For Los Angeles native Emily Ditkovski, the healing and restorative power of the arts is something that has always been evident. While coming of age on the West Coast, the arts education advocate—whose parents are thespians and educators—witnessed how the stage could serve as a safe space for presenting stories that amplify societal truths and encourage change.
When she stepped into the theater, she felt a therapeutic sense of freedom. Her unwavering commitment to ensuring historically marginalized communities can experience that form of liberation through the arts is what led her to Washington Heights. The Uptown community is where she launched her teaching career and honed her passion for using theater as a means for social justice activism. Through her work in education and the nonprofit space, Ditkovski has led and contributed to efforts centered on supporting immigrant communities and eradicating socioeconomic barriers within the arts.
When she strides across the Commencement stage at the United Palace in May, as part of Teachers College’s 2023 graduating class, her journey will come full circle.
My parents were theater people and educators and I grew up in the black box theater that my dad built. There was a lot going on in other parts of our lives, but somehow the theater was a safe space for me. I quickly learned that was an enormous privilege. So many people, due to systems of white supremacy and racial capitalism, unfortunately don’t have access. Pretty quickly, by the time I was 17, I was working as an arts educator with many populations, but predominately focused on historically excluded folks and kids in foster care. We also performed and led workshops in youth prisons.
What motivated you to get involved in the People’s Theatre Project?
When I got into Teachers College, I knew we had an internship program and I’d been following the People’s Theatre Project for a little while. For me, there’s no theater without a social justice component and that can take so many forms. It depends on the community and the facilitators. With the People’s Theatre Project, I was inspired by the idea that they are merging theater and activism on the education front and in their professional company; giving people tools to be activists in their communities.
To work in Washington Heights and amplify the stories of the immigrant population living here, especially with what’s going on in this climate, is crucial. There’s a lot of brain science on why storytelling is a compelling way to build empathy. It’s a really, really big piece of the puzzle. That was all combined in PTP for me.
You began your teaching career in Washington Heights and now you’re supporting a Washington Heights-based nonprofit, can you delve into the significance of this full-circle moment?
Washington Heights is where I built my first classroom, with the help of my students of course. One thing I noticed quickly is that because of underfunding of the arts in public schools, and especially in low-income communities, there was very little exposure to any kind of arts. I wanted to give my students as many avenues to discover an artistic outlet as possible. I had never worked Uptown before, but the Washington Heights community was so embracing and receptive. I felt welcomed, seen, and taken care of. Every day, I walk by the school where I taught on my way to the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA), where I teach with PTP, and it’s just a beautiful moment to take in.
Can you discuss your passion for using the arts to holistically benefit the community?
As a young person, I’ve had that very powerful experience. All of the data shows that when we are in touch with ourselves and we know who we are, we can be the best version of ourselves. The arts gives young people that opportunity. The world tells immigrant youth and historically silenced populations not to be in touch with themselves, so seeking self-actualization is quite revolutionary. When somebody’s story is on stage, whether it’s for your immediate community or a larger community, we are saying this story matters.
What led you to Teachers College?
I’ve been an educator for so long and I transitioned into arts administration with the hope to start a nonprofit. What brought me to Teachers College was the focus on looking at the deep roots of the issues around access to the arts. Nobody is talking about a band-aid solution. Nobody is talking about equity in a superficial way. It’s really about getting at the systemic issues.
From your perspective, what makes Washington Heights special?
It’s vibrant. Sometimes I’ll walk all the way up to Washington Heights from Morningside. I can hear the music from people’s windows. There are so many generations of people on the street together. To have that togetherness outside is something I appreciate. It’s truly extraordinary for me and it impacted the way that I taught and understood families as part of the educational experiences of young people.
What’s your favorite Uptown spot?
I grew up in LA and we don’t have a lot of Dominican food there. When I eat at Malecon I’m just in heaven. It’s so good. Also, when I’m walking and I see the George Washington Bridge and I realize where I am, what’s going on, and the significance of this neighborhood to so many people, that’s always a moment where I breathe and take time to feel that gratitude for being up there.
Who is an Upper Manhattan-based community hero or leader that you admire?
This is not going to be a surprise, but Mino Lora who is the Founding Executive Director of PTP. I admire her so much. She is looking at solving the problems faced by immigrants, with immigrants, and for immigrants in such a holistic way and from so many different angles. She leads with love always, but her standards are so high. That combination propels people to stick with the work.
What does Commencement symbolize for you?
On one hand, it symbolizes a homecoming and being with my family again, but it’s just an incredible moment to realize how many skills I have to work toward equity and justice in arts education. On another level, I struggled in many aspects of school and I had some teachers who would be shocked to know that I am graduating from Columbia University. To say that I was able to hold my own in this kind of space is something that I won’t forget and I think will also help me as an educator.
Everybody is going to go at their own pace. Time looks different for everyone. I’m much older than most people in my cohort. You can change your course and go and do something that you’ve always wanted—even if you think it’s too late.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The deeper, more holistic advice that I have is from my advisor Dr. Gregory-Kameka. She’s a truly incredible human being. She talks a lot about the power of listening and learning to listen more than talk—especially for someone in my positionality within justice work. I went through my studies in that way; seeking classes where I needed to listen the most. That profoundly changed the whole trajectory of my career.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m actually moving abroad to Ireland. It’s an exciting place to be in educational theater because they have a different concept of what theater can be that is aligned with my values of theater for change. I want to listen to the community and see how I can be helpful in this space.
Recently, ARAD spoke with Dr. Youngaah Koh, who was part of our program during 2011-2013. After completing her doctorate degree at Ohio State University, she became the Assistant Professor of Arts Management & Arts Entrepreneurship at Miami University.
Could you share a little bit about your background and what led you to join the ARAD program at Teachers College?
It’s been a while since I graduated from Teachers College, so I have to think back a bit. I got into the program in 2011; I was in South Korea. I graduated college with a journalism degree, and I really loved and enjoyed writing news stories rather than creative writing – I just thought that was more for me. So, I worked at a newspaper called The Korea Herald, an English-language daily newspaper in Korea where I covered the performing arts.
I didn’t know a whole lot about the arts when I started this job. But I’ve always appreciated the arts. Going to museums and concerts, and I absolutely loved going to watch the Nutcracker growing up. I just had a strong appreciation for the arts and was able to learn more, especially performing arts like dance, music, and theater, while on the job. I loved my job.
However, after doing that for a while, I realized I didn’t want to just write about the arts from an outsider’s point of view . I really wanted to be a part of the arts industry, be more involved, and gain hands-on opportunities in the arts and the arts administration industry. Back then, I never really considered myself an artistic person, so I chose the route of arts management rather than a traditional artistic route which I think was a good fit for me, and this field was still nascent in South Korea. It was during that time I realized studying in the United States would be a good option to consider. Studying in a prestigious school like Columbia University and living in New York City would open new avenues for me, so I applied to the ARAD program in 2011 and was funded by the Fulbright program. The scholarship helped cover the tuition, which was very helpful, and I was able to be a part of a wonderful network of fellow emerging scholars from all over the world.
Were there any specific courses you opted for while in the ARAD program that particularly appealed to you or your academic goals?
I loved most of the classes I took, and the program was very well organized. Dr. Steven Dubin was the Director of the program at that time. I got to learn a lot about the sociological aspect of the arts and how that intersected with arts management, which was a very fresh perspective. Since we’re on the topic of classes, taking those at Columbia Business School was also very helpful, especially the accounting class. I know not many art students enjoy taking accounting classes, but I found them to be very helpful, and I think it’s beneficial to have that math and numbers knowledge to navigate the arts industry. Comprehending finances and how you fundraise and manage money within the industry becomes pivotal. In addition, I loved going to the business school mixers, which were great networking opportunities. I highly recommend that students take advantage of this opportunity. I also very much enjoyed taking painting classes with Dr. Olga Hubbard in the Art & Art Education department as well as cello classes in the Music Education department which rekindled my creative side and passion for artmaking.
What was your master’s thesis about?
My thesis was regarding audience development strategies of ethnic museums in New York City. I did a qualitative comparative study between three different ethnically focused art museums centered around community engagement: the Korean Museum, the Italian American Museum, and the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. It was a meaningful project where I got to learn a lot about the history of different migrant populations in the city and how they advocated for their arts and culture and their community through in-depth interviews with the directors of all three museums.
What did your journey after graduate school look like? How did you get your current role?
After graduating from Teachers College in 2013, since I was on a Fulbright program, I was expected to return to my home country for 2 years to disseminate the knowledge and skills I had acquired through my studies in the U.S. which I thought was a wonderful opportunity! I got to work with the Korean National Commission of UNESCO. UNESCO is a U.N. agency that oversees education, science, and culture. Every member state of UNESCO has a National Commission, and Korea is one of them too. I was a program officer with the International Relations Division. Because of my specialty in arts management, I mostly worked on international collaborative projects in developing countries within the Asia Pacific region.
I worked with countries like Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, and the Cook Islands in the Pacific Islands and coordinated Korean government-funded collaborative projects. For example, I worked in Bangladesh to help modernize their traditional textile called Jamdani, where we worked with a local designer to modernize it for contemporary fashion like clothing and bags. We held a fashion exhibit at the end of the project, which was very successful and received positive responses locally. ! It was so fulfilling to see the impact these projects had on the local community. It was a very rewarding experience to work with such a diverse group of people from around the world, experiencing their cultures and their native storytelling, especially in the Pacific Islands region.
I would also participate in making international policy by contributing to UNESCO’s Executive Committee meetings and the General Assembly. I used to travel extensively between Seoul, South Korea, and Paris, where UNESCO’s headquarters is located.
Sometime around the end of 2015, a colleague (who is also one of my best friends from the ARAD program) who was pursuing her doctorate degree at Ohio State University in Arts, Administration, Education, and Policy recommended that I apply to the program. I had considered getting a doctoral degree, but after I completed my master’s program, I wanted to take some time to gain work and industry experience, and this seemed like the right time to embark on that journey. With this degree, I could expand my scope to not just the arts but also cultural policy, education, and the intersection of those disciplines. I was able to work with theoretical frameworks of multicultural education and critical multiculturalism, and how they intersected with cultural policy. Through my dissertation, I examined the impact of community-based culturally-relevant art education for Korean-American elementary students. This project had to do a lot with my vested interest in the empowerment of ethnic minority communities in the U.S. through the power of their arts and culture.
I graduated from the program in 2019 and moved to Miami University and I’ve been in this role ever since, and this is my fourth year of teaching in this position. I teach arts management, and I work with undergraduate students within the university, which is a liberal arts college, and one I have really come to appreciate. It’s different from the education that I have experienced. I enjoy working closely with students and establishing meaningful relationships with them. It has been such a rewarding experience! I am part of the Arts Management & Arts Entrepreneurship program. I currently teach Introduction to arts management, Cultural equity in the arts, and Policy and advocacy in the arts, which is my area of expertise in the program. I love taking students to advocacy events and meetings with legislators to gain first-hand experience.
What are some of the challenges that you face in this role? How do you overcome them?
There are two main challenges I face in this role. Firstly, some logistical constraints in the program. We started as a minor program in the early 2010s but are now a full-blown major program with over 250 students. Because we are so fast-growing, it has been challenging to keep up with the demand. So, ensuring that students get consistent quality education in the program, with the turnovers of faculty since it’s not easy to hire more permanent positions, has been a more contextual challenge.
Secondly, because Miami University is an undergraduate teaching-focused school and I thus spend a lot of time on my teaching and advising, it sometimes can be difficult to carve out time for my research. The university, however, encourages a teacher-scholar model among its faculty, where what you’re teaching informs your research and vice versa. And because of this, I’ve really gotten to embody and appreciate that role throughout my career here. For example, I have involved my students in advocacy events and have them get involved in those kinds of experiences in partnership with CreativeOhio, a grassroots advocacy organization in Ohio; I have turned that into a collaborative research project that we have been working on. I find engaging with the community to be a pivotal part of my role both as a scholar and teacher of arts management.
Given your diverse experience, both as a practitioner and a scholar, and now a tenure-track faculty member, what advice would you like to give our current and prospective students at ARAD?
Ah, that’s a big question! Well, firstly, I highly recommend getting a degree at Teachers College in the ARAD program if you’re interested in arts administration. It was monumental for my career, not just because of the great curriculum but just being exposed to all the different people and cultures and the arts and the city of New York in general. Everywhere you go in the city, you see so many different artists from different cultures that open your mind to many opportunities.
My second piece of advice would be never to be afraid to try something new, even if you don’t know what it might be. Just follow your heart and gain as much experience as you gain in different areas that spark your interest. I know so many friends and students alike who complete an undergraduate degree and straightaway go into getting a master’s and pursuing a Ph.D. right after. I advise taking some time between each degree to experience the field and figure out what parts of the industry spur your passion and creativity. I always encourage my students to be more intentional in why they wish to pursue those graduate studies and what they want to gain from them. Don’t be afraid to try taking the path less traveled. I’m sure new opportunities will open up, and the challenges that come along with them will help push you to be more entrepreneurial and innovative in your career.
Finally, I would say find a good mentor who can help you. It could be someone from the program; it could be one of the faculty members; it could also be someone you meet at your job; or it could be a senior or peer colleague that you work with. And (very) lastly, treasure the relationships you build when you’re pursuing your graduate degree at TC. You are part of a network of amazingly talented, smart, and creative people who will, if not already, have thriving careers throughout the world. This network will take you a long way!
