Today, my countdown widget reads 115 days until Commencement, and I’ve just filled out my intent to graduate form. I will soon be a “Master,” which by definition is a person who has dominance or control of something. Yet as I sit here typing, I feel no closer to being dominant or in control of the fundamentals of arts management. (I think all of us should be called “scholars” because we’re all still learning.) Two years of anything isn’t enough to make you expert, though it does make you aware of the possibilities. Too, it offers up little nuggets of inspiration, motivation, and opportunities to learn more. So, for my final post of my final semester, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane and offer up to the blogosphere the important things I’ve learned in each of the nine courses I have successfully passed, and surmise the outcome of three I’ve yet to complete. For me, this is a yearbook of two years worth of hard, nose-down work. For readers, this is a chance to do as one usually does with information: take what you can, use what you take, and, whatever you find useful, pass it on to someone else.
Art & Cultural Policy
Did you know that U.S. policymaking in the cultural sector is spread throughout the government, involving some 200 programs in at least 30 different federal agencies? Yes, the NEA isn’t the only policy pusher when it comes to the arts. Enacting new policies at the intersection of arts and culture–and defining policy in general–is tricky but it can be done. We need to demand it of our government and we need to work together to achieve it.
Most recently I’ve been taking a course in the practice of self-management. Self-management means different things in different fields, but for business, education, and psychology practitioners it centralizes around “methods, skills and strategies by which individuals can effectively direct their own activities toward the achievement of objectives” (wikipedia.org). This includes goal setting, decision making, focusing, planning, scheduling, task tracking, self-evaluation, self-intervention, and self-development. On the surface it is all very Buddhist-y, kumbayah-ish, but honestly the practice is so much more than that. I have seen it neatly fit into my own life as an arts manager, and lately I’ve been thinking about the benefits mindfulness can give to all arts practitioners, including managers, artists, and students.
Like so many other second years, I had the proverbial graduate school meltdown a few weeks ago. With mounting debt, and the nagging thought of “was this really the right thing to do?”, I turned on my television, like any other good American does, to watch the first of the 2012 Presidential debates. When Mitt Romney proudly said he would cut federal funding for PBS, the subtext read, he’d cut federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts as well.
This isn’t terribly shocking because the issue is not a new thing, but it being an election year, federally-funded art programs are dragged into the spotlight. Recently, Ezra Klein at The Washington Post pointed out just how much money would be saved by cutting these organizations: “In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent… $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies [including PBS, Amtrak] would have saved the government about $2 billion this year — chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.” So not much, but enough so that Romney (and many of the other Republicans before him) can appease conservatives. The arts are the easy target – the scapegoat.
Jillian Steinhauer (Hyperallergic) brings up a good question about the NEA and arts funding. She says “there’s a larger conversation here, about the role of the federal government in arts funding. Should we expect it — or at this point, after decades of struggling to hold on to just a little piece of the pie, should we let it go?”
So, happy fall. Welcome back to school and back to 100°+ weather in the San Gabriel Valley. California and weather is a thing I have yet to figure out, so, with my east coast stubbornness I continue to drink hot coffee in the morning and wear scarves to class, but I make sure to do my homework in the pool. But I digress.
It is the start of my second year, my final year of the good ole Grad life, and as I cringe at my mounting loan balance and avoid the questions of “what are you going to do when you graduate?”, I’d like to direct my gaze towards something that is actually happening right this moment, and talk about the unpaid internship.
We all have them, and despite your view on the legality/benefit/awesomness/exploitativeness of them, unpaid internships are a reality for most undergrad and graduate students, and a right of passage for anyone interested in a career in the arts. During InternQuest 2012, my own personal search for the ideal nesting ground, I discovered that most cultural organizations in LA county offer internship positions, you just have to dig for them a little. My method was simple: log onto Wikipedia, look up all the arts organizations in LA, search all their websites for opportunities, send out letters and CV’s to all those that look appealing, then hope for the best.
I left California almost four months ago and hopped a direct flight back to Boston, fully intending to be a jobless degenerate for at least a month before the melee of my summer job began – for I was doing the thing I said I wasn’t going to do – I was going back to summer camp directing. It should be noted that this is completely okay and justifiable in my line of 501c3 management work, however, since not many people wish to hear about a local artist who told us to pit-fire our pinch pots 642,000 times, the multiple costumes I made from office supplies and spray paint, or, just exactly how many times I listened to Call Me Maybe in the 15-passenger camp van, I’ll spare you and talk about awesome art things instead.
Okay, awesome art things as promised:
It feels like decades have passed since the new semester started. I keep saying to myself “it’s only been six weeks” like six weeks is a short amount of time in a life that is jam-packed to the seams. Soon will come midterms, spring break, finals; then BAM semester over – year one done.
