Student Spotlight: Naomi Litman-Zelle ‘19

Naomi-Litman-Zelle-PictureNaomi Litman-Zelle is entering her second year in the Arts Administration program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She earned her undergraduate degree in Cultural Anthropology, and spent time after graduating working in the world of fundraising for an educational non-profit organization. Her interests include art museum education and community engagement with a focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives. While enrolled in ARAD, Naomi has interned at the Rubin Museum.

 

Naomi shared her reflections on life in ARAD with us (as well as a few of her cartoons!):

What attracted you to the Arts Administration Program at Teachers College, Columbia University?

I wanted to be in New York City, and after some research, I realized that TC would be a great fit for my interests. A lot of the faculty also have a social science background, which set the ARAD program here apart from other programs I was looking at. I also liked hearing at Admitted Student’s Day that the admissions committee carefully selected the cohorts so that there would be a broad range of interests and backgrounds. It’s been a real joy to learn so much from my fellow classmates.

What are the three things you need to have on you at all times?

I always carry an extra layer in my bag. In New York in general and especially at TC, you never know what the temperature in a room is going to be, so I always like to be prepared. Also, I usually have pens and a notebook with me for class and to doodle in on the train or during down time.

How are your studies helping to advance your career goals?

I think I’ve become more focused in what I want and I’ve made really great connections that will be useful to me when I graduate. Beyond just job opportunities, having contacts and doing informational interviews with some of the foremost leaders in the field are a tremendous asset.

Describe student life as a member of the ARAD community.

I’ve loved befriending the folks in my cohort. It is a really positive and friendly group, and I think we’ve built a nice community. From happy hours to study sessions, it’s been nice having a group of people with such similar interests and schedules. Being a grad student also means my downtime differs from my 9-to-5 friends, so I definitely take advantage of being able to see a movie at 2 p.m. or going to an event on a weeknight!

What have been some of your favorite cultural experiences in New York City?

I think the theater I’ve seen is probably the highlight. I have been to some Broadway shows, but the most fun things I’ve seen have been either student shows or performances produced or performed by people I know.

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Courtesy of Naomi Litman-Zelle.

What is one topic you have been discussing in Arts Administration classes this week?

It’s summer right now for me, so I’m not in classes, but something I’ve been thinking a lot about is the repatriation of art objects. I visited the art museum in my home state when I was visiting a couple weeks ago, and it houses the largest solid piece of jade outside of China. Having the Jade Mountain in the museum is really valuable from an educational standpoint, but I sometimes wonder what right the museum has to such a sacred object. I think about this with regards to the Temple of Dendur at the Met as well; this idea of ownership of objects from foreign countries and whether or not it makes sense to house them in American museums. It’s a complex issue, but fascinating and important.

In your view, who are some of the major influencers working in arts administration right now?

I think Kimberly Drew is someone who really inspires me. She’s a pop-culture icon that brings a really important voice to the museum and art history community, and she manages the social media for the Met. Also Annie Polland, the new VP of education and programming at the Tenement Museum. I recently heard her speak at the NYCMER conference hosted at TC, and she was really inspiring. She’s super invested in the community and using storytelling to connect the museum to the broader public, and I think that’s an amazing concept.

What is your professional ambition or dream?

I would love to be the director of programming/community engagement at an art museum or arts organization.

Who are your three favorite artists, in any medium?

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Courtesy of Naomi Litman-Zelle.

There are too many to list! I draw cartoons in my spare time, so some of my biggest inspirations are Gary Larson (The Far Side), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Roz Chast (The New Yorker) and Cathy Guisewite (Cathy). I love how they mix humor and art.

Second Year Allason Leitz Returns to Congo International Film Festival

Allason Leitz is in her second year of her masters in Arts Administration at Columbia University. She has worked for the last seven years with the Congo International Film Festival (CIFF) most recently as the assistant to the Artistic Director where she primarily gathered (and occasionally curated) films. Since beginning at CIFF, she has worked on a number of projects that seek to connect Congo and the western world, primarily through her work with the web series Kinshasa Collection and the women-owned startup Tulizeni.

