Rob graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2012 with first class honours in Musicology. Following that, he worked in artistic administration at both the Australian Youth Orchestra and Gondwana National Choirs, two of Australia’s best training grounds for young musicians. He then spent two years in Strategic Development at the Sydney Opera House, Australia’s busiest performing arts centre, where he worked with a range of stakeholders, primarily on communications and fundraising projects. While at the Opera House, he volunteered as a writer and broadcaster for Sydney’s independent community radio station, FBi Radio, and worked as a professional choral singer. Since moving to Manhattan in 2016, he has been singing regularly with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and has interned in programming at both National Sawdust in Brooklyn and Moogfest in Durham, NC, and in development at The Kitchen in Chelsea.
Tell us more about yourself!
What attracted you to the Arts Administration Program at Teachers College, Columbia University?
First, I wanted to build on my previous experience in Australia by filling gaps in my knowledge, particularly in governance, business policy and law. Second, I wanted to be in an environment that fostered academic discussion and analysis of major issues facing the arts today, including visiting seminars for leaders in the field. I also saw the Columbia experience as a great way to get a foothold in the busy arts ecosystem of New York, and to be a part of a cohort full of talented and driven aspiring arts workers. I think the academic rigor of this program made it the most obvious choice on all fronts.
What are the three things you need to have on you at all times?
Headphones, a notebook and my phone.
How are your studies helping to advance your career goals?
Beyond the core curriculum which addresses all major facets of the successful operation of an arts organization, I’m able to experience such a breadth of topics across different graduate schools that I know will inform my career— from fundraising to governance, conflict resolution to cultural policy. One highlight has been a graduate historical musicology seminar on early Modernism which has been a great contrast. These choices mean I can develop a robust program of study that offers a variety of perspectives I wouldn’t have necessarily had otherwise, and allows me to focus in on what I want to offer the arts industry.
Describe student life as a member of the ARAD community.
Student life in ARAD is busy but rewarding. Between class, readings, essays and internships, we all have lot on our plate, but I’ve found that there comes a certain excitement with that. It’s exciting and stimulating to be busy, which is what life as an arts worker is like. It’s also important to set aside some space for a social life. I’ve found that there’s a great sense of camaraderie amidst the cohort. We are all going through the same busy schedule and looking out for each other. It’s empowering to be surrounded by a group of bright, ambitious people who will become your future colleagues.
What have been some of your favorite cultural experiences in New York City?
Too many to name. The calibre of performance and art here is just incredible, and I try to remind myself of that as often as possible. Australia produces some of the world’s best artists and performers, and many of its major cities have an enthusiastic audience for cultural events, but it is nothing like the variety and the scale of New York. Some favorites include seeing Tristan und Isolde at the Met Opera conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, Pharoah Sanders at Le Poisson Rouge, and Alvin Ailey on New Year’s Eve at the City Center.
What is one topic you have been discussing in Arts Administration classes this week?
I’ve been loving Dr Lena’s class on Diversity in the Arts. So far, we’ve covered some really tough questions about how marginalized identities and under-served communities can be better represented in major arts institutions, and how so much more needs to be done to create a pipeline of workers and artists that better represent their audience and surrounding communities — particularly in New York City.
In your view, who are some of the major influencers working in arts administration right now?
There are so many great leaders to look up to. In New York, three legendary women spring to mind who are guiding institutions through big changes, Deborah Borda (New York Philharmonic), Thelma Golden (Studio Museum in Harlem) and Debora Spar (Lincoln Center). Back home in Sydney, I think both Lisa Havilah, who’s in charge of Carriageworks, a contemporary multi-arts centre, and Louise Herron, who runs the Sydney Opera House, are also doing great work managing a huge array of community stakeholders to sustain their organizations.
What is your professional ambition or dream?
I would love to be working as an Executive Director of a multi-disciplinary arts centre some day.
Who are your three favorite artists, in any medium?
Absolutely impossible to name just three. My tastes are always changing and I’m sure I’ll have a different set of favorites in a couple of weeks. However, three that I’ve been thinking about recently are the trumpeter Donald Byrd, composer Arnold Schoenberg, and Dutch photographer Rineke Djikstra. Also, J.S. Bach. Always Bach.
