Adams, both alumni from the American University Arts Management program, organized the day. It was, for many of us, our first time at the Barnes Foundation—and it could not have been more incredible. Mark and Katie are so enthusiastic about the intriguing history of the Barnes, its move, and its continuing transformation into its new space. They made for great stewards of the experience. They took us on tours of the collection, provided us a generous breakfast and lunch to fuel our day, and described how their roles at the Barnes have allowed them to accomplish great feats in their careers as arts leaders. I was especially impressed as they described developing programs for different levels of donors (including young professionals) and how they’ve significantly increased their donor pool.

Mark Mills, Senior Director of External Affairs for Individual Giving and Visitor Services (and AU Arts Management alum) leads a group of us into the galleries!
Mark Mills, Senior Director of External Affairs for Individual Giving and Visitor Services (and AU Arts Management alum) leads a group of us into the galleries!

     The caliber of the day didn’t end there, however. Blake Bradford, the Director of Education, and Lynn Berkowitz, the Family Programs Coordinator at the Barnes illustrated the programming that they infused into the foundation to increase participation and access. To top it off, we had a discussion with Executive Director Derek Gillman about his role and experience as a leader throughout the transformation and move of the Barnes from the Merion location to downtown Philadelphia. He also spoke about exciting things to come for the Barnes Foundation. The enthusiasm, affection, and grit of all of the leaders we encountered were evident. Definitely fuel for our ambitions.

Executive Director Derek Gillman talks with us in the boardroom of the BF
Executive Director Derek Gillman talks with us in the boardroom of the BF

     The voices and the scribbled notes from the day have started to settle in, and as I’m sitting here typing away, a main image stands out to me from the day. Matisse’s La Danse – the mammoth three arches of canvas exploding with expressively dancing figures that Dr. Barnes commissioned for his ceiling – is akin to being an emerging, or even an established arts leader: It is a dance. Being a successful arts leader means establishing friendships with the other arts organizations in the same city and geographic location, and especially with those people who do the same job as you. It is the back and forth of partnerships and gaining knowledge and support from those organizations more established and connected. And of course, it is the openness to new ideas, to taking risks, and to always questioning.

Go out and meet the arts leaders of today and participate in great opportunities to learn from their experiences. Go out and dance. They are excited for us, and excited we are as well.

A handful of us AU arts managers, happy and inspired
A handful of us AU arts managers, happy and inspired
Christina Girardi is a first-year student in AU’s Arts Management graduate program and serves as this year’s Finance Assistant on the EALS committee.

You made it to graduate school…now what?

You have made a decision, and perhaps a leap of faith, to go to graduate school. You do your research, visit some schools, talk to faculty and current students, apply and get accepted into your dream program. Voila. You are now a student in an arts management program (in my case, at American University in Washington, D.C.)

Now what?

There is no perfect recipe for success that works for everyone but here are a few tips and advices from some brilliant and passionate arts professionals as well as from my personal (well, professional) experience:

1. START FROM YOUR ACADEMIC PROGRAM

You are likely to meet people from various very interesting professional backgrounds in your graduate program. Start with this inner circle. For example, my classmates include a database manager for a non-profit, a development associate at a museum, an orchestra manager, a stage manager, a music teacher, and an actor/ director of a theatre group etc., and they have 0 to over 20 years of experience in the field. Not only you can learn from their experiences and share your own, you can also meet their friends and colleagues and expand your circle.

Another circle that you might not think of immediately is the alumni network of your program. In our case, we not only have an active email listserv of current students and alumni from the program, we also have an active Facebook group that news articles, arts issues, and events etc are posted by current students, alumni and sometimes professors. These alumni have been in your program and made their interests and passions into their careers. Learn from them – from course recommendations to where to eat in town, from job searches to which conferences to go to, they are a wealth of knowledge that you ought to take advantage of, then you can pay it forward to future students when you are out in the real world (again).