The Arts Administration Program (ARAD) at Teachers College, Columbia University previously awarded two students with Microgrants for Student Professionalization during Fall 2022.
Through the ARAD Microgrant Program and with generous support from the Arts and Humanities Department at Teachers College, ARAD proudly supports student professionalization activities on campus and beyond. This award champions special projects proposed by Teachers College student groups (with ARAD student membership), as well as professional development for individual students in the ARAD Program. Applications were invited through an open call process, and selected by ARAD faculty.
Microgrant Recipient: Arts Admin Next (AAN) and the inaugural event “First Roundtable: ARAD X VAA”
Arts Admin Next (AAN) is a student organization founded by Joey Chen (ARAD ‘24) and Katerina Wang (ARAD ‘24). Connecting students in the pre-professional programs in arts administration with experienced practitioners in the arts industry, Arts Admin Next (AAN) aims to create a diversified community and an encouraging social adventure for arts administrators.
On December 3, 2022, Arts Admin Next (AAN) launched its inaugural event, “First Roundtable: ARAD X VAA,” at TheBLANC gallery, bringing together current students and alumni from the Arts Administration (ARAD) program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and from the Visual Arts Administration (VAA) program at New York University.
We were honored to have invited four alumni from both programs as our guest speakers, who are: Nicole Chen (ARAD ‘20, Post Sale Manager, Sotheby’s), Alexis Yuen (ARAD ‘16, Art Advisor, Manager of the Trade Program, Uprise Art), Erin Cao (VAA ‘19, Associate Director, Miguel Abreu Gallery), and Lauren Torrie (VAA ‘22, Development Assistant, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The guest speakers shared their valuable experiences of the graduate programs and their career journeys during the self-introductions and roundtable discussions.
(Photos by the Blanc Gallery)
2. Celestina Billington (ARAD ’23) is an artist and activist living in Manhattan. She has previously partnered with organizations that include Amnesty International and AmeriCorps VISTA. Currently, her direct action work is with vulnerable groups on COVID outreach with the nonprofit Good Old Lower East Side. Her artistic work is multidisciplinary and grounded in writing, experimental performance and social practice. She has been in productions at Museo de Arte Moderno, La Mama Theater and DiverseWorks. She is a founding member of the international collective “OURNA,” which produces original films, albums, podcasts and zines. In her free time Celestina enjoys traveling and caring for a pet turtle.
The ARAD microgrant supports Celestina in covering costs for access to Adobe Creative Suite application tools often used in arts administration jobs, as well as for online courses in LinkedIn Learning that will aid her in mastering the various sought-after skillsets associated with creative software.
On Tuesday, February 14, ARAD’s student-run organization, Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA) hosted a Valentine’s Day Fundraiser in support of the International Brazilian Opera Company. Scroll down to see comments from attendees, performers, and organizers.
“The event showcased students from the Arts Administration program who performed on the “piano corner” of the hall. Among them, Arnell Nur Karina, Hannah Cleveland, Hayley Rothman, Helena Wang, Hugo Vaz, Sheng Gao, and Vivian Stolt delivered a beautiful set of musical pieces from classic to folk, to tango. The goal was to raise funds for the International Brazilian Opera Company (IBOC), a Harlem-based non-profit arts organization that produces contemporary works of opera and supports immigrants who wish to establish themselves as musicians in the United States. To date, IBOC has helped 64 immigrants obtain their legal status as distinguished artists in the USA, and the company has developed 7 full operas. As the closing act, a few artists from IBOC presented four musical pieces, featuring Brazilian-American singer Alex Scott, Brazilian guitarist Gabriel Gorski and the Chinese tenor Yunxuan Zhu. The SAA is the student association of the Arts Administration program and is run by volunteer ARAD students of both the ’23 and ’24 cohorts.” – Hugo Vaz (ARAD ’24)
“Overall, I thought that the event went very well. There were a variety of performers, and lots of TC students who were eating in the dining hall at the time of the performance, so they got to enjoy the live music without having to stray from their usual routine. We had microphones to help carry the sound throughout the dining hall, and decorations to make the space feel a bit more festive and special for the event, especially given that it was held on Valentine’s Day. It was fun to have students performing, especially from the ARAD program, since I hadn’t heard many of my classmates perform before. We also had musicians from the International Brazilian Opera Company come and perform, which made the event really special. Having the fundraising component as a part of the event made it feel very intentional and added a sense of purpose beyond providing live music. It was a very fun event to put together, and I hope that Student Advocates for the Arts can continue to hold performances as a way to advocate for the arts!” – Hannah Cleveland (ARAD ’23)
“The SAA’s Valentine’s Day Fundraiser was a success, and allowed the many skillful artists of the ARAD program to use and exhibit their talents for the benefit of the International Brasil Opera in New York. The program included song, piano and violin performances, with love songs such Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love and Por Una Cabeza, famous from the Al Pacino movie “Scent of a Woman”. The program ended with performances by the artists of the International Brazilian Opera Company. Overall the experience was lovely, and allowed ARADers to build a community together through music!” – Vivian Stolt (ARAD ’24)
“As a member of the Student Advocates for the Arts, I assisted in the planning and execution of the SAA Valentine’s Day Concert, a fundraiser supporting the local arts organization the International Brazilian Opera Company. Every individual in the Arts Administration Program is so creative and talented, so I thought this was the perfect event for SAA. It was absolutely heartwarming and inspiring to see my peers perform together as well as the guest musicians from the International Brazilian Opera Company. I hope we can do another event like this again soon!” – Joanna Calhoun (ARAD ’23)
For this chapter of our Alumni Spotlight series, ARAD spoke with Blaire Townshend (ARAD’ 17). Currently, Blaire is the Senior Manager of Membership Services & Professional Development at the Broadway League.
Could you share a little bit about your background? And what led you to join the ARAD program?
I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I was a specialist in literature, music, and drama. While I loved those studies and enjoyed my time up there, I found that my passions definitely lay in the extracurricular work that I was doing, which had a more pragmatic focus. I had begun work as Executive Producer of our student drama society and absolutely fell in love with it. I loved the holistic viewpoint that arts leadership afforded and the opportunity to interact with people from a number of different constituencies. It really struck a chord with me. So, when I was looking for the next steps, I began researching arts administration masters programs because I was looking for more practical applications and further study on those extracurricular activities that had spoken to me – and that’s how I came across the Arts Administration program at Teachers College. I was drawn to the idea that I might be one of a cohort of individuals working through that part of their journey together.
In addition, while I was quite confident that I wanted to focus on the performing arts at that time, I was interested in both theater and opera, given my experience doing an internship at the Canadian Opera Company, so I wanted to take this opportunity to narrow down my focus. I liked the idea of seeing what I could learn from people throughout the field and being surrounded by people who might be interested in everything from visual arts to dance. So that was something that drew me to the program as well.
Finally, the exposure to New York City itself as our backyard was a huge draw – as someone who had spent 5 years in Toronto and loved that city, I still knew that New York was where I needed to end up based on my professional interests, and thought that the program would be a great entree to the area.
Were there any specific courses you opted for while in the ARAD program?
I enjoyed the breadth of courses that were available to us. I particularly enjoyed starting the degree with the more practical courses, such as Principles and Practice in Arts Administration, that we took with Dr. Lena. It gave us a foundation in the field by creating a resume of professional work, and it made me more intentional and thoughtful about how I put myself out there in the world. It allowed me to take practical steps toward future internships and the jobs I would be interested in. From just going over our resumes in a new light to being aware of our presence online, writing critiques of mission and value statements from various organizations, and preparing news articles, it was a great way to begin the program.
In addition, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to go out on our own and decide on the additional courses we could take. My advice to those entering the program is to be very thoughtful about this and to make the most of your time at Columbia and the resources afforded to you because there are plenty of options that you can pursue if you just do your research. For example, when I became more aware that I wanted to focus on the commercial theater sector, I approached the Theater Management Master’s program at the School of the Arts. I took some extra courses there – one that gave me a great primer in general management and the inner workings of putting on a show, and a Creative Producing course with a professor I now regularly interact with in my day-to-day work.
I also enjoyed taking business and law courses because those were so practically focused. One other program that I took advantage of was the Executive MBA program through Columbia Business School. I very much liked the idea that these courses were offered outside the normal school schedule and that I could pack more learning in and make the most of my time. I loved the practical nature of the courses I took, as we were often assigned projects for which we would present our recommendations to a real-world company or firm, which was great practice for being out in the professional world. I think the Executive MBA is a wonderful resource, and I highly recommend that students pursue it.
What was your IP or Capstone Project about?
My thesis was focused on opera, and even though I no longer work in that field, it was something I was and remain very passionate about – my research centered around targeting millennials as the future audience for opera. Hence, my interviews featured professionals in the opera space, often those creating programs that attempted to bring millennials in and keep them engaged.
In general, I think that sufficiently preparing the next generation to be the future leaders of the arts sector is one of the most important things we can do. It all comes back to professional development – my particular passion – but simply providing young people with the information they need to know what’s out there helps ensure we engage audiences.
What did your journey after graduate school look like? How did you get your current role?
I would say my professional path has been relatively unique. I began my work as an intern at The Broadway League while still in grad school – it was, in fact, the internship I took as a program requirement. A week into the internship, I knew this was the perfect environment for me. It was a very exciting time to be working on Broadway. There was a huge renaissance within the field, and a lot of great new work taking place – the industry, in general, was very active and engaged. I was thrown right into the middle of it all during a major industry conference, and I absolutely fell in love with it!
I loved the perspective you’re afforded at a trade association, from which you can see a bird’s eye view of an industry – where the industry’s priorities lie, what makes it tick, and where it would like to move in the future. Coming in knowing precious little about the different professions available within the commercial theater space, I realized I had stumbled upon the perfect position for me, which let me use my administrative brain to assist the producers, the general managers, and the theater owners whom I so love to work with. I remained part-time with The Broadway League while I finished my degree and became full-time upon graduation. I’ve been in the same department since taking on different roles in membership and professional development.
What challenges do you face(d) in your current role? How do you work around them?
The most obvious challenge we’ve faced as an industry has been the unprecedented shutdown of our business over the last few years. A shutdown of this magnitude has never happened in the history of Broadway – even in other times of crisis, the scope of the shutdown was not nearly this severe. I was lucky to retain my job through all of this during a time when so many arts professionals did not. For those of us who remained, it was a particularly busy time, with all of us working double time to try to keep things afloat, keep communication channels open, and be forward-thinking about how we might reopen, when it would be appropriate to do so, and what it would mean when we did – what would change, and what would stay the same?
Additionally, people in the theater industry were extremely dedicated to supporting one another through the shutdown and really came together in a remarkable way. The collaboration involved, amongst those who in other industries might be considered competitors, was absolutely inspiring. It made for an invaluable education, and I feel very fortunate that I was privy to these discussions and that I was able to help in some small way. The recent reopening of our industry was such a full-circle moment, and very emotional for everyone. I will never forget that first experience back in the theater, and how powerful it was to be back in that space after such a long time.
Lastly, do you have any advice for our current students?
I may be reiterating something I said previously, but I’m doing so purposefully because I believe it’s important: my primary advice is to take advantage of the resources you have available to you while you’re in the program. Not only is Teachers College an institution with significant resources, but you also have the backing of all of Columbia University. Use the programmatic resources they provide! By entering the program, you have made a commitment to yourself and your education, and there’s much you can gain if you put in the effort to explore your options.
One aspect of this is participating in extracurricular activities at Teachers College or even Columbia, which I highly recommend if you have the time and capacity to do so. This only builds upon your degree and may open some doors for you that you wouldn’t have thought were viable. That’s how I found my career path! During my time at Teachers College, for example, I served as Co-President of Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA), which was a wonderful organization that gave me the opportunity to go down to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the benefits of arts programming in direct conversation with government representatives. This was an invaluable experience because it gave me practice in public speaking and networking. Most importantly, however, it forced me to articulate the value of the arts sector I was trying to pursue.
And finally, I would advise that significant human resources are also available to you. Your professors are professionals with a wealth of experience to tap into – make the most of your time with them! You never know who you will continue to stay in touch with as you enter the field. In addition, you are part of a cohort of extraordinary people who will be your peers and compatriots throughout your professional life, even if you are not working in the same institutions or even the same arts fields. Human connection and collaboration are of the utmost importance in the collaborative fields in which we work.
This year, the Arts Administration Program (ARAD) at Teachers College, Columbia University will be continuing its tradition of hosting a Holiday Service Project for its faculty, students, staff, and alumni to contribute time, goods, and cheer to those in need during the winter holidays. ARAD will continue its partnership with Art Start in the format of a toy drive on December 14. Art Start is a non-profit organization that brings arts programming to at-risk youth living in city shelters, on the streets, or surviving with parents in crisis.
In addition, we are excited to announce our efforts will also benefit viBe Theatre Experience. viBe Theater Experience (viBe) is a nationally-recognized, high-impact performing arts nonprofit that is youth-led and youth-centered. Since their first performance on August 17, 2002, viBe has grown into an organization that actively invests in the next generation of performing artists – ensuring that NYC’s cultural sector remains diverse and that our communities have access to the artistic expertise necessary to shape its future! Available free of charge, viBe provides 10 theater and arts education programs, academic and wellness support services like therapy and movement classes, youth leadership training and workforce development opportunities at the organization and through partnerships to girls, femmes, and young women of color ages 13-26.
Your gift of $20 celebrates viBe’s 20- year anniversary.