Gillian Jakab is the dance editor of the Brooklyn Rail. Recently, she sat down with Lili Chopra, ARAD 06′ and artistic director of the FIAF, French Institute : Alliance Française to talk about the FIAF’s mission to connect New York and France in an international dialogue on the arts, and on the lines the ‘Crossing the Line’ Festival is intentionally blurring. Check out the full conversation and Gillian’s work!
We followed up with our Fall 2017 Microgrant Recipient, Angelica Tran.
Funding from the ARAD Microgrant supported Angelica’s participation in the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s DaCapo Arts Administration Intensive at the Opera Learning Center at Lincoln Center.
Describe the opportunity you participated in and how it aligns with your career aspirations.
I attended the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s DaCapo Arts Administration Intensive,
which is a two-day program held at the Opera Learning Center at Lincoln Center. The
intensive featured panelists from different arts organizations who spoke about
important topics related to performing arts management, as well as their careers.
This year’s sessions and panelists included:
Advanced Planning and Production; Crisis Management
-Jeremy Geffen, Director of Artistic Planning, Carnegie Hall
-Martin Platt, General Partner, Perry Street Theatricals
Artist and Personnel Management
-Steve Greer, Company Manager, The Phantom of the Opera
-Bernard Uzan, Director, Uzan Artists Talent Management Community Outreach & Education
-Stuart Holt, Director of School Programs and Community Engagement,
Metropolitan Opera Guild
-Shirley Taylor, Director of Education, Apollo Theater Development in Action
-Katherine Delaney, Director of Development, Metropolitan Opera Guild
Building a Career in the Arts
-Leah Barto, independent arts & philanthropy consultant
-Devin Day, Assistant Stage Manager, 1984
Many of the sessions included discussions and problem solving exercises that
were conducted in small groups. For example, after the Crisis Management
session, we worked in small groups to solve a hypothetical crisis in an
organization. We examined different ways that we could solve the project while
taking into consideration how our solution would impact the budget and the
organization as a whole. A few of the crisis examples included customer service
issues, a lead soloist dropping out from a program at the last minute, and serious
set malfunctions prior to the start of a performance. In our Community Outreach
and Education workshop, we designed education programs for different groups in our communities. Our group work was presented to the whole class, which
allowed us to receive feedback from the panelists and our peers.
One of the highlights of the intensive was the backstage tour of the Metropolitan
Opera House. We really got a sense of all of the moving parts that go into creating
and staging an opera. We were all very excited to take our group picture on the
This opportunity aligns with my career aspirations because my goal is to work in a
performance arts organization that is related to music. The sessions and
workshops at DaCapo focused on the performance arts, which is relevant to my
interests. In addition, DaCapo was created through the Community Engagement
department, which aligns with my interests in working in education and
community engagement. As such, DaCapo serves as an example of a program that
I could help implement in the future to help aspiring arts administrators.
What were the most important takeaways from your experience?
Some of the key ideas that came up across the different sessions were the
importance of communication, relationship building, and flexibility. In terms of
creating community engagement opportunities, it is crucial to have an open
dialogue with the communities to find out their unique needs and desires. The
programs that we create should be tailored to fit the communities of interest,
which is best achieved through relationship building and communication. Another
instance in which relationship building was emphasized is with the board,
employees, and volunteers of our organization. There are many people who go
into the production of a concert, show, etc., and it is important to develop
rapport and build trust with the different departments in the organization. This
opens the lines of communication, which can allow for the effective
communication of both praise and constructive criticism. The panelists also
emphasized that we should be malleable and flexible not only with the programs
that we create, but also with the development of our careers as emerging arts
administrators. Many of the panelists suggested that we keep an open mind and
take advantage of new opportunities that may come our way, even if it requires
stepping out of our comfort zone a bit.
How has the microgrant helped to enrich you professionally?
The ARAD microgrant enabled me to participate in the DaCapo Intensive which was extremely beneficial to gain insight about working in the field. During the two-day intensive, I was able to network with fellow arts administration students, arts professionals from different arts organization around the country, including staff from the Metropolitan Opera Guild. The workshop gave me additional perspectives about topics that I am learning about in my classes. At this early stage in my education, I think it is very important to gain as much insight about working in the field as I can, so that I am better prepared for my future career.
Thank you so much for taking the time to follow up with us, Angelica. We look forward to the ways in which you will integrate these new learnings and insights into the ARAD community!