Another “inner circle” not to neglect is your program faculty. Schedule meetings with them or take them out for coffee, then learn about their experiences and tell them what you are interested in. You may not wish to teach in graduate school in the future but these professors most likely have connections in the field or were arts managers prior to becoming professors. They can give great advice in where to begin looking and networking as well as make introductions to help you get to where you wish to be.

 

2. EMERGING (INSERT FIELD) PROFESSIONAL GROUPS

For some people, going to graduate school requires moving to a new city or even a new country. If that is the case, networking is like killing two birds with one stone. You meet a group of like-minded professionals who most likely understand your pains and gains of working (or the desire to do so) in the arts. They have been there and done that. Introduce yourself to them (do you have an elevator speech yet?) and ask them about how they get to where they are. They are usually happy to share with you their experiences and give advice, and sometimes lend a hand in making introductions and even letting you know about job openings in their institutions.

In Washington D.C., networking opportunities are endless. Emerging Arts Leaders DC(in affliation with Americans for the Arts) and, if you are interested in working in museums, the D.C. Emerging Museum Professionals are two of the many active professional groups in town with multiple events each month. Get involved!

Although there isn’t a school requirement for you to go to an EALDC networking First Friday lunch or a DCEMP happy hour, I suggest you to go whenever you can as these informal conversations often lead you to people and opportunities that you might not have expected.

Feeling a little too shy for impromptu conversations at happy hours? Go to the career development events with less talking and more listening then. I recently attended a DCEMP career development workshop on interview skills – not only I learnt a lot about interviewing, I also got to meet some great people, most of them either looking for their first jobs out of graduate school or those who are looking to transition into a new area in the field.

 

3. CONFERENCES, SYMPOSIUMS, LECTURES, WEBINARS…YOU NAME IT

Are you more of a listener and need a little warming up before you feel like networking? You have got plenty of options as well! Look for conferences, symposiums, webinars and colloquia online and ask around for recommendations. Good places to start looking are websites of Americans for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, and other graduate programs in your area.

I have attended and volunteered at many of such events and have met so many great people and learnt so much that I cannot possibly explain in one blog entry. Many conferences offer student discounts, scholarships and fellowships so do not let the registration price tag deter you. If all else fails, there is always the option of volunteering for a conference. Trust me, it never hurts to ask, the worst answer you can get is a “no” but you might just met your new friend or mentor from that conversation. You can often volunteer for one day of a conference to be able to register for a discounted price or for free for the rest of the conference. My experiences from these conferences have always been very positive, and I highly recommend volunteering to anyone new to the arts world.

Got a full-time job and a big student loan or simply don’t have time to travel? Again, fret not, there are still many ways to get involved. There are often affordable (or free) webinars, webcasts of panels and conferences, webchats, tweetups and slideshows available for view online. Good places to look are Guidestar, Foundation Center, idealist, National Arts Marketing Project etc, in addition to the websites mentioned above.

The arts management program at American University hosts the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium annually right before Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Days. This year, the Symposium will be held on Sunday, April 15, 2012. Participants from DC and around the country have always said it’s a great opportunity to meet current leaders in the field (who are usually speakers and panelists) as well as to network with other emerging professionals.  Registration is currently available online here and we sure hope to see you this April!   

 

4. INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

If you are ready for some one-on-one time with people in positions you dream to be in, it is time for some informational interviews. For example, if you aspire to be a gallery director, visit galleries and do research on directors and managers of these galleries. Meet them at an open house or send them an email to ask if you can meet them for coffee or in their office to ask a few (well-prepared) questions about their professional experiences.

I recently did an informational interview with a director of a gallery that I would love to work for in the future and it was just a great experience chatting with him and learning about how he got to where he is now. These chats will help you prepare for better-focused job searches and better-prepared interviews. Although I do not see myself being a registrar or collections manager of a museum in the future, I had an informational interview with a collections manager at one of the art museums at the Smithsonian (whom I met at one of the conferences) to better understand the work of her department, as well as how it fits into the greater picture of museum management. And I came out of the meeting having learnt those things and more. In short, keep an open mind and do not let someone’s job title determine your interest – you might learn something you do not expect in each encounter!