Your gift of $50 supports the purchase of PPE for staff & program participants.
Your gift of $75 supports audio/video recording for our young artists.
Your gift of $250 supports supplies/materials for the viBeSongMakers program.
Your gift of $500 supports ongoing Professional Development for Teaching Artists.
Your gift of $1,000 supports staff wellness sessions with Liberation Based LLC therapists.
Your gift of $1,500 pays for the stipend of one young playwright from viBePages to Stages.
viBe’s end-of-year fundraiser for #BrooklynGives culminates December 31, 2022. You can donate using the form on this page.
Thank you for helping us make the holidays brighter by providing the tools and access to creative self-expression through the arts! Please contact Grace J. Choi at email@example.com with any questions.
In continuation of our Alumni Spotlight series, we spoke with Beryl Briane Ford (ARAD’19), who is currently the Co-Executive Director of viBe Theater Experience– a Brooklyn-based, nationally serving, youth performing arts nonprofit.
Could you share a bit about your previous experiences and your time at ARAD?
During my time at ARAD I was really interested in how the public uses space, and particularly how that correlates with the arts. So my internship was at the Studio Museum in Harlem (SMH). That was the same year that I was working on my thesis, which looked at Black spaces and how communities organize in those spaces. My thesis looked at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in particular, because of their capital campaign and how people would engage with both the physical space and the activities that happen. From that, I was inspired to join BlackSpace, which is the board that I served on for three years. It’s an interdisciplinary organization, newly established as a nonprofit last year, that’s now national and brings together architects, artists, organizers, and academics.
I graduated from ARAD in 2019 and the first job that I had out of the program was at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I worked in the development department for two years. When I first started there, it was closed to the public for its own capital campaign. I grew up in New York my whole life and I remember being young and going there for field trips. Having studied Art History at Smith College too, I felt like it was a great opportunity to work for a leading institution in the arts. I learnt very quickly how development functions at such a large institution. At MoMA, you have the Director of External Affairs and then all the department heads across individual and institutional giving, and membership under that director. Then, there are teams working under them. I worked on the Foundation Relations team, writing grants and assisting with the stewardship of different foundations. We would all meet once a week as a whole department to talk about what functions and activities were happening and what’s coming down the pipeline.
Interestingly, development happens to be a skillset that I had, and is also one that is really needed in the arts. I think of fundraising and grant writing as storytelling. Your job seems more fun in that way. Crafting a narrative about the mission and the values about whatever project you are working on or whatever organization you are working with to an audience can be more fun if you put it in that perspective. I really like this performative aspect of it. During my time at ARAD, I was also doing work-study in the institutional giving department, helping in the capacity of an assistant. My internship at Aperture was also development-related. All these skills prepared me for working at The Museum of Modern Art first, and then viBe after. Before grad school, I studied Art History and Museum Studies at Smith College. During that time, I did a lot of work with photographers and the Smith College Museum of Art , that’s also when I first learnt that I wanted to do arts administration. I didn’t necessarily want to be siloed within museum education. I feel like arts administration was the perfect bridge between my interests. Also, it really is a marriage between the artists and their work. I really take my roles in arts administration very seriously and I think about how I could leverage my own skill sets to really advance the careers of artists and bring visibility and create platforms for them.
What is your current role and what are your responsibilities?
Currently, in my capacity as Co-Executive Director of viBe, I am still doing grant writing and fundraising. I am working more closely with funders and potential investors in the organization. This role is very fitting given that my experiences in ARAD focused on development, community organizations, and building relationships. At viBe, I oversee both institutional and individual giving, while also working closely with the Board. I’m really fortunate that our Board of Directors recently decided to bifurcate our organization’s leadership model. So it’s me, and then my Co-Director, Michelan Le’Monier and we are both responsible for the executive leadership of viBe.
What are some of the exciting opportunities you are looking forward to in your current role and what are some of the challenges?
We are celebrating our 20th year as an organization, so I think it just came at a wonderful time to really think about what youth leadership looks like. Everyone on our team is under the age of 33 and we work very closely to and listen to our participants, ages 13 to 26. It is a model of being youth-led. For this 20th anniversary campaign, it will run during our fiscal year, which is from September to August. We will be carrying out this campaign throughout the year. There will be a small fundraiser in the summer, which will act as a launching pad for our larger gala that’s gonna happen in the fall of fiscal year 2024.
With that being said, ageism is one challenge we face in the larger context of the nonprofit sector. We as a team don’t ever think about that because we don’t think of our ages as a deficit. We value the innovation that comes from having such close relationships with the young people that we serve. We really do see how the work we do is directly benefiting them.
The main strategy that we implement here, especially for me as a grant writer and someone’s who is fundraising on behalf of the programs and our constituents, is being intentional about creating feedback loops between our program participants, teaching artists, staff, our board, and making sure that communication is transparent, and that their involvement is participatory. When we are creating new cultures, we are constantly thinking about whether we are including the right stakeholders. That has benefited not only me in my current role here, but also in the organization that I co-lead.
Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
I really enjoyed the fundraising class and an elective about curatorial practice. I identify as a curator, but I don’t necessarily get to practice that as often because I am now doing resource generation. But it’s definitely a passion of mine. I also loved all the classes taught by Dr. Mangione. She was my thesis advisor and I remember spending a lot of time in her office hours outside of class, learning about her experiences working at the Whitney Museum and her experiences with getting her own PhD. I would like to go back to school to get a doctorate in Art History, but that’s no time soon. Maybe in the next five years. Working closely with her on my research was really wonderful. She really helped me strengthen the types of questions I was asking and how I thought about community engagement.
What was your capstone project about?
My thesis was called “Beyond Brick and Mortar: The Studio Museum inHarlem.” Basically, it was a case study about the program called “In Harlem,” a series of partnerships with other local Harlem cultural and community institutions that SMH’s Public Programs and Community Engagement Department is collaborating with on an ongoing basis until the Museum is actually back up and open. It was definitely a positive experience and I was really grateful for the opportunity to have worked directly with the Public Programming team at the time. They were really generous with the resources that they offered and in helping me cultivate my thesis. They were receptive to sitting down with me and doing interviews. I also had an opportunity to join the Community Advisory Network that is part of the Studio Museum in Harlem, so hearing directly from people who live in Harlem, who love the Studio Museum, and hearing their firsthand experiences about what the building project means was really wonderful. It definitely helped me strengthen my research skills because I feel like sometimes I leaned more towards quantitative data versus qualitative data. Taking the qualitative approach was important because I think it is oftentimes undervalued in research practice, especially in academia.
What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators?
First, I would say try something new. If you see an elective that you might be interested in, I would just say take it. I would also say take time to rest. Don’t put too much pressure on finding a job right after. Also, ask questions. Especially at your internship sites, I would encourage you to make sure that you are fostering connections and keeping people in the loop about what you are doing. Not necessarily in a disingenuous way, but more so an organic way. If you see an article that you think your supervisor might like, say hey and send this along. You can do this with check-ins via coffee or zoom. Just letting people know what you are doing and also showing that you are invested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing is important. I think these are two of the biggest pieces of advice I’d offer, especially thinking about how these strategies are transferable and support relationship cultivation when fundraising.
What do you do outside of work?
When I am not doing my current job full-time, I have an arts and grant writing consultancy called Knollwood Arts & Creative. I launched this consultancy in July 2021 and I am the principal consultant. I work closely with artists, small businesses, primarily ones of color, to generate resources. In other words, doing fundraising campaigns and grants writing. I saw a particular need, where there’s not really funding necessarily that’s advertised for individuals, only ever for non-profits or larger organizations. So I wanted to leverage my own skills and work closely to get funds for my community, so that they can finance their own artistic practices and pursuits. When I am not writing extra grants on the side, I am seeing art or spending time with loved ones. Cooking is also something that I really enjoy.
For this chapter of our alumni spotlight series, we had the opportunity to speak with Alexis Yuen (ARAD’16), who is currently an Art Advisor and the Manager for Trade Programs at Uprise Art.
Could you share a bit about your background and what led you to join ARAD?
I grew up in Hong Kong and I went to art school in Boston for college. It was the Museum School of Fine Arts, which is under the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I did a dual degree with Tufts University majoring in Photography and Design, and I minored in Art History and Studio Art. After graduating, I ended up with a job with Christie’s in London in the Asian Art department. Being one of the youngest on the team and as one of the translators, I found it to be an exciting experience. If you look into archives for those times, that was when the auction prices were the highest for Chinese art. Starting as a paid intern, I was hired two months later as the Junior Administrator, then as the Senior Administrator. This meant that I was the liaison between clients, specialists, and other departments. I was there for three years; and as I was approaching my second or third year, I realized that I wanted to engage in a career related to business and I wanted to take my career to the next level. I also wanted to see what was outside the auction field. Within auction houses, you tend to either become a specialist or a business manager. As a business manager, you don’t actually get to interact with the artwork or people. Since I am a people person, I felt like there must be more. So that’s when I applied to the Arts Administration program in New York.
What was your journey like after graduate school and how did you get to your current role?
During ARAD, I learned about AEA consulting in Beacon. Very often, a lot of the planning and business policy aspects we learn at school are done by Executive Directors at non-profits. So unless you are in a similar position, it can be difficult to put these skills to use. However, there are a few consulting companies in the art world that do this really well. One example is that AEA was hired by one of the Department of Culture & Tourism (Abu Dhabi) to develop a 5-year business plan and financial model. To elaborate, if a city is lacking tourism, then the consulting firm would recommend them to put more resources into the sort of art that would attract that demographic for tourism sustainably. This kind of research and application of the arts was fascinating to me. So I started to look for positions that could use these skills and was fortunate to stumble upon Art Basel Cities, which was a new project back then. Art Basel is a global art fair; but what they did not realize initially was that Art Basel would transform Miami and Hong Kong as cities. Before they came to Miami, there were only a handful of galleries. Now there are 200+ galleries that emerged within the last 15 years. That was why the director kept receiving calls from mayors around the world asking him to bring Art Basel to their countries. At the same time, the Art Basel mindset was to refrain from expanding to avoid unsustainable practices. They didn’t want to expand so they started Art Basel Cities as a popup, or a kind of consulting for local governments. I loved the prospect of this project and I contacted the founder. Amazingly, I got this opportunity. He was based in Hong Kong so I actually moved back home for a while. We were hired by Buenos Aires in Argentina and received amazing press coverage throughout the world. We were able to get a lot of artists like Barbara Kruger to participate. Other than that, I also worked on Art Basel Inside, which was a conference to bring together people working in arts and technology, eventually leading to social change. I was able to put all my ARAD learning together.
After Art Basel, I decided to go on my own. By that time, I had worked for many large corporations so I wanted to work for myself. I started a small business in art advisory and started to offer consulting services to help people buy art. I helped small organizations and nonprofits on how to engage artists. I did that for two years and I worked privately on the client list that I had built. I was traveling around the world, writing articles, and learning about how to start a business. A lot of the ARAD skills didn’t quite come to use until I started my entrepreneurship journey. I chatted with my more senior friends and those who have their own freelancing companies, they benefit a lot from the program. Because the program helps you become entrepreneurs, basically it’s all about how to be a leader. When I was working for myself, I was really excited to rely on myself such as building my own website and doing my own accounting. I started freelancing for AEA and conducted architectural research around the world to see how much money each government was putting into cultural infrastructure. Once COVID happened, I couldn’t travel and didn’t have a team. That was when I decided that I really wanted to go back to working in a group. I knew I didn’t want to go back to large corporations like Christie’s, so I ended up working as part of the small team at Uprise Art. It’s a very small team and very entrepreneurial. We were founded in 2011 and we went on being from an online gallery to a brick and mortar gallery with an online platform. We still have that entrepreneurial energy, which is really fun.
What are some of the challenges that you face in your current role?
As the Manager of the Trade Program, which is a program for interior designers, architects, real estate developers, basically anyone that buys for a client, otherwise known as B2B. For me, that’s very different from talking to my old clients who were buying for themselves. For now, my main clients are interior designers. It’s super cool that I am talking to design professionals and my day to day is looking at floor plans, mood boards, and then doing the creative curation that I didn’t get to do in my previous positions. Also, because our group is small enough that I can do the curation personally and I don’t have to hire a curator to do that. However, the drawback is that it can also be hard to work with designers. They have their own creative visions and the struggle is to balance between interior designers, artists, and clients. With artists, I want to keep their artistic integrity, but at the same time, I would also like to please my clients. Sometimes if a client loves your work, they’ll want to see the same thing. This may be great for financial gains when you’re beginning your career, but we want to make it more differentiated for the artists. It can be hard to balance varying visions but it’s also fun to be the art advisor and to be able to appease both sides.
How did COVID-19 impact your work and Uprise Art?
Back when our organization was founded, we were one of the only online galleries. Our founder, Tze Chun, decided something that was unheard of in 2011. Because we had 9 years of building up our website, we were already set up for our online presence when the pandemic hit. Our advantage was that we were ready for a stay-at-home experience. Our sales actually went up as more people were purchasing during their time at home. This helped us sustain our website and our normal operations. Now we are looking at how we can keep it exciting for our artists as we expand. The artists we represent have now grown so much with us, so we want to bring in more opportunities from abroad and go into new markets and new companies. Basically, to keep them inspired and to create new work.
What attracted you to the ARAD program?