Despite the inevitable grumblings of the few students whose graduate studies are shaping up to look like this,
I am optimistic. It is so cliché to talk about how much of a bigger and better person I am from a year ago, but I honestly have to admit to it and succumb to that truism. Maybe I’m just finally accepting the passage of time and the onset of adulthood, or maybe it is the program I’ve enrolled in. I’m choosing to believe it is a combination of the two, but more the latter than the former.
This degree is just a small part of the vehicle that is moving me towards my career goals. It is who I meet, what I do, how I do it, and how I utilize the tools my program provides to my advantage. If anything, I am thankful for the strong foundation in non-profit management that Claremont Graduate University is providing me. So much of what we do is rooted in the arts, but I could see it easily transitioning into working for any nonprofit in whatever sector. If my dream art job at the Tate Modern does not materialize right away, I feel like I have a fall-back plan.
Exciting things have happened this semester: I met James Turrell when I inadvertently sat next to him in Skyspace, I’ve learned to like finance and accounting enough to let it inform my real-world life, and I’ve felt encouraged and uplifted by all the guest speakers who have come to speak about things like not-for-profit law, board development, programming, consulting and strategic planning. I’ve realized that there are a lot of people out there who care about the arts. Like, a lot, a lot, a lot. It is both positive and inspiring, especially since I consider myself a key part of this upward movement.
Before I start, I must establish one thing: I’m from the east coast. My veins bleed the blood of Nor’easters, Dunkin’ Donuts, baseball rivalries, and the art and cultural Mecca that is New York City. Boston, the “wait for me!” younger sibling to NYC, is my unofficial hometown and the city proudly stamped on my handset, Vandercook letter-pressed, 18×22 inch Bachelor of Fine Arts diploma.
So, with my chest swelling with unequivocal New England pride, how did I find myself 3,000 miles west, living in the suburbs just outside of Los Angeles? The easy answer is grad school; the more elusive answer is an existential quest to find a meaningful place for art in my life. I tried the artist thing (hated the pressure), I tried the educator thing (hated the classroom), and I tried the museum thing (loved everything about it), so naturally the career path I found myself on after I graduated involved outdoor education, archery, and the Girl Scouts – everything my degree was not. My parents were thrilled.
The real push for the pursuit of additional education came during a monumental breakthrough at a Sol LeWitt retrospective, and again after I decided I disliked almost every job I’d ever had since graduation.
Claremont Graduate University was always my first-choice school even when I wasn’t seriously thinking about higher education. I was drawn in by the Art Management programs’ interdisciplinary approach, its mix with the school of management, and a course I’m currently taking with the longest title in registrarial history: The Community Formerly Known as the Audience: Adapting Arts Organizations in the Era of Infinite Choice, an intensive seminar around an audience engagement project in correlation with the J. Paul Getty Trust’s phenomenal initiative, Pacific Standard Time, and taught by ArtsJournal founder, Doug McLennan.
My thought process concerning grad school went like this: it was now or never, and the now was looking bleak and the never was looking attainable. Of course I threw everything to the wind, took the GRE’s within a month of decided to go back to school, and begged for forgiveness as I gave my references a three week window to sing my praises. All you potential graduate-scholars out there, this is 100% not how to go about this. Take my advice, I drank Maalox like water.
The short story reason for why I’m here, back behind institutional-grade office furniture and end-of-term papers (papers….what is a paper? I haven’t written a paper since 2008), is because of an overwhelming love for art, its institutions and practitioners; for its theories and arguments, and the desire to be in charge of all that. In a world full of chaos, the arts are most certainly a pillar. I want to ensure the posterity of arts institutions, and make art relevant for every generation. So this is why I’m here, and you get to join me on my new, bicoastal wild ride.
It’s going to be entertaining though, I promise you, if only for the play-by-play I will give as my right brain tries to conjure my left brain in a course called Finance and Accounting for Non Profits. I will indubitably stand as a different type of presence on the Open Enrollment blog, mainly because I won’t be in a studio, or in a crit, or in a group show, or in a solo show, or pulling an all-nighter to finish a 6-foot tall ceramic sculpture (this is a personal anecdote), but I will be dipping my fingers into the behind-the-scenes swimming pool of arts management.
In closing, new friends, I went out for drinks with some school comrades the other night. We were celebrating the launch of our audience engagement website, and as we were leaving, a joking remark was shared that involved us commissioning t-shirts logoed with a catch phrase sardonically mentioned in class. We laughed about it, rolled our eyes, got in our cars and went our seperate ways. However, I’m a semester in, a semester wiser, and the more and more I learn, and the more I think about it, walking around with “Future Arts Manager of America” emblazoned on my chest doesn’t sound like half bad an idea.