Kevin Jennings, who received an M.A. in Education from Teachers College in 1994, was recently named the new President of the Tenement Museum located on the Lower East Side of New York City. Just a few of Jennings’ other significant accomplishments include working for the Obama administration in the U.S. Department of Education as the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. In addition, he founded and was the Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national education organization dedicated to making schools safe for all students. Most recently, Jennings served as Executive Director of The Arcus Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to issues related to LGBT rights, social justice, and conservation.
Jennings expressed how his personal connection to the Tenement Museum inspired his recent professional change: “It is a combination of a general love of history, a specific love of this museum, and a desire to help craft a more positive narrative around immigrants and immigration in this country.” In particular, Jennings described his personal passion for the Tenement Museum’s mission: “Probably as a result of growing up poor and gay and in a multicultural family, I have a natural inclination towards the underdog.” Jennings connected his work in humanitarian efforts for the LGBTQ community to the Tenement Museum’s timely mission, especially with the recent national dialogue regarding immigration. “Immigrants are the new gays in America,” Jennings said. “I saw the Tenement Museum as having a very powerful and valuable role to play in educating people about the value of immigrants and immigration into our country.”
During his time at Teachers College, Jennings had a particular interest in studying the process of institutional change. He believes that the material he studied and the lessons he learned at TC are especially helpful in his new position: “We are in a period of massive change here at the museum. It is virtually an entire new leadership team. Three of the top five leaders are new, including me. And the world has changed dramatically around us over the last year to where the mission of our organization, which is about educating people about immigration, has suddenly become the hottest issue in America.”
Jennings also believes that the advancement of technology has brought about a great deal of change in the museum world. “I think the museum world is about to undergo a complete transformation. And I am not sure if everyone is ready for it,” Jennings said. “And the question is, who are going to be the museums who actually figure out and leverage technology to advance their mission, and who are going to be the museums who don’t figure it out and cease to exist?”
Jennings feels that the Tenement Museum has a unique opportunity to take advantage of new developments in technology: “I think that virtual reality and other similar forms of technology are actually very well suited to what we are seeking to do as a museum, which is to talk to people and tell them stories.” With the opening of a second building, the Tenement Museum will feature a new permanent exhibition entitled Under One Roof. Accompanying the physical exhibition space, the museum has created a virtual tour that features the stories of immigrants and migrants who lived in 103 Orchard Street in the decades after World War II.
The creation of this virtual tour was motivated in part by what Jennings described as a challenge of “site specificity”. The Tenement Museum has thus far only comprised a building located on 97 Orchard Street, which was abandoned in 1935. Therefore, the organization has only been able to embrace immigrant stories of that time period. “But the story of immigration did not end in 1935, it continued with new waves of people, Holocaust survivors, Puerto Ricans, Chinese coming to the neighborhood, and we wanted to bring our story up to the current day,” Jennings said. “Technology will enable us to tell many more stories than we can tell just by interpreting our historic site.”
In addition to the opportunity to expand the Tenement Museum’s offerings, Jennings also explained how utilizing technology presents an opportunity to expand their audience to include individuals who may never be able to travel to New York and visit their physical exhibition space. “The education we offer has never been needed more, the opportunity to take it outside of the four walls of our Tenement house and into people’s living rooms and classrooms has never been more possible than it is right now,” Jennings said. “My goal is that we are going to move from impacting hundreds of thousands of people to impacting millions of people.”
Utilizing new technological platforms to reach new audiences presented the opportunity to create an interactive component to the Tenement Museum’s offerings, Jennings explained. Their platform entitled Your Story, Our Story invites online visitors to upload images of objects that carry significance in their family’s history, in an effort to involve the public in telling America’s story of immigration. “I think the new generation expects a level of interactivity that perhaps my generation did not. Being able to give people a chance to interact with us more and not just be passive visitors is really important.”
While implementing technology presents opportunities for the Tenement Museum, Jennings acknowledged the challenges associated to utilizing new and unfamiliar technology: “We are going to have to rethink how we tell the story that is appropriate for this medium, because this is a different medium from walking people through the museum. I think that there will be some challenges in terms of figuring out how to tell our stories most effectively in this medium as opposed to the medium we have been using for thirty years.”
With consideration to the ever-changing nature of museum work, Jennings refers to hockey player Wayne Gretzky’s well known saying: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Jennings offers similar advice to ARAD students: “Don’t skate to the museum world of today, skate to the museum world of tomorrow.” In addition, Jennings believes that upcoming arts administrators should: “Become an expert in change management, because the world is changing all the time and at a faster and faster rate.”