I chose the ARAD program because I liked that students came from different aspects of the arts administration field. I don’t like the idea of having only one path in your career. For example, there can be a lot of performance art in the visual arts world. I came to Columbia University with this mindset and it was the best decision because I met friends who are now at the Met Opera, at the Martha Graham Dance Company, and at a lot of visual art companies. I also chose ARAD because I wanted to pursue policy and planning and take a multi-disciplinary approach.
Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
Business Policy taught by Martin Vinik, who also went to Tufts and ARAD. He was a theater person but eventually started doing consulting. One of his projects back then was on the West Kowloon district in Hong Kong, which led me to be interested in cultural districts and arts planning for a city. I am really passionate about how arts can change a city and its community. Through that class, I got to explore these topics a lot.
Cultural policy was also really helpful. As I look back, they may not be directly related to what I am doing now. But I am now part of the business development team and I am now able to make use of the different aspects of the arts.
Back then, I also got myself into a GSAPP class about urban planning, which became instrumental to my consulting work. I know a lot of ARAD students previously expressed that they struggle to cross-register but it’s worth it. For the business school, I recommend anything entrepreneurial. I think there’s a class about building a company with your class; so I took it with two other ARAD students and we were approached by many other groups when it came to formulating a plan. It was really cool that we had a musician, an artist, and myself as an art administrator. I would find a professor that supports your work, pitch yourself, and tell them what you can bring to the class. They will be so glad to have you in the class. There are also so many professors who are passionate about the arts that teach in other schools too. For example, I found a professor at the architecture school that supported what I was saying about city planning/arts. You need to be part of the conversation. Try to get in until you’re sure you’ve tried everything.
What was your capstone project about?
It was titled: “Art Museum Capital Projects in New York City: The Dual Role of Art Museums as Economic Drivers and Community Anchors” because I am interested in how arts institutions affect a city. Back in 2016, there were all these capital projects, which meant multi-billion dollar buildings going up for museums around the world. That was also happening in New York, a place that seems less open to change in capital projects due to the limited space. Yet, Whitney Museum, Cooper Hewitt Museum, and the Queens Museum were all doing this at the same time. I studied all these projects and interviewed people to talk to them about their goals and accomplishments in these capital projects. My findings included how community development rolled out and how the architecture would reflect that. The Whitney Museum used to be on the Upper East Side, but now they are in the Meatpacking District and West Village. I interviewed people who were part of the move and one thing they said was that they wanted it to be a welcoming space for the community, hence why they abandoned the old concrete building sectioned off from the street, a design from the 70s, and opted for an all-glass building in 2016 to make everything transparent. That’s an example of what I was interviewing people for.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I am a docent trainee at the Whitney Museum. I joined their docent program when I was working freelance. Even though I am working in the for-profit field, I wanted to do something that was very grounded in non-profit and I also like talking to people about art. I applied during my time at ARAD and I was on the waitlist to volunteer for four years. When I did my thesis project there, one thing led to another, and I think this is what will happen for current students too. You’re gonna do projects and you’ll be meeting new people whom you might work/volunteer for later.
ARAD is delighted to welcome Tianqi Liao as our new Social Media Coordinator. Learn more about Tianqi, her goals for her new role, and what she does outside of TC.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
I was born in Hangzhou, China and I spent my childhood there until I was 10; after that, I attended a boarding school in England for seven years. When I was studying for my A-Levels, I wanted to deepen my interest in English Literature, but later decided to study Journalism at New York University. During that time, I took a lot of courses related to visual storytelling. I’ve been in New York City ever since.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
After my undergraduate studies, I joined the Bronx Documentary Center as an intern before moving into the development department. Throughout my time as the Development and Communications Coordinator, I’ve been helping with non-profit fundraising, annual photo auctions, and photojournalism-based exhibitions. Previously, I was also the Manager of Photography and Video at Art in Odd Places, which is an arts festival that aims to present visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces. Besides these experiences, I’ve also worked at the Center for Architecture, which focuses on informing the public about the role of design through exhibitions and public programs.
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
Whether it was developing digital strategies for fundraising campaigns or documenting artist performances and maintaining digital archives, all these professional learning experiences were instrumental in shaping my career path. In combination with my previous academic background, everything seemed to coalesce and I was determined to pursue arts administration in a more systematic way. Now as I prepare to begin my MA program, I am looking forward to taking courses that might add to my knowledge of branding and marketing for museums, galleries, and other arts organizations.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
As a new student, I think this role provides a good opportunity to connect with both groups of past and current students. For past students of ARAD, I want to leverage the potential of our alumni network and highlight their achievements and milestones. At the same time, I look forward to using my previous experiences in digital content creation and audience engagement to bring our program to more people’s attention.
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
I’m always down to explore new exhibits throughout the city, especially ones involving photography as a medium. I also practice photography myself and take on personal projects that combine conceptual and documentary styles. When I’m not working, you are likely to find me snuggling with my cats.
Tianqi Liao will begin her pursuit of her M.A. in Arts Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Fall. She graduated from New York University with double majors in Journalism and Media, Culture & Communications. She has worked with various arts and cultural organizations such as the Bronx Documentary Center, Art in Odd Places, and the Center for Architecture.
ARAD is delighted to welcome a new faculty member, Dr. Yan Xiao! Learn more about Dr. Xiao, what brings her to our program, and what she does outside her work at Teachers College!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your educational background?
I grew up in China and got my higher education in Beijing and Columbus, Ohio. My research focuses on arts and cultural policy, arts administration, arts entrepreneurship, cultural diplomacy, and the management of nonprofit organizations.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
I got my Ph.D. degree in cultural policy and arts management from the Ohio State University. Prior to it, I worked in nonprofit (National Centre for the Performing Arts of China) and for-profit (entertainment industry) sectors for several years.
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
I always believe in the power of arts to foster social change. This belief encouraged me to learn more and experience more in the field of art, both academically and practically.
After attaining a Ph.D., entering a career in academia is a continuation to examine and challenge conventional notions about the arts, and to pursue a more inclusive understanding of its social and economic impact.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
As an Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, I look forward to mentoring students to prepare them for a variety of careers. I am excited to support students’ professional development that shapes the field of arts administration and reflects ARAD values.
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
I have two boys, a baby and a preschooler. Most of the time outside of TC, I am with them and my husband. We go ice skating, kayaking, hiking, strawberry picking, camping, or simply pretend playing. If you can’t get through to me, I am probably taking a trip with my kids and Peppa Pig to the North Pole, riding on clouds.
Yan Xiao, PhD, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor specializing in arts administration in Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Xiao’s research focuses on arts and cultural policy, arts administration, arts entrepreneurship, cultural diplomacy and management of nonprofit organizations.
Over the past years, Dr. Xiao has taught graduate and undergraduate-level courses in arts administration. She is also an arts management professional with years of experience in international performing arts. She has been working with Philadelphia Orchestra, Arts Midwest, National Centre for the Performing Arts of China and other arts organizations on various research topics.
Dr. Xiao received her PhD in Cultural Policy and Arts Management from The Ohio State University, and Master’s degree from Renmin University of China.
We had an opportunity to chat with Alexandra Tweedley (ARAD ’17) and hear what excites her as she begins the role of Assistant Director of the Dance Division at The Juilliard School. Alexandra also shared how the connections she made during her time in ARAD shaped her career journey.
Could you share a bit about your background and career journey?
I’ve been a dancer my whole life. I went to George Washington University in D.C. and decided that I was going to major in dance. I did a double major – I was in the undergraduate dance program there and also studied communications. Towards the end of my time there, I knew I wanted to be involved in dance, but I knew I wasn’t going to be performing. I knew that I wanted to be on the administrative side.
In my junior year, I interned at The Washington Ballet as an Artistic Intern – I helped with the day to day of rehearsal and performance scheduling. I was working with the Company Manager and Administrative Director to handle licensing and all these different aspects of putting on the ballets that really fascinated me. The summer after my experience at The Washington Ballet I was an intern in the Marketing Department at the American Ballet Theatre, so I had an artistic experience and also marketing experience supporting ABT during their summer Met season.
I decided to apply to the Columbia program because I was interested in getting more experience and learning about different aspects of arts administration. I had both of those experiences, but I wanted to explore all the other aspects of the field and just get some more skills that the ARAD program could provide. Right after school, I went to the ARAD program and graduated in 2017. I did my required internship at Juilliard, so I got a taste for what the organization is like. After finishing that internship, I also worked there part-time in their Global Department. I then saw that the Administrative Assistant position in the Dance Division was open, so I applied and got that position upon graduation from ARAD. And I’ve been with the Dance Division ever since!
My role as the Administrative Assistant was supporting the day-to-day operations of the Division and then I was promoted to Administrative Associate. Later, with the change of leadership at Juilliard, both in the Dance Division and at the school, we changed the structure of the staffing in the Division. I had the opportunity to be the Events and Projects Coordinator because we had more inquiries for special events and additional performance projects and the Administrative Director thought it was a good opportunity for me. I’ve been doing that for the last three or so years, supporting all the interesting and exciting events that we do.
Also more recently, I took over as the Administrative Lead for our Summer Dance Intensive, which has been really exciting. For the last two years, it’s been virtual and that’s how I started the program but this year we’re back to a fully in-person program so that’s exciting.
I was just promoted to Assistant Director of the Dance Division which will be an expansion of what I’ve been doing supporting events, projects, and our Summer Dance Intensive. Plus, I’m managing a new Operations Assistant position, so it feels very full circle to me because it’s a similar role to what I started with in the Division.
Could you speak a bit about what attracted you to the ARAD program?
I knew I wanted to be in New York, because of the artistic climate here. I liked the idea that performing and visual arts were both encompassed within the program because a lot of the other programs I had explored were very specific to performing arts.
Though I knew I would be interested in working in dance and performing arts, I think that the insight of understanding the full perspective of artistic disciplines working in both performing and visual arts is really important, because there’s so much cross collaboration between these organizations.
Columbia has such an amazing reputation as a higher education institution and I knew that the program would have excellent faculty. I liked how small the program was too because you really get to understand your cohort’s experiences and work together and it’s equally as valuable to learn from your peers as it is to be in classes with these amazing professors.
Could you share a little bit more about your current role?
The Dance Division has an academic curriculum of dance classes and liberal arts classes – a whole bachelor of fine arts degree as well as a full public performance season. A big part of my role is to support the performance activities – those that are within our regularly scheduled season, but also a lot of outside opportunities that come our way.
For example, we’ll have collaboration opportunities with other organizations or other opportunities to collaborate with other departments at Juilliard that are not necessarily planned within our academic year but do come up and are really exciting for our students to get another opportunity to practice their craft. My role is to produce those events that are outside of what the general curriculum is. Some collaboration opportunities with Juilliard departments include with our Development Office, which hosts Juilliard member events and alumni events that are both outside of the curriculum that we produce. Outside performance projects include Lincoln Center collaborations (as Juilliard is a constituent organization on the Lincoln Center Campus) and other outside engagements. Whenever we have special projects, I’m responsible for producing them and being the administrative lead to make sure that everything is covered.
Also, within our current season, I handle all of our ticketing and programs. I’m the liaison for our Marketing department, our Development Department, and our box office within our Division as well as the Office of the President, who spearheads a lot of outside project opportunities. Also, our annual Gala is something I work on each year.
I also will retain my role as the Administrative Lead for the Summer Intensive, which means coordinating all of the faculty and programming in conjunction with our Dean and Director, who’s the Artistic Director of the program. She’ll design the curriculum and I will implement it and hire all of our faculty and staff.
I am also the liaison for the students who are coming to our program. I make sure that all their paperwork is completed and I work with all the different departments at Juilliard that are involved in making summer programs possible. The summer program will be performing at Lincoln Center this year for the first time in Damrosch Park as a free event, so I’m also working with the Lincoln Center team to produce that performance opportunity for them.
The last aspect of my role will be supervising our Operations Assistant. It’s a brand new position responsible for the day-to-day operations of our studios, making sure our facilities are up to date and there are no issues, and supporting our faculty and staff on a day-to-day as-needed basis, to make sure everything runs smoothly.
What are some of the challenges you think you will face in your new role?
The scheduling and some of the logistics can be really challenging because of course we want to support all the opportunities that come our way, but sometimes, depending on what else is going on, we really have to think about the students. Balancing opportunities that will develop our students with the capacity that they might have during the year and weighing those positives and negatives, as we try to decide what to offer. That’s definitely a challenge when working across divisions. The school is very big, and I mean not population-wise, but offerings-wise, and each department has different schedules and processes for making things happen. Those are two big challenges.
What is the most exciting part about your role?
Continuing my involvement in the Dance Division! It’s a small Division, we only have 24 students per class and it’s all undergraduate, so in total, we have about 90 students. We have about 35 or so faculty, so we get to know everyone really well and it is such a community.
In this position, I have the opportunity to further my involvement with the community and help support everyone and be even more involved in making everything happen. This is really exciting because it’s very rewarding to see the benefits of offering these opportunities and having a successful school year.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
It was huge, and I mean I say “was,” but it still is! When in 2020 everything shut down, Juilliard did move to a totally virtual environment for the last part of the spring semester, which was exceedingly challenging for all divisions, but particularly from my perspective, Dance. Dance requires space and proper flooring and things like that, so it was really difficult both mentally and physically for our students to have their classes in a virtual environment.
I had to support producing a Zoom graduation for our seniors, which was incredibly challenging because I was new to the platform, like so many people, and also, we wanted to make something really special for them, given the circumstances, so that was really hard.