Hopefully these tips are helpful to you, my fellow colleagues-in-training. Do share your experiences in networking in the comments below. Good luck with your journey ahead and hope to see you at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium this April 15!

Experiencing APAP NYC, what I am taking from the 2012 conference. – Day 4

Day 4:

Today’s post will be pretty short, I imagine, since the only main conference activity was the awards luncheon and the rest of the day was filled with showcases.

Each year, APAP awards those whose service to the performing arts has had a significant impact on the industry and on communities worldwide.  The recipients are chosen by a national panel of arts leaders.  Here are those recipients:

  • The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement
    King and Jaffe

    in Programming was awarded to Paul King and Walter Jaffe.  The two founded White Bird Dance in 1997 to highlight excellence in dance in Portland, Oregon. The organization has since become one of the leading dance presenters on the west coast bringing regional, national and international dance groups to the communities of Portland. White Bird supports emerging dance companies and choreographers, commissions new works, conducts outreach programs in local schools and collaborates extensively with other Portland area organizations to broaden dance audiences.

  • The Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts was awarded to Ben Cameron.  In 2006, Ben Cameron
    Ben Cameron

    assumed his current position as program director of arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York, NY. He supervises a $17 million grants program focusing on organizations and artists in the theatre, contemporary dance, jazz and presenting fields. Previously, Cameron served for more than eight years as the executive director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), significantly expanding its programs, membership base and grant-making activities. He worked as senior program officer at the Dayton Hudson Foundation, manager of community relations for Target and spent four years at the National Endowment for the Arts, including two as director of the theater program.

  • The Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Arts was awarded to Jazz impresario George Wein. Through his company, Festival Productions, Inc., he has spearheaded hundreds of music events annually since 1954 when he produced the first Newport Jazz Festival – an event that started the festival era. Five years later, Wein
    Wein

    and folk icon Pete Seeger founded the Newport Folk Festival where the two music giants celebrated 50 years of folk with 15,000 fans in August 2009. In 2011, Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc., was created to help maintain these festivals into the future. At 86, Wein has as much creative fuel as he did when he started the Newport festivals and advanced the concept of live music. He also pioneered the idea of sponsorships for music events, beginning with the Schlitz Salute to Jazz and the Kool Jazz Festival.

Showcases throughout the day:

  1. The first showcase was an excerpt by Radio Theatre.  They performed a wonderful adaptation of the King Kong script in the style of the old radio shows.  They didn’t dress up in 1940’s costumes and act as if a radio show was going on, however.  They just “parked and barked” from their script stands at the front of the stage.  It was a true readers theatre that, if you closed you eyes, made you feel as if you were sitting by a radio and listening to a story.  They also used lighting and sound effects to help the mood along.
  2. Next I saw Star of Happiness: Helen Keller on Vaudeville?!  The one woman play was designed (according to the program) to tell people of Keller’s four year Vaudeville stint and describe what it was like to be a blind spectacle.  While the idea seems good, the execution was far from it.  It is unfortunate that I have to give a bad review at an APAP showcase, but there is just no way to spin it.  It was bad.  The performer was not a good actor, which is sort of necessary when you are the only person on the stage.  Also, there didn’t seem to be any character to Keller.  I would not recommend wasting your time on this one.
  3. Next up was unfortunately another disappointment.  Jeff Randal Rose’s Love, Lightning had me searching from the start.  “Searching for what?,” you might ask.  Searching for a plot or a meaning or a theme or something.  And I consider myself educated in the different styles of theatre.  Simply, this seemed to be a poor attempt at avant-garde.
  4. My next showcase more than made up for it though.  Shen Wei Dance Arts was amazing.  The choreographer of the 2008 Bejing Olympics proved that he can do more than teach hundreds of people to beat a drum in sync.  Wei’s choreography is cutting edge and extraordinary, with the artists moving their bodies in ways that you rarely see dancers move (requiring the utmost body control).  The piece was, however, VERY modern.  I definitely don’t see Joe the plumber purchasing a ticket to see this.  But for those who are die-hard modern dance enthusiasts, I would highly recommend catching this when it comes through your town.  (But I do not recommend it for youth or children…or your mom, because of the scantily clad costumes….or lack of.)
  5. The Friar's Club

