Distinguished Speaker Series: ARAD Reflections

By Alyssa Foster

Current ARAD student,  Arts & Humanities Writer


The Distinguished Speaker series was piloted by Dr. Lena in the Arts Administration (ARAD) program to integrate a higher level of practical experience into the research-based curriculum. Begun as a guest speaker series for the Principles and Practices course in Fall of 2013, the first round of visiting administrators included alumnae of the program such Carolyn Charpie Fagan, current Education Programs Manager at the New Victory Theatre, and executive directors such as Helene Blieberg of Ballet Hispanico.

“I feel that the Distinguished Speaker series acts as a bridge between the theoretical knowledge acquired in class and the practical experiences we brought into the program and gain from our internships,” remarks Veronica Fischmann, Masters-candidate in the ARAD program. “I also personally like the exposure to professions I may not be personally interested in but may professionally interact with in the future.”

“The Distinguished Speaker series plays an important role in connecting our cohort with the art world in New York and in creating a network with the professionals that work in that field,” agrees Pilar Riofrio, also an ARAD Masters-candidate. “Listening to their first-hand experiences, the things that worked for them, the development of their careers, the choices they made and the challenges that they have to face nowadays are great insights and references for our future careers.”

Under the coordination of Dr. Lena and now Jess Wilkinson, the ARAD Program Manager, students nominate and invite speakers of their choosing to participate in the series. “Each student who nominated a visitor worked as an ambassador during their visit,” explains Dr. Lena. “I think the correspondence and informal conversations between guests and students has resulted in the birth of quite a few mentorship relationships.”

In addition to providing opportunities to forge mentorships, the series also provides an informal atmosphere for the students to better learn the nuances of administrative life, from organization policies to comical anecdotes. The series is intended to be mutually beneficial for the speakers – a platform that venerates their diligent efforts.

“The Distinguished Speaker series offers a context where arts experts can give a presentation to our students that delves deeply into their particular arena of influence, their daily concerns, and their career trajectories,” Dr. Lena states. “I think the daily life of most arts administrators (or policy experts) is so demanding that they rarely have the opportunity to take a step back and assess their progress, personal goals, the lessons they learned (or hope to). They’re also doing amazing work, and our series is a great moment for them to celebrate their achievements.”

The series has already hosted arts administrators from a wide breadth of arts backgrounds. Last November, Ed Woodham, Director of Art in Odd Places, presented on the challenges for presenting in unconventional public spaces. Just the month before Assistant Curator at The Kitchen, Lumi Tan, visited to discuss the path which led to her career as a curator. Each new guest lends insights that speak directly to what the students long to learn.

“I learned several things from all of them,” remarks Pilar, but I particularly remember Alaine Arnott, Senior Administrator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have always seen how people in the arts are so passionate, but she showed me how that passion turns into energy and motivation to take on big challenges. This passion, with training and leadership, are key factors for having a successful career.”

Though each speaker has an idiosyncratic insight and impact, Dr. Lena has noticed several recurring factors that ignite particular interest: “Students respond enthusiastically when we talk about the nuts and bolts of administrative work,” she reflects. “I watched in amazement as our students asked Alaine Arnott (Met) eight questions in a row about administrative re-organization and task management software! But there was an equal amount of buzz when Ed Woodham (Art in Odd Places) led us in a discussion of the role of art in defining public spaces and our rights and responsibilities in using it. I’m impressed that our students get excited about philosophical and ethical questions, but also about strategy and management.”

Though the pilot series was created as a component of the first-year curriculum, the course is now open to all students. Upcoming guests include Cynthia Round, Senior Vice President of Marketing and External Relations at the Met, and Arthur Cohen, CEO at LaPlaca Cohen.

“I value the different perspectives and the insight into different roles in the field,” Veronica remarks about the breadth of Distinguished Speakers in the queue. “It gives me a fuller understanding of the landscape of the art world . . . The Speaker series is a really great augmentation to the program’s existing curriculum.”

As part of the Academic Festival this weekend, the ARAD department is hosting a panel of program alumni who will discuss the future of Arts Administration. Moderated by second year student Pearl Kermani, the panelists will discuss current practices in their organizations and stratagem for students preparing to start their careers. The panel, titled “Envisioning the Future of Arts Administration,” will be held at 3:30 PM on Saturday, April 12th, in Grace Dodge 179. We welcome the return of our alumni speakers: Morgan Arenson (’12), Daniel Gallant (’04), Vasso Giannopoulos (’11) and Eugenia Han (’12).

Also coming up soon, the ARAD program will host speakers from the Urban Bush Women (UBW) on April 30th at 5:30 PM in Russel 305! UBW is a Brooklyn-based dance company who seeks to bring the stories of the disenfranchised to light.  We hope you’ll join us!



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