But then, in the next school year, the 2020/2021 year, we had a slow return to campus which presented other challenges, because we had to remain socially distanced and keep class sizes really small. So, our team really had to think creatively about how to make everything happen and get the students through their curricular activities, while also giving them exciting opportunities – both performance opportunities and otherwise. We had a couple of film projects that the students explored, which was fun. We just wanted to give them more opportunities and take advantage of a virtual environment, giving them educational value in these circumstances. This year, we came back to a mostly normal situation given the vaccines being widely available.
We are still masked and testing, and it can be disruptive given positive cases at various important moments of the school year, but we were just grateful to have a somewhat normal academic year. This year’s summer program will be a test of those policies as we invite even younger students to the school and see how we can operate.
Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
Our Law and the Arts classes – learning the basic fundamentals of music rights has been enormous and very much part of my job. Particularly given the virtual environment that we have had to step into, but even in a regular performance season. Music rights for dance can pose a lot of challenges. Getting rights so that we can live stream a performance can be an added challenge. A basic understanding of copyright and how to secure rights for various purposes – just the fundamentals of that are huge. I think not a lot of administrators have that kind of basic knowledge, unless they are trained in law, and I think it’s uniquely valuable that our program gave us that opportunity to take a year of law, so that you really get some understanding of copyright that you can use within your day-to-day.
Also, Financial Accounting. Though it is a challenging course, notoriously so, being the Lead Administrator for the summer program, I’m responsible for managing the budget and understanding our balance. It’s really important to be able to confidently understand financial statements for our summer planning conversations and that course really sets you up to be able to do accounting for any program that you’re managing. I am grateful to have had it so that I don’t get afraid of seeing a giant spreadsheet of a balance statement – it’s important.
What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators?
I would say, utilize the connections that you make within your internship opportunities. I think that is one of the biggest reasons I ended up at Juilliard in the first place. Because I had gotten this internship, I met a lot of people at the school and did informational interviews with them. One of the informational interviews I did was with the person who ended up hiring me a year later. So, I really recommend doing this. If you don’t like your internship, that’s valid too. If you find an organization you’re interested in, even if you’re not working or interning there, I think informational interviews and just getting knowledge from different people within the company whose titles interest you is really valuable because then you get a sense of the company’s culture. You also get a sense of their roles and how they got there, so that you can kind of think about your own trajectory.
Also, when I did interviews for my thesis I found it really valuable to understand the company cultures of the people that I was speaking with. I spoke with three ballet companies. One of them was The Washington Ballet, so I had already interned there, but two of them were places that I thought I might be interested in working for in the future, so it was nice to have met a contact and get an understanding of the organizations from the inside, even if I was asking them academic questions related to my thesis.
Take the opportunity to reach out to people, talk to people, and learn from people within the field, because in my experience, saying that you’re from the Arts Administration Program at Columbia really opens the door for you in that way, so I would say – take advantage of it.
Alexandra Tweedley (she/her/hers) is an arts administrator working both in the performing arts and in education. She is currently the Assistant Director in the Dance Division at The Juilliard School and has previous administrative experience at The Washington Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. As part of her role as Assistant Director in the Dance Division, she is also the lead administrator for Juilliard’s Summer Dance Intensive program. She received a B.A in Communications and a B.A. in Dance from The George Washington University and received a Master’s in Arts Administration from Columbia University. In addition to her work as an arts administrator, Alexandra has also choreographed and stage directed for theater and opera companies such as Brouhaha Theatre Project and New Camerata Opera. She has also served as Camp Coordinator at Broadway Bootcamp, a summer musical theater program for students ages 8-16.
ARAD is delighted to welcome our new Program Associate, Shreya Sanjeev. Learn more about Shreya, what brings her to this role, and what she does outside her work and studies at TC!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
I grew up in Bangalore, India, and did most of my schooling and undergraduate studies there. I moved to Australia in 2012 for two years to pursue my master’s in marine biology and moved back to India soon after to work on marine conservation. I was mainly focused on studying dolphin behavior around anthropogenic stress. During this time, I also worked at a private university to help facilitate their environmental conservation activities. This led me to pursue a second master’s in environmental conservation education from New York University in 2019. I’ve lived in New York ever since.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
So far, all my roles have involved some degree of managerial responsibilities, especially my role in higher education involving interacting with students. When I worked at the university in Bangalore, interacting with so many undergraduate and postgraduate students and building programs with them was perhaps the most exciting facet of my job! It felt like we were building a community within the university and using our resources for critical social causes. In addition, I was leading various academic departments, which added greatly to my overall experience working in the higher education realm. I was exposed to the nuances of business and cinema very early on in life, and I developed a keen sense of interest in management and leadership. The ARAD program is not just a program in performing and visual arts but also the degrees of management and leadership in those spaces, which I found to be profoundly interesting!
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
I am currently pursuing my doctoral program (Doctor of Education) at Teachers College. The amalgamation of my previous roles (in conservation and higher education) led me to pursue this degree. I am interested in researching and understanding how developing countries’ higher education institutions respond to sustainability and environmental preservation as a social movement. I also hope to work with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations in their Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) to help Indian universities build their profiles and initiatives for environmental conservation.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
As a doctoral student at Teachers College, you don’t get the opportunity to interact with many people apart from your cohort. I am really looking forward to interacting with students and faculty and helping develop the program in any way that I can!
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
In my free time, I take a lot of recreational classes around the city, and I mainly love kickboxing and dancing and usually take those classes more often. I also spend a lot of time taking long walks looking for good restaurants and coffee joints. But, if New York’s weather’s dreary, I just curl up with a good book and a hot cup of coffee!
Shreya Sanjeev is currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Teachers College in the Interdisciplinary Studies program focusing on sustainability and higher education in developing countries. She graduated with a triple-honors Master of Science from James Cook University, Australia, and a Master of Arts from New York University. She has interned at various organizations, including the United Nations Democracy Fund looking at projects within the Asia-Pacific region. Her professional interests include sustainability, management, and leadership in higher education.
We had an opportunity to chat with Lina Alfonso (ARAD ’15) and hear how the ARAD program shaped her career journey and the wonderful work she does at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Lina shared what she has learned about working closely with communities, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building, empathy, and communication.
Could you share a bit about your background? What was your undergraduate degree?
I started the ARAD program in 2013 and graduated in 2015. Before I came to New York to complete my Masters in Arts Administration, I lived in Colombia. I lived in Bogotá for many years. In Colombia, I studied visual arts and economics. So, my background really comes from two different places. The ARAD master’s program was great because it helped me unify my two academic interests.
I was studying visual arts and was so excited and thrilled to be able to express myself through art and experience the work of my fellow classmates. I really enjoyed being a practicing artist. But then I saw this kind of unique field within a city’s dynamics and economics and arts as a profession that needs support beyond the academic world. I see myself as being a logical thinker as well as being creative. I studied economics because I was interested in the different pieces of the socio-economic side of a city or nation moving forward. I started making the connection of how cultural workers and arts workers at the time in Colombia were lacking support and weren’t seen as contributors to the local economy and the social dynamics of the city.
I finished my programs and I knew that I didn’t want to be an artist full-time and I knew I didn’t want to go into economics because I felt that the arts were so important and so relevant. So that’s what led me to come to New York and pursue this program. I felt that there is more to do, that there are more strategies and ways to offer support to artists after they finish their studies so they can grow more in their practice and have a sustained livelihood from being an artist. Many people I went to school with ended up stalling their artistic practice or moving to completely different fields because they just couldn’t sustain themselves as artists. So, I came from a place where I saw the potential of learning something I couldn’t in Colombia and that’s why I came to New York to pursue this program.
Could you speak a bit more about what attracted you to the ARAD program?
There are many programs in the U.S. and in Europe for Arts Administration. When I was looking, I felt really strongly about this program mostly because it was very well aligned with where I was coming from and the type of support that I was seeking.
I wanted to join a program that had that connection of arts with a little bit of business and infrastructure, and more of that organizational side of the arts. Not just curatorial work or arts as an independent practice, which I had already experienced. I was seeking something that was a marriage of the two backgrounds I was bringing. I felt that Teachers College offers a strong academic program and so much context and background to things that were very new to me. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, I didn’t know anything about the non-profit structure and marketing in the arts. All of these things were very new to me and I saw that the program offered flexibility in terms of seeking which path you wanted to pursue within arts administration.
It also offered access to other arts classes and more arts-driven courses within Teachers College and even a little bit with the greater Columbia University network. It was nice to still have a connection of the two of those and lean towards a stronger arts admin background and knowledge. Also, the program is in New York, which is an iconic city for arts and culture in the world. So it was a perfect triangle of elements that really made it an easy decision for me to come to Columbia.
Where do you currently work and what is your role?
Right now, I am the Program Manager of Grants and Services at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, also known as LMCC. I have been here for just a little bit over four years now.
After graduating, I followed the non-profit path. Right before joining LMCC, I worked at another non-profit organization called Art in General, which was an organization focused on providing financial resources as well as space for artists to create works. It was commission-based work and we would present it in the organization’s gallery space – first in Manhattan, and then in Brooklyn. I was at this organization for about three years including my internship time, which I did while finishing the ARAD program.
In my second year in the program, I became really interested in fundraising in non-profits, which led me to join Art in General, where I was a Development Associate. I was supporting the fundraising efforts of the organization. From grantwriting for government and federal grants, private foundations, to supporting other efforts around private donors, such as the gala and membership events, annual campaigns. All of the different components of non-profit work. I was able to gain a lot of experience because this organization was very tiny – only five staff members. It was great – it gave me a sense of the structure of a nonprofit and also an idea of what it takes to fundraise.
After that, I ended up landing at LMCC, where I do the opposite. Instead of asking for grants, I give out grants, which is the amazing thing about my work. At LMCC, we have three re-granting programs that are funded by city and state agencies, which are the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. These agencies give block funds to LMCC and we regrant them to artists, collectives, and organizations based in Manhattan, which are presenting programs to the public in Manhattan. In a way, we are making these public funds accessible to individuals and entities that otherwise would not have the opportunity to go to these funding agencies directly. LMCC has been in this role for over 30 years. So I am just a small part of this history and legacy. My role is to manage those three regrant programs.
We also offer professional development opportunities for artists, primarily in the form of workshops for artists to develop skills, such as financial skills. That includes opportunities to learn about budgeting and the steps of grantwriting for individuals who are new to that process. I also support part of that work.
The last piece of what I do at LMCC is serving as the primary contact for people who prefer to communicate in Spanish. As a Colombian and as an immigrant that is something very important to me. I hold my language very close and dear to myself. I love walking around the city hearing Spanish being spoken. The reality is that many people cannot access resources available to them because they do not speak English and really prefer to communicate in their native language. I am really proud and thrilled to serve as that contact and offer support and assistance with information throughout the application process in Spanish. So that’s a little bit about all the different hats I wear at LMCC.
Are there any courses at TC that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
I remember, it all started with some of the core classes – understanding the different income structures that a non-profit organization can explore. It was an introduction to fundraising, and I remember that in that class we would see the different ways of supporting an institution. So this idea of earned income as well as contributed income and in-kind contributions. I remember asking during that class about in-kind contributions because I had no idea what that was!
That class, I believe, was in the second semester of the first year. It gave me a baseline of how the non-profits work and how they structure their financial plans. This idea that you not only have your expenses but you need to map out your income and there are many different avenues for fundraising. Then it comes down to what is best aligned with you, the capacity, what is available, all of these different things. This class was a good first snippet of that.
I also took classes at the school of continuing education (Columbia School of Professional Studies). They have great classes in fundraising – I remember taking two or three classes there. This allowed me to continue developing my fundraising skills. We would take a case study of an organization and prepare a fundraising plan and a financial projection, so I think that really gave me a lot of preparation and skills that I applied when I went to work in my first position at Art in General. These skills allowed me to help the organization with financial planning, even going beyond just applying for grants. Having those classes not only gave me the basics but this idea of putting skills to practice in a theoretical way, which was really helpful once I started working.
Could you speak a bit more about the history of LMCC?
LMCC was founded in 1973 with the opening of the World Trade Center with the idea of bringing arts programming and activities to the Financial District. Throughout the years, LMCC has grown into the cultural council of Manhattan. There are five borough arts councils in New York City and LMCC is the arts council for the borough of Manhattan.
Today, LMCC has a mission of serving, connecting, and making space for artists and communities in Manhattan. We do that through a wide range of offerings. We have grant programs, which is very much what I do. We also have artist residencies in the Arts Center at Governors Island as well as other satellite spaces in the Financial District, which are for artists across stages of their careers to develop work or immerse themselves in their creative practice.
Those are the primary services for artists but then the organization also offers a lot of programming for the public. We have our annual festival “River to River,” which has site-specific performances in Lower Manhattan and Governors Island, as well as exhibitions at our gallery in the Arts Center at Governors Island. So we provide a wide range of activities and programs both for the public as well as for artists directly. That is roughly the scope of LMCC.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
It comes down to the idea that this grant program is the first grant that many artists receive. We see people who are very new to grant writing or have tried to figure it out on their own and have lost interest because they weren’t funded in a particular year. There is a lot of skepticism around preparing an application and how this process works at funding institutions.
One of the most interesting challenges I face in my work is trying to expand the reach of our programs every year. They are annual programs, which open in June and applications are due in September with projects happening in the next calendar year. Because this is public funding, contributed by taxpayers, it should be going back to people in Manhattan.