    I wrapped up my evening with an amazing combo showcase featuring some of NYK-Rapp’s artists.  We witnessed:

  • the succulent swing of legendary woodwind musician Hal Linden,
  • the belting voice of Lucie Arnaz (yes, that would be Lucy and Desi’s daughter),
  • the melodies of multiple Tony Award nominee and Knots Landing star Michele Lee
  • the showmanship of legendary singer and tap-dancer Maurice Hines (yep, Gregory’s brother)
  •  the Bette Midler and Aretha Franklin type vocal command of Carol Woods and Karen Saunders
  • the amplified pipes of Tony Award nominee (for Fosse) Valarie Pettiford
  • and the mind bending act of mentalist Guy Bavli

The entire night was emceed by the hilarious Stewie Stone at the legendary Friar’s Club at 55th and Park Avenue.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would recommend these acts.

Ok, so I guess the post wasn’t as short as I thought it would be.  Stay tuned for the final post tomorrow.

– Steven Dawson
“The world needs art, not so they can escape, but so they can embrace.”

Experiencing APAP NYC, what I am taking from the 2012 conference. – Day 3

Day 3:

Bolz Center students share their work

I started this morning with a session with our fellow arts management students at the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin.  The students involved, Joanna Simpson, Brian Hinrichs, Marcella Dover, Laura Blegen, Andrew Maxfield, and Danielle Boyke, presented this year’s edition of the Dawson Research Internship: Power Influence, and Performing Arts.  Bolz Center director Andrew Taylor moderated.  The research and presentation was designed to connect the dots between power and influence in policy-making and the arts.  Here is a brief summary of the two hour session:

  • Social Network Analysis – there are 4 steps to analyzing your network:
    1) Define the group
    2) Know your position in relation to the group
    3) Identify the connectors and bridges between you and a desired network connection
    4) Create a plan for how to change your position
    – Analyze your network to see the actual connections.  It is a great way to visualize what you need to do to further your connections and position (i.e. – get someone on the Rotary club so you can connect with a certain local businessperson).
  • Social Movement Theory –
    – How do they function?  The root idea is the base, then comes the mobilization of resources, then comes a cycle of cognition (recognizing smaller goals), coordination, and cooperation.
    – Arts fit in with social movements by providing communication, mobilization, solidarity, long-term impact, and emotional power.
  • Power in Politics – Economic power is the main source of power in the US (the 1% idea that has been brought forward from the “occupy” movements).  The “power elite” have a mix of social upper class, policy forming organizations, and corporate community.
    – How to make a change:  identify your “power elite” and find a way into the network.
  • Organizational behavior – the 6 source model from Influencer by Patterson, Grenny, et al.: shows different ways to affect change (this is a great companion book to Switch by the Heath brothers).

Ideas picked up from session participants and personal thoughts:

  •  Ticket buyers are an outcome, not a network.
  • An army of people camping on the steps of the capital is not as powerful as one person having a conversation with the chair of a congressional committee.
  • As far as advocacy, we arts people have such a large network, that the potential for huge clout is there; we just have to mobilize the network.
More info on the research can be found at bolzcenter.org/dawson

At 11:00, I attended the next plenary session, The Village Beat – Taking Action.  It was hosted by John Hearn, principal at SYPartners.