And with that idea, we really try to ensure that our programs represent the makeup of Manhattan and the rich diversity of the city. Not only in terms of geographical locations, which means that we want to fund people from Inwood all the way to Battery, but also a wide range of artistic disciplines – music, theatre, dance, visual arts, media, literary projects, interdisciplinary projects. From more traditional art forms to contemporary, from small events to big events. We also place a lot of emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity. Although the city is very diverse, it is known in the fundraising world that the largest percentage of available money goes to white-identifying individuals and white-led organizations. This is something that happens and is a criticism of this field. A big challenge and something we strive for from year to year is to make sure that those who have been underrepresented by the programs know about them. Every year we are trying to increase access to our programs and reach out to those who haven’t heard about them or are skeptical.
It involves a lot of relationship building and going to the communities we want to reach, and establishing partnerships with key local stakeholders or with artists who have come to us to understand how the process works. We want to demystify this notion that it’s difficult to get a grant or that there are many hoops that you have to jump through.
Ultimately, the programs are competitive. We do get over 500 applications a year and get to award around 50-60% of that. Every year we change the people who make decisions. It isn’t staff that makes decisions, those are other artists and professionals in the field who make decisions.
We really try to ensure people that they can still come back year after year, even if they don’t get a grant on their first try. We are here to help people to strengthen their applications, answer questions about the process and help people put their best foot forward, but doing that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Being on the ground, being on the phone, and meeting people where they are and their comfort level in terms of writing a grant. Language, of course, is a big part of it. To me, these are some of the biggest challenges but also rewards of my work. Being able to meet new people every year and see that the makeup of our applicants and grantees continues to become more and more diverse.
How is LMCC funded?
We receive money from all sides. We receive money from city agencies, state agencies, federal agencies as well as private foundations, and individual donors. That is to support the whole organization. When it comes to the grant money that we give out, those grants really come just from NYSCA, DCLA, and UMEZ, which is an economic empowerment corporation in Upper Manhattan.
What is the most exciting part about your role?
There are so many things! I enjoy my job at LMCC quite a lot. One of them is that every year I try to push the needle more and more to ensure that we connect with more people and have more diversity in our programs.
Through my work, I have come to appreciate and know many neighborhoods of the city that I previously didn’t know. The pandemic has made us shift our practices but before the pandemic, we were always on the ground doing information sessions during the summer in different neighborhoods in the borough. We were also going to grantee events to experience the work that we were funding. That helped me expand my awareness of artistic disciplines because I come from a visual arts background, a very narrow view of the art world. Through LMCC, I have been experiencing music events, theatre, dance, projects in many different disciplines, and people approaching the artforms in different ways. This work at LMCC has really helped me to expand my own vision of the art world and also of Manhattan – getting to explore new areas that I otherwise would not have explored, perhaps. Also having a pulse on community arts in the city, which previously I didn’t have so much access to.
The other part is that component of language. It is very special to me to have a job, where my language is a key part of my work. It helps me reinforce my identity. Being able to speak Spanish in my work is something I so appreciate and getting to see more people who come to us seeking Spanish language communications is something that I feel so proud and excited about. When I get an email or a call in Spanish- that’s a joy for me.
Finally, I would say that LMCC as an organization has such a strong legacy and it is so remarkable to be able to be part of that history in a small way.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
The pandemic has been a hard situation for many of us. When it comes to our work, it definitely made us shift a lot of our practices. It made us adapt a lot. Before the pandemic, we were always on the ground. That is how we built trust and relationships. By showing up. Even if people were not expecting us. Just showing up or hosting events in different neighborhoods in the city and inviting people so that they know about us. That has been a very key component of our work – being on the ground or welcoming people to our offices for consultations and encouraging them to call us at any time.
With the pandemic, we lost that ability to go to events and meet people face to face to build relationships. Connecting with other people and showing people that we were still there. Also getting to meet new people. That was a big challenge for us. We are now doing some hybrid events but most have remained virtual. Last summer, we tried doing some smaller events in Upper Manhattan and in Chinatown, but still trying to limit them in terms of capacity. Last summer we noticed there was still a lot of anxiety in the air in terms of doing in-person events. It was very hard to want to be out there but still not being able to. That was one of the biggest challenges for our team.
We are funding over 200 projects every year. The pandemic was very impactful for all of our grantees, both in 2020 and 2021. Still, we are helping people navigate through ways to do their projects. The first year was the hardest because no one knew what to do, no one knew how long this was going to go. We had people calling us and emailing us asking what they could do with the money. So, we were really able to adapt and offer support in any way we could. Assuring people that it was okay, that projects can be postponed and we can figure out ways for projects to happen and minimize that anxiety. A lot of it was trying to navigate and help people manage their own stress around these projects. That was a big challenge for us and also mostly for our grantees. Finally, trying to find ways to help people envision new ideas for their projects, new ways to still engage the public in a way that is safe for them and for the public.
Artists are incredible. Artists and organizations were very quickly coming up with ideas about how to do things virtually, how to do things remotely via phone if they were working with older adults or sending packets to participants because we also have an arts education grant program. It was interesting to see them developing ideas and adapting quickly but then experiencing and seeing all of the struggles that they were having – how can we support them in the best way we can, given what is going on?
Last year we saw that people were excited about the city opening up in the summer. We saw some grantees move to presenting projects in person in parks or smaller capacity venues. We saw excitement around everything opening up. But then, everything started shutting down again. So, once again, we were in a place of helping people navigate different situations in the best way possible.
Do you have any suggestions for current students who are looking to go into fundraising, grantmaking, or working with communities?
Something that really helped me was staying curious and open. I didn’t know that this was the path I wanted to pursue. Never would I have imagined that I would be working as a grantmaker. But it all started from a place of curiosity. Thinking about this thing that I wanted to know more about. How can I explore this regardless of whether it will lead to a job? Leaning into that curiosity is a big piece.
Explore all the different paths and options available at TC and at Columbia! That is something rich about the school, that it has such a rich diversity in course offerings and perspectives. There is so much knowledge you can get out of this program. Having that curiosity and exploring what gets you closer to answering the question that you have in your head and then going towards that.
Going into fundraising, if you have never done grants, try exploring that process. I remember that was one of the exercises in this first class that I mentioned. We were given one application that we had to write. I thought this exercise was so helpful for understanding what it takes to prepare a grant proposal. What are the elements of it? How can you come up with successful narratives? Either writing a grant for your personal practice or some artist or other purposes, or maybe just as a fictional exercise. A lot of that work was very helpful for me as I was starting to work in the fundraising world.
When it comes to working with the community, one of the biggest pieces that I have learned through my work at LMCC is that it is important to meet the community where they are. To show up, to be there, to build relationships and trust. And that it is something that only happens with time. It is something that you have to show up year after year for. You have to be present and listen to what people are interested in and if there are any needs, and what they are. If you are a person or an organization that can offer this support or fulfill that need or perhaps you just have to make space for other people to step in and provide that support. That idea of being at the same level and building relationships.
I have been able to build a lot of connections through my work. However, the most meaningful has been connecting with people, speaking with them year after year, hearing about how they are doing and the challenges they are having. As people get comfortable and they feel that they trust you and that you are really there to support them in a genuine way, they open up. Sometimes they have shared with me: “This is something that is very difficult right now.” It comes from a very friendly conversation. And then I’m like: “Oh, okay! Let me look into that and do something about it.” Some of the great feedback I have received from grantees and applicants has come from that open conversation that has only been possible after many years of building trust and relationships. I think that’s key when it comes to working with communities.
We had a chance to chat with Sharon Duncan (ARAD ’98),Director of Individual Giving, and Ebonie Pittman (ARAD ’08), Senior Director of Development, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Sharon and Ebonie shared the story of how ARAD brought them together, and their experience as development professionals at Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from? What were your undergraduate degrees? What brought you to ARAD and how did you two ultimately meet?
SD: I’m born and raised in Harlem. I went to Howard University, where I majored in Dental Hygiene and Human Development. I first completed the Dental Hygiene program and then got my B.S. in Human Development. I was thinking that I would eventually go to Dental School. However, that did not happen. I ended up working every summer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where I went after school every day as a little girl because it was not far from where I lived. I never wanted to be a dancer; I just really liked the structure of it. I loved studying dance basically.
So, I had worked several positions at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. At the time, I was Arthur Mitchell’s Assistant. We were on tour in Germany, and I was probably in my fifth or sixth year as his assistant and he saw me one day in the afternoon before the performance and he said, “What’s happening? What up?” and I said “Oh, nothing. I’m just a little bored with the job. I mean, I’ve done it, I know what to do”, and he says to me, “Okay, you know what you need to do? You need to get an advanced degree in arts management, and you should go to Columbia.” And, I was like, “Really?” So, I started researching different programs, and I liked Columbia’s program. I also had another colleague who came through the program and I talked to him about it. He knew Joan Jeffries, who at the time was the program manager, and encouraged me to apply. So, I did. I get my interview with Joan, get accepted, and only then do I realize, “Shoot! This is a full-time program! I can’t do this program. I work full time!” So, I called Joan and she said, “You will do this program, and you will do well in this program so please just accept the admission!”
EP: I’m a native North Carolinian. I studied dance all the way through college at the Ohio State University. In my freshman year there, I already knew I wanted a degree in Arts Administration. I was always that person who knew that I had a dual interest in the performing and the business side of the arts. So, even at 18, going into college, I knew that TC was my future. Fortunately, it worked out that I got into the program. So, after graduation, I moved back to North Carolina for about a year and then moved to NYC in the fall of 2004. I started the program at TC in the fall of 2006, which worked out nicely – I was ready to get back to school. So, that’s what happened, I just kind of knew that I wanted to be there. That’s been my trajectory ever since, dance and arts administration.
Then, what happened with Sharon and me. I was taking the Principles and Practices course, and we had to do a case study. My classmate at the time, Claire and I, decided on the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Joan Jeffries, who was also the program manager at the time, put me in contact with Sharon and mentioned that she was an alumnus of the program. We went up there, did a site visit, and interviewed her for our paper. Then Sharon and I just stayed in contact over the years. That was back in 2008.
What are your current roles and how did you get here?
SD: So, I’ve been at Dance Theatre for a long time. I’ve been here for over 30 years in various capacities, including school administrator and director of administration. I had wonderful mentors and role models at DTH eager to teach me all aspects of the organization, and I took full advantage of it. I enrolled at TC when I was the school administrator for the DTH School. Later, I went to Alvin Ailey because I realized all my experience had been at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Ailey was seeking a director for its arts education program, so I went there. I was the Director of Arts Education and National Director of Ailey Camp for two years, establishing partnerships with private and NYC public schools and expanding their youth camp around the country. It was great work, but at the time, Ailey was not the size it is today, it was a smaller organization, and I was a department of one. I began to burn out from managing the school residencies around the city and setting up the camps.
After leaving Ailey I got hired at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to be the Director of Development. They were structured differently and focused on higher education. What was most exciting was the opportunity to attend The Fundraising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy with the 40+ advancement officers from the HBCU member schools that fell under the Thurgood Marshall umbrella. The Fund received a major grant to offer the training, and I was fortunate to be able to participate and hone my skills in fundraising while working.
I ended up back at the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2002 as the Director of Administration. We suffered a financial crisis in 2004, which resulted in laying off the professional company and many staff members. I was asked to stay on and transfer to the Development department, having known many of the relationships DTH had with donors and funders, having been Arthur Mitchell’s executive assistant. We continued to operate the DTH School and its education programs and slowly made our way back, thanks to major funding. However, the Company did not return until 2012. DTH had new leadership and the Development team was in a state of transition. In 2015, I found myself as a department of one with a part-time associate. It was challenging for a few years. Thanks to major funding from the Mellon Foundation, we were finally able to rebuild the department. I encouraged Ebonie to apply for her position. At first, she didn’t think she was ready for it, but she probably was. Then she came back in 2020, and she is winning in her role! Now, she’s the Senior Director of our department! So, I work under Ebonie now as the Director of Individual Giving and it’s a pleasure. With Ebonie, we’ve brought more structure to the department and we’re able to do some things that we couldn’t do before; set goals and do some good work.
EP: Speaking of the crisis, that was actually what the case study was about for my class. Dance Theatre at the time did not have a company. The school was operating but the company was not performing. It couldn’t have been a better case study for school. How does an organization with such an incredibly rich history, that has a very particular role culturally in the ballet canon and continuum, survive and think about the way that they’re modeled in order to move forward and continue the work that Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook sought to do when they founded it in ‘69?
So, fast forward to 2017. I moved back to NYC in 2014 and was working at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2017, I learned about the Director of Development position at Dance Theatre. I had a conversation about it, interview for it, but ultimately decided to stay at ABT for another 3 years. Then, in June of 2020 I finally made the jump. Which is moderately crazy because we were well into the pandemic. There were no live performances. Everything was on Zoom. We were a team of 2 ½ because we only had a part-time Development Associate. We are now a team of five, which is significant because while Dance Theatre may be small compared to other ballet companies such as ABT or New York City Ballet – we do just as much work. We do the same amount of programming. We do the same amount of cultivation and stewardship. How Sharon held that down by herself all those years is still beyond me! So, I’ve been honored to step into this role and help build what I believe will be a sustainable development program. There are still a lot of things that we need. Some strategic planning and thinking needs to happen for sure. But, there are some systems in place that weren’t there before.
In all your experiences, were there any specific courses, classes or projects at TC that you feel were very helpful?
SD: Organizational Behavior! These were electives but they helped so much. That course taught me how to look at an organization and see what works and what doesn’t, make assessments and come up with solutions; understand how individuals work, what skills capacity is needed, etc. I had a boss at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and he would say, “Okay, we’re going to do this project,” and I had already thought through so much of it in my head. I drove him crazy! He would just say, “We’re not there yet, Sharon.” I credit that course in teaching me how to navigate within different organizational cultures.
EP: The thing about the Organizational Behavior class is, when you’re in development, you’re dealing with people. Development is literally about building relationships with people. So, you have to learn how to manage personalities. Knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses. How to delegate and get the results that you’re looking for. Not just in terms of the dollars raised but, again, in the relationships that you’re trying to build internally and externally with donors and prospects. I think I took two or three of those classes.
I would say, as far as the actual classes in the program, they provided a lot of foundational information. We learned about unions and collective bargaining, fundraising, accounting, and marketing for the arts, and how those things impact the work of an artist and arts organizations. I think, at the time, there were two tracks in the program, one specifically for visual arts and the other for performing. Given my background, I took Principles and Practices of the Performing Arts. This was where we learned about strategic planning and proper budgeting.
But, I think in hindsight, it’s when you step out of the program that you really realize how everything works together. Academic spaces are academic spaces. Until you really do the work, it only takes you but so far. You have to be in the trenches to understand how all pieces work. I only say that because I know that in my class we had people come straight from undergrad who didn’t have work experience in between. It really made all the difference in terms of how you were able to participate in some of the discussions in class and what you would ultimately take from the program long-term.
What do you feel is the role of arts administrators?
SD: The role of the arts administrator is to support the vision and mission of the organization. It is to ensure that good art is made and supported by skilled individuals, who ensure the work provided by that institution can thrive and be financially sustainable in an environment that benefits the staff and the larger community it serves. My experiences at DTH showed me the value of administrators. Artists are creative and they’re visionaries! They’re brilliant! They have all these great ideas but may not have the business acumen to do it. So, you began to see that we need to put people around them and these ideas, to bring them to fruition. This became so clear to me in working with Arthur Mitchell, who was very passionate and driven. Our role as arts administrators is to make the dream a reality or put it on hold until we can.
ED: Yes, founder’s syndrome is a real thing. Arthur Mitchell was definitely a part of this generation, where a lot of artists started their own company but did not have the people with the business acumen helping them. We have been very fortunate that the larger arts community sees the power and the importance of Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, while we went through that very difficult 8-year period, they did what they saw as necessary at that time.
Michael Bloomberg was the Mayor at the time and put money towards keeping the school open, which was very necessary because quite frankly, I don’t know if DTH would have survived had that piece not been operating at all. But this is the role of arts administrators. I think that we have an opportunity, because a lot of people still don’t know who we are, what we do, or the importance of our work. On the back end, the dancers don’t just get up and dance, and I think that’s what drives both Sharon and me, and everybody else who works for the arts. This is not easy work, at all. And, again, throw a pandemic in it. We’re competing with public hospitals and schools that are trying to educate and keep people healthy. It’s like – who are we, asking for money for ballet classes?! What people realize is that art maintains the perspective. I like to say that the arts are what give people something to live for. So you may ask yourself: “Why are you here?” To engage. Art comes in many forms– whether it’s ballet, television, music on your radio, going to a gallery, watching something on your phone, the clothes you wear, or the designer who made them. You engage with art every single day!
SD: And a lot of the feedback we would receive from our online programming this past year has been, “Thank you for this…This is really helpful to me in this time…Oh, we found this so comforting.” You know, Mr. Mitchell always said that art is a healing balm. He often referred to DTH as a healing balm. The Company sometimes found themselves performing in cities after a catastrophic event (Mt. St. Helena’s) or in places of unrest, such as South Africa, during Apartheid. He always saw our role as one of comfort and healing.
What are you excited about in the coming year?
EP: I think I’m most excited about us as a global community accepting that this is our new reality and finding ways to work within it so that we can continue to do what we do best, which, in the context of arts, is making it available and accessible to all people.
The dancers just did a world premiere last weekend in Detroit and this was the last destination they were supposed to perform at before the pandemic in March 2020. So, now, 2 years later, they had the chance to do the world premiere of this ballet, set to the music of Stevie Wonder, who is from Detroit. I was able to go on Saturday night. It was wonderful, everyone was really excited! But, the best part! There was a woman sitting diagonally across the aisle from me. During intermission, she walks over to her friend in front of me and says, “I have never seen anything like that in my life!” I got the sense that engaging and watching ballet was not something that was very high on her list. But, to know that someone who has had little exposure to ballet saw that piece and was floored! “I didn’t know what that music was or where the movement was going! But, that was BAD!” And when I say bad, I mean good, because she was of a certain generation. I look forward to more moments like that.
I also look forward to DTH getting to a place where we can think more creatively and strategically on this other side of “the pandemic”. It feels like in some way we’ve been maintaining and holding on because we’ve had to. I’m looking forward to new works! I’m looking forward to new programs! We’ve done things in this last year and a lot while I’ve been here but there’s room for so much more! I think we’re finally at a space to have those conversations and I really look forward to what DTC will be in 2022, 2023, and beyond. It’s a different company now than it was 20 years ago.
SD: I’m a lot like Ebonie in that I’m looking forward to seeing where Dance Theatre of Harlem is going. The first 50 years have been great! There’s so much that we have accomplished and there’s still so much that we can do. What does that look like? I don’t know, but I look forward to the exploration. We’ve always thought of ourselves as being innovative. So, figuring out what that looks like in this new reality is exciting. I’m also interested in DTH establishing new partnerships with our community.
What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators thinking about development or fundraising for the arts?
SD: Keep mentors and keep growing your network. If you’re thinking about development or fundraising, be sure you like people. I often hear fundraising compared to sales and I know why they say that, but you need to like people and know how to listen. Ebonie said it earlier – this work is about relationships. You need to be comfortable with hearing the word “No,” it just means not now. Also, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone excited about supporting the work you do, or the work of an organization. They feel a sense of belonging and making a difference. Fundraising is challenging and rewarding! Development personnel are the facilitators. We tell the stories and build the relationships that hopefully lead to partnerships and support of the mission. Be inspired by the work of the organization.
EP: I would cosign that, especially the network piece. I’m still friends with people and colleagues that I graduated with in 08. They’re very much still a part of my network and community. We lean on each other.
Also, if you know what you want to do when you get out of school, great! But if you don’t, I would advise you to take that admin assistant, associate job so that you have an opportunity to learn all the pieces, all the wheels and the cogs in the system. So that you can figure out exactly what you want to do and what your sweet spot is. The beautiful thing about development is that because we fundraise for the entire organization, we know every bit of it. We know everybody because we have to. We’re writing for production. We’re writing for programming. We’re writing to fund a new software for operations. You name it. We’re in there. Whereas, some other departments can feel a little more siloed. But I think Sharon and I have a broad perspective of how the bigger picture works because we started out as administrative assistants and associates. All of that experience really helps to shape which direction you may go in. And if you don’t know in the beginning, that’s fine. Learn as much as you can. Just be open to it because, again, it’s hard work regardless because you’re in the not-for-profit arts. So, you have to have a passion for it. You have to know that this is what you want to do, the importance of it, and why we, as an arts and cultural industry, are necessary.
Sharon Duncan is the Director of Individual Giving, Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has held several positions with Dance Theatre of Harlem including Director of Development and Director of Administration. She was the former Director of Arts Education for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the former Director of Development for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Sharon received her B.S. in Human Development from Howard University and her M.A. in Arts Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has a CFRM from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is a fellow of the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.
Ebonie C. Pittman is the Senior Director of Development at Dance Theatre of Harlem where she oversees the strategic planning, development, and execution of all fundraising activities. Previously she was the Senior Director of Philanthropy, Institutional Support at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she managed all corporate, foundation, and government fundraising. She has served as an applications review panelist for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on Arts. A champion of diversity and inclusion in the arts, Ms. Pittman has played an active role in the advancement of ABT’s former Project Plié, now RISE, diversity initiative. As a fervent supporter of the performing arts, and a dedicated arts administrator, Ms. Pittman previously worked for the North Carolina Theatre, The Wallace Foundation, Young Audiences New York, and Buglisi Dance Theatre.
A native of Durham, NC, Ms. Pittman started dancing at a very early age under the tutelage of Lauren Lorentz de Haas and the late Barbara Bounds Milone, and spent summers studying at North Carolina School of the Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Bates Dance Festival. She danced professionally with Mezclado Movement Group in New York City, and she is currently on the Board of Directors of the Triangle Youth Ballet in Chapel Hill, NC.
Ms. Pittman graduated cum laude and with distinction from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, and she has a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Columbia University, Teachers College.
Since 2015, the Arts Administration Program (ARAD) at Teachers College, Columbia University has organized an annual Holiday Service Project for its faculty, students, staff, and alumni to contribute time, goods, and cheer to those in need during the winter holidays. This year, we had the pleasure of continuing our partnership with local arts organization, Art Start, providing 50 toy packages and holiday cards to over 170 children in NYC.
Aside from ARAD’s long-standing and continued support of Art Start, a non-profit organization that brings arts programming to at-risk youth living in city shelters, on the streets, or surviving with parents in crisis, we are excited to announce our efforts will also benefit the People’s Theatre Project.
Rooted in Washington Heights, People’s Theatre Project (PTP) creates ensemble-based theatre with Latinx, Black, and immigrant communities to strengthen the movement for social justice. Core programming includes: the PTP Academy, a multi-year theatre and social justice leadership program dedicated to the holistic development of immigrant youth (grades K-12); the PTP Partnerships, in-school theatre residencies focused on celebrating culture and identity; and the PTP Company, a touring company composed entirely of immigrant artists of color. Through these programs, PTP participants, artists, and audiences deepen their sense of power and strengthen their connection to community, reimagining a more equitable world.
This winter, PTP is raising full scholarships for the young artists in the PTP Academy.
Your gift of $25 sponsors the cost of a K-5 young artist’s tuition for one day.
Your gift of $50 sponsors the cost of admission for a family to see their young artist perform.
Your gift of $100 sponsors the cost of art supplies for a whole ensemble.
Your gift of $500 sponsors half the cost of a K-5 child’s tuition for a semester.
Your gift of $1000 sponsors the cost of a middle school/high school young artist’s tuition for a semester.
All contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law, and will be accepted through Monday, January 3, 2022. You can donate using the form on this page. Sign up for the People’s Theater Project mailing list by texting PTPSIGNUP to 41444!
Donations made by check should be mailed to Teachers College, Columbia University, Attention: ARAD Alumni Programming Fund, Box 306, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027-9988. Checks should be made payable to Teachers College, Columbia University, and in the memo field, please include “Alumni programming: ARAD.”
Thank you for helping us make the holidays brighter by providing the tools and access to creative self-expression through the arts! Please contact Grace J. Choi at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
What is your current role at Aurway Repertory Theater, and what led you to this position?
I was originally brought onto the Aurway team by way of company Co-founder, Lawrence Dandridge, who for many years prior had been building the foundation of Aurway with his network of friends and artists from the greater Newark area. A lot of us either grew up performing together or have met through his artistic nucleus. Based on my interests and skills in arts administration he asked me to be a part of the founding team and help propel his and Co-founder, Veronica Gonmiah’s vision for the organization.
We are based out of Newark, New Jersey. We currently don’t have a physical location at the but through rentals, and community partnerships are able to utilize various spaces in the greater Newark area. Officially as a company, we incorporated in 2020 however as a collective and a group, many have been performing together for over 10 years. I’ve joined in with them in the last 5 years.
What are your main responsibilities?
As the Director of Marketing and Development, I’m charged with driving the fundraising strategy as well as the business operations of the company. This leads me to write email communications, create and layout website content, manage the company database, write grant proposals, communicate with patrons and donors, and curate fundraising events. I am also an active company member participating in the cast of many of our original works.
Can you tell us about Aurway Repertory Theater and its mission and goals as an organization?
Aurway was birthed out of the idea of creating a platform for black and brown artists and voices. Through community partnerships, educational workshops, and public performances we create space for artists and viewers alike to engage in a dialogue on pressing social issues impacting our community while experiencing an unconventional approach to artmaking and theatrical performance. With that, we also recognize that our art is not just a form of entertainment but a tool that to be used for impact. We challenge all our members to be not just performers but ARTISTs geared to make a lasting change in and out of our community.
Our official mission states “Aurway is a network of emerging and professional artists dedicated to the pursuit, presentation, and creation of culturally relevant art, highlighting the experiences of black and brown people.”
What kinds of programming has Aurway done this past season?
This past season Aurway has been working our way back into the world with some live events. In September we were featured in the Newark Arts Festival with, “An Evening with Aurway”, where we performed a few of our favorite original Aurway tunes. In addition, we continued our concert series, “Musicals in Concert”, with a virtual presentation of our newest work Life Through My Eyes as well as a live presentation and reunion of Wishlist, an original work by playwright, Kathy D. Harrison. We also have a bi-monthly play reading series called, PlayTime, where we read and explore works by black and brown playwrights.
We also got in the studio this past season to record the official cast album of Something Like a Fairytale, another original work written and composed by Aurway Co-founder and Artistic Director, Lawrence Dandridge. Available for pre-order now!
How has COVID-19 affected your work and Aurway?