John Hearn

The towering consultant led the group in a discussion on connecting the organization to the community and its needs.  This doesn’t mean simply residing in a community and trying to lure its members in.  It means having a direct connection.  His four pillars of what constitutes a community’s situation are the individual, the community (group), change that is happening, and money.  The major questions to ask yourselves as an organization are:

  • How is the world changing for the community you serve?
  • What is the ideal that would answer your community’s most pressing needs?
  • How will you or your organization rise to this occasion?
  • What is the evidence that you can exercise this leadership?
  • How must you stretch in order to fully occupy your new role in the community?

Thoughts taken from this session:

  • Don’t think about your community in terms of art, because chances are it is not what they wake up thinking about.
  • Define your success as an organization based on the success of the community around you, not by looking at yourself in the mirror.

There was a lot of grand, eloquent thoughts and statements during this Village Beat session.  I can only hope that the arts leaders who made these statements will actually put these thoughts into action and not keep them on the shelf.

After a dinner at the famous Carnegie Deli, I headed over to the Broadway Comedy Club on 8th avenue to check out what Chicago City Limits had to offer.  It is a 6 member

Chicago City Limits

improvisation group that has 5 actors and 1 amazing improvisational accompanist.  I was not disappointed.  I know I said yesterday that 7 Fingers was my favorite….well, Chicago City Limits has now taken that position with a coup de force.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.  You know when you get to laughing so hard that they get high pitched and you start snorting……yep, that was me.  The troupe started with a song about a phrase that the audience came up with, which happened to be “Anything Goes.”  The lyrics were masterfully composed, and the actors really played off each other rhymes well. Then they performed a sketch about another crowd creation in multiple styles, which were also drawn from the crowd.  Another highlight was the “story time” sketch based off of a title that an audience member gave.  The actors passed the baton, so to speak, picking up the story and continuing to create it as the “director” pointed to each actor.  They also performed a long-form improv musical, and ended with a hilarious game in which one actor had to guess a regionalism phrase based on extremely vague clues given by the other actors.  I cannot even begin to do justice to the comical genius of the group in this blog.  I can only recommend that you look them up and plan to attend one of their shows.

Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

After that, I meandered down to 44th and 8th to the famous Birdland jazz club to listen to a set from the world renown and Grammy winning Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Each musician on the stage was a true master of his craft.  It was a delight to listen to such wonderful Latin jazz.  Once again, I recommend hunting them down and listening when you get the chance.

– Steven Dawson
“The world needs art, not so they can escape, but so they can embrace.”

You Are What You Do

Or are you?

The Holiday Season means holiday parties which mean wearing spangles, eating weird things skewered on toothpicks (olive, ham, cheese on a single toothpick: gross), and making hideous small talk. I’m pretty sure an elf dies every

time I fill an awkward silence between me and a holiday-sweatered-stranger with, “Sooooo, New Friend, what do yoooou doooo?”

This is a common question. We ask each other what we do because that’s often how we define others and ourselves; by our publicly recognized profession. When someone asks me what I do, I launch into a long winded explanation that essential boils down to: “although I’m a database manager, my path is arts administration.” Because that’s what I want to do and how I define myself.

Now the question itself is an ambiguous one. If someone was legitimately asking me what I do I could answer with a variety of things that have absolutely no affect (I hope) on my paycheck. “Well I’m an avid breather, in fact I’m doing it right now, I compulsively doodle in the margins of books whether they’re mine or the library’s, I bake cookies while watching reality television and when I run I fantasize about being a cage fighter.” Those are all things I do. Pretty regularly, nearly daily (and in fact constantly as far as the breathing bit is concerned). However here in the US of A that is not a satisfying answer. See when we ask someone “what do you do?” the question really means “where do you work?” not “what are your hopes and dreams and how do you enjoy spending time?”

It’s been said in the US we are what we do. We perceive ourselves and others by our job description. So how does that affect us as arts managers and artists? I’ve spent a significant portion of my life sitting around and painting but that never comes up when I’m asked what I do. 

How do you define yourself in a society that defines itself by the job position? Artist? Arts Manager? What do you do?

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