Last year right before COVID, we were revved up to do a lot of new things in 2020. This included a residency at a local arts high school as well as a few live programs and workshops. So, as many artists and organizations had to do, we adjusted to virtual programming. We created a virtual series called “Staying Home” where we had interviews and discussions with the workshop cast of Coming Home, an Aurway original musical. In addition, for woman’s history month, we had our first virtual “Musicals in Concert” with a presentation of What Comes Next, another original Aurway work. We also held our first annual Kwanzaa fundraiser and celebration, uJAMaa, which was our first look at putting on a live-streamed event. Through the pandemic, we have learned to try new things and think outside of the box in the ways in which we reach audiences. I now believe more organizations should and will continue to incorporate a virtual aspect to their performance and increase access.
On the sadder note, however, Aurway experienced a huge loss this year with the passing of our dear friend and fellow team member, Jeremiah Trusty. Jeremiah was quintessential to building the foundation of this company. He was also a genuinely wonderful soul and a blessing to those he came in contact with. He is greatly missed. ❤
Can you tell us more about Aurway’s newest work, Life Through My Eyes, and what it is about?
Life Through My Eyes is a short musical, that follows the story of Tony, a young teen riddled with depression and anxiety. Through a series of journal entries, a group of his peers read through his experiences. Set to music and monologues, the group explores Tony’s inner thoughts in hopes that he will avoid the same devasting end that claimed his mother. This piece explores suicide awareness and the realities that face many urban teenagers.
This show was originally set to have its stage debut this past July as a part of the New York SummerFest 2021, however with continuing pandemic restrictions the production was postponed until this Fall. We are now gearing up for performances in the next two weeks! Come check us out! Click the image for more information.
We are also adapting this show into a feature-length film set to be released sometime in summer 2022. Check out our trailer!!
Can you tell us more about the annual fundraiser and Kwanzaa celebration, uJAMaa?
So uJAMaa is our annual Kwanzaa celebration and fundraiser to support our programming and operations for the next year. It only started last year, but we’d love for this program to grow into a huge annual event. We chose Kwanzaa specifically because of the intention and history that the holiday was built in. Created back in 1966, as the first African American holiday, I believe Kwanza founder, Maulana Karenga, wanted to redirect the mindset of African-American people and give us something to help redefine our identity, purpose, and direction as people in America. Through the use of 7 communitarian principles (the “Ngozu Saba”), Kwanzaa seeks to reconnect people of African descent to cultural and historical heritage. Similarly, Aurway was created as a space for us to reconnect and promote artistry that is genuinely steeped in our culture and experiences. Giving us the power to discover and express our identity, purpose, and direction as artists of color.
It’s going to be a night of songs, poetry, dance, and conversation as we raise funds for 2022.
What is the most rewarding part about working with Aurway Repertory Theatre?
I think the most rewarding part about Aurway is getting to publicly promote and tell these stories. I know how they make me feel after being a part of them and it’s exciting to know that an audience member may see these pieces and immediately connect to the work in a way that they never have with musical theatre. It’s a nuanced twist on a traditional art form. It’s a seat at the table we built. I think people underestimate the power of inclusion and representation and what that can do for another’s intrinsic motivation. I look forward to the fires that Aurway will continue to ignite.
As a note to current ARAD students, SAA has enormous potential. In my previous interview, I mentioned that teamwork, dedication and discipline, with a little sacrifice, are all you need as the infrastructure for your dreams. Go get them!!
Thank you God and all that have made this evolution possible. As you can imagine, collaboration is the key in building this robust network of what is now Artivism. Immense gratitude to you all for your trust!
Because of this book’s collaborative spirit, featuring 15 authors and three co-editors, it felt only natural to create a program with the authors, their thought-provoking chapters, and the socially engaged projects they’re involved in. This is how the idea came about with the Gottesman Libraries: How about a year-long Program (Spring-Fall 2021) emphasizing the topic of our recently published book regarding Social Imagination and the arts for social change?
It was thanks to Artivism’s fairy godmother, Ms. Jennifer Govan, Senior Librarian and Director of the Gottesman Libraries, that doors were opened and Artivism grew into what it is today. With her trustful “yes”, we contacted Dr. Christine Riordan, President of Adelphi University, who then connected us with her team, Dr. Stephanie Lake, Professor Argiro Agelarakis, and Sarah Avery from the Criminal Justice Program. In addition, we were also joined by Dr. Inés Archer from Adelphi’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Soon thereafter, Sing for Hope co-founders, Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, saw potential in the idea and became Artivism’s co-collaborators and co-sponsors.
Can you explain what “artivism” is and what it means to you?
Artivism looks to ignite the passion within each of us to be the change agents of our moribund society: with our current resources, where we are. Artivism builds networks of content creation, collaborations, and new ways of thinking as tools to transform systemic societal disjunctives.
Artivism brings to light how the arts can redress inequities, reflect all voices, and push society forward. This interdisciplinary, multi-institutional collaboration aims to engage people in transforming society through the power of art. The initiative’s vision is to generate a movement where committed social ‘artivists’ are responding to historical global unrest and creating community through multidisciplinary teamwork toward a more dignified and meaningful coexistence. Artivism hosts presenters and their initiatives from all over the world, encouraging teamwork, working for the common good, and exchanging ideas. Artivism is currently also building its European chapter.
Artivism is the result of dedication, teamwork and reciprocity. Artivism is an example of selfless collaboration for the greater good. To me, this is the objective-solidarity, sharing and being one; one family that cares for each other worldwide in hopes of transforming societal systemic disjunctives.
What initiatives is Artivism currently working on?
Our current season started this past September and will feature an amazing line-up of international presenters, spanning from locations such as Ecuador, Greece, Costa Rica, Russia, the Philippines, Iran, and France. In addition, we are also collaborating with Adelphi University’s “Fall Arts Festival” on October 6th, 2021, with a live roundtable discussion, held in the Olmsted Theater at Adelphi University’s Performing Arts Center. Adelphi students are also currently working on creating an official Artivism Club on campus. Our ongoing Student Ambassador Program continues to provide a platform for students to share their voices while also connecting directly with other artivists. This upcoming Spring 2022 season is all lined up and ready to ignite our audiences.
Artivism shows what dedication, teamwork and solidarity can do. It shows how each individual has the means, not in the future but NOW to be the change agent in their current context. By being mindful, attentive, present, and receptive in your everyday activities and taking selfless action, you are everything needed to inspire and transform the status quo, one person at the time- starting with YOU. Now, how are you inspiring others?
Artivism:Nurturing change for a more dignified and meaningful coexistence
For more information on Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation, check out the links below.
Carolina Cambronero Varela, M.A. is engaged in community endeavors that promote a better environment and future through the arts and peace education. She believes these are human rights that will guide all, primarily children, to a deeper understanding of the power of transformation that each person has within. Carolina envisions the creation of these opportunities as integral components for a dignified life (please refer to The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966).
While at Columbia University, Carolina was president of Student Advocates for the Arts, co-chair of the Peace Education Network, and program representative in the Arts and Humanities Department Student Council. She also became a member of Kappa Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education, Global Citizens Club, and Columbia’s University Life Events Council.
Currently, Carolina co-produces the initiative Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation, an ongoing, multimodal collaboration sponsored by Sing for Hope, Adelphi University and Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University. Artivism aims to generate community through multi-disciplinary teamwork for a more dignified and meaningful coexistence, however you define these terms. The initiative aims to nurture confidence in taking continuous action from wherever you are by means of reciprocity.
Kimberly Theodore Sidey (ARAD ’11) is currently the Music Education Grants Program Officer at Chorus America in Washington, DC. Program Associate, Nigel Finley, had the chance catch up with Kimberly via Zoom, where they spoke about the ARAD program and her life after Teachers College.
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree?
I grew up in a small town outside of Minneapolis, St. Paul, which in itself has a robust arts community. It was there, I was able to really dive into my interest in music, theatre, and dance. Then in the late ’90s, my family moved to Austin, Texas, which also has a really rich art and cultural community. I then studied Choral Music Education at the University of Texas at Austin. After undergrad, I taught choir and voice lessons in Austin and Houston before moving to New York City, which is where I completed my master’s degree and graduated from TC in 2011.
What attracted you to the program specifically at TC?
At the time, the majority of my professional experience had been in the classroom. But, in addition to being a certified music educator, I was also an assistant conductor for a small non-profit children’s choir – which is where I had the opportunity to learn about arts administration and the kind of skills needed for effective non-profit management. So, knowing that there was a real breadth and depth of programming is what attracted me to TC. I felt confident that this was the place where I could develop these necessary skills while also gaining a holistic understanding of the arts ecosystem.
Where do you currently work and what is your role?
As of May 2021, I work for Chorus America, the professional development, research, and advocacy organizations for the choral field. My position as the Music Education Grants Program Officer is actually a newly created position. Earlier this year, Chorus America, was very fortunate to receive a substantial grant from a private funder to create a regranting program. In my role, I will be very focused on building this new grant program. It’s specifically the Music Education Partnerships Grants program which is designed to support collaborations between non-profit organizations and schools during the 2022-23 academic year. Our goal in our inaugural year will be focused on increasing access to singing for K- 9th graders and to promote learning through cross-cultural exchange, while upholding the principles of access, diversity, and inclusion. This program is going to be making grants in four different regions: British Columbia, the Northwest, Central Appalachian, Southwest, and also the Upper Midwest.
This being a newly created grant program, how does this differ or not from your other grant programs?
This program is actually very aligned and similar to the other programs here at Chorus America. Music education specifically is a big part of our strategic plan and our mission. We support over 6,000 conductors, educators, board members, and non-profit professionals in the field. We know that access to earlier learning experiences in music and singing is really important in building a lifelong love for singing. So, this is really aligned with what we’re doing and a wonderful opportunity for Chorus America to increase our impact within the field.
Where is your organization located?
Washington, DC however we support organizations across North America.
How would you say ARAD helped prepare you for this role or your career? Were there any courses, experiences, or skillsets that you feel were most valuable?
I think ARAD was so valuable in that it provided me this rich learning opportunity to develop the fundamentals but also the critical thinking skills required for this field. I left the program with an understanding of what makes a healthy, vibrant, arts organization. I think the other thing ARAD helped me understand was the funder and grantee relationship and how to effectively build those relationships and make a case for funding. That was particularly helpful in the beginning of my career when I focused on fundraising. I found that my experience as a fundraiser has really informed my work as a grant-maker.
How would you describe the difference between a grantmaker and a fundraiser?
A fundraiser is soliciting and building financial support for a nonprofit organization, whereas a grant-maker or funder is distributing grants to organizations to support their work.
How did the pandemic affect your work as a grantmaker?
Although I am still fairly new at Chorus America I understand we had a robust response to the pandemic. As you know, singing is one way that this virus can be transmitted. There was a lot of focus on aspiration and the droplets that are produced when you’re singing or speaking. Chorus America stepped up by providing a wealth of resources, articles, and guidelines on how to respond to the pandemic.
I think speaking broadly the pandemic had a major impact on the field of philanthropy. In 2021, we saw a lot of increased investment in terms of dollars. I think the pandemic also in tandem with the Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on how grants are distributed. There’s been much more conversation in this field to ensure that equity is centered in the work. And at the foundation I worked at a few months ago, I was really fortunate to be part of the substantial process to center our woman’s issues grants in equity. I believe organizations are asking themselves – How can we widen the circle of influence in our grant-making? How do we streamline the application process and increase transparency? How do we incorporate a community voice in the process in a way that before the pandemic we had not done? We have also been addressing implicit bias and providing training for grant reviewers – changes like removing identifying information or other tactics to help curb implicit bias. I think another thing we saw philanthropy do in general was respond by offering more flexible multi-year funding.
Chorus America has an incredible opportunity because we are not revising, we are able to build our grant-making program from the ground up. We’ve been working with a fantastic group of community advisors from across North America who are helping us co-create our grant guidelines. It’s been a huge joy to work with them! They’re a very talented group of musicians, touring artists, grant-makers, educators, researchers, arts non-profit professionals, and many other relevant fields. They bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and diverse lived experience to help inform our review process, which will ultimately decide how we distribute funding. To be involved in this type of community building has very meaningful and rewarding.
What are you most excited about in the next year?
I think the thing I’m most excited about will be the launch of this program. The guidelines will be released in October. Applications will open in November and due next January 2022. We’re granting out just over $900,000 in this next grant cycle across four regions in the US and Canada.
What advice would you give other arts administrators interested in pursuing fundraising or development in the arts?
If you are interested in pursuing development within the arts I would advise you to pursue an internship where you will get some hands-on experience. I think also listening is a very important skill. You have to understand your donor base and you won’t know what folks need unless you listen. Then, I would say you need the courage to not be afraid of making mistakes. Especially in philanthropy. We can spend a lot of time reviewing reports and planning and I think that just takes courage to just start doing the work.
Kim is delighted to combine her experience in grant-making and choral music education as program officer for Chorus America’s inaugural Music Education Collaborative Grants. Most recently, she served as program manager at the Austin Community Foundation, where Kim oversaw the RFP process and distribution of grants for the Women’s Fund, a signature program of the Foundation.
Her earliest professional experiences were teaching middle school choirs in Austin and Houston, TX, and since then, Kim has held arts management positions for ZACH Theatre (Austin, TX), Roundabout Theatre Company (New York, NY), and Opera New Jersey (Princeton, NJ).
She holds a Masters Degree in Arts Administration from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Music Studies from The University of Texas at Austin.