Allason shared her reflections on her most recent trip to Goma with us:

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Allason celebrating closing night of CIFF with colleagues Gaius Kowene and Bernadette Vivuya (both have international careers, and help with the festival)

This summer I went back to Goma, D.R. Congo to be part of the Congo International Film Festival which I’ve been helping out with for the past seven years. Two things were a bit different this year than in the past: 1) I was coming off of an incredible first year in the ARAD program and 2) the festival was transitioning from a founder-run festival to one run by a successor. As we learned in our course “Principles and Practices in Arts Administration,” this sort of organizational shift can affect every defining aspect of an organization. Yet as with most experiences that push your limits, the things I took away from being there in person far exceeded what I imagined when I sent out the countless emails and messages for the GoFundMe campaign I was relying on.

Taking part in a film festival in a war zone comes with its fair share of challenges, ones that inevitably go outside the scope of the Arts Administration challenges we speak about regularly in our program. On more than one occasion I wondered if getting there was even going to be a reality. The festival depended on me, so I had to get there–I was responsible for the tablets we needed for an exhibition, and I had the only copy of EVERY single film for the festival. Despite whatever happened, these items had to make it there.

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Flying into Kamembe, Rwanda.

My journey was complicated by a short planning time frame and a complicated visa process. Getting a visa to the D. R. Congo has become more complex based on new international agreements between the U.S. and the D. R. Congo—it is a process that can take ten days and subject to quirks in the system. Sitting in desperation on Connecticut Ave in Washington, D.C. with no visa the day before my already postponed flight, I wound up resorting to the absolute last option to make it to Goma in time. Instead of flying from D.C. to Goma directly, I changed my flight to fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Changing my travel route, enabled me to be eligible for a different visa which I could get at the border, though it was unfortunately a much more expensive option. In Kigali I got on a TINY propeller plane to Kamembe (a southern Rwandese border town to Congo) at the crack of dawn and crossed the border on foot to the D.R. Congo. Then, despite a mis-dated visa, I made it onto an overnight boat to Goma (a twelve hour journey instead of the normal three) and arrived six days after I had left my apartment in NYC.

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Arriving in Goma by boat at sunrise.

I could write a small book about all of the mix ups, as well as the amazing people who saved me time and time again and restored my faith in humanity. Yet when everything was going wrong for a while, I was reminded by a friend of mine from ARAD who was texting with me that this would probably make a pretty good story for my grandchildren. In the moment it was riddled with anxiety, triumph, peace, doubt, anger, confusion, euphoria, you name it, the emotions were all there: tell-tale signs of any adventure.

I learned a valuable lesson at the end of an epic journey and an incredible festival with the realities of an unstable warzone ever present. I saw that we in much of the Western world have become dangerously defined by an expectation of ease.

Working at CIFF has in many ways tested my will and my desire. I’ve also learned to trust those inclinations that push me to believe in my values and myself. My journey to Goma was a pale version of the tests many people in Goma face daily, but my greatest privilege is that I have chosen to be a part of this festival every year instead of the innumerable festivals in the U.S., because this festival brings more to the table than any festival I have ever been a part of in the U.S. There is an ease in the U.S. that we take for granted: the electricity working when we have a screening, ready access to internet fast enough to download films, and internet that works and doesn’t cost a fortune.But, CIFF celebrates the triumphant glee of self-expression in a way that accepting ‘ease’ has made routine. It accentuates the bliss and vulnerability that comes from sharing your thoughts with the world and  is truly a celebration of us as individuals and community. The heroes of this festival are my colleagues on the ground who dare to create a festival that can run in in the D. R. Congo as well as in other places around the world. Being in the D. R. Congo constantly reminds me that such deep celebration is best not forgotten.

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Opening night CIFF events at sundown.

Learn more about our August Student Spotlight, Marina Piedade, ARAD ’18

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Marina Piedade, ARAD ’18, was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. She completed her Bachelor in Communications and Advertising from the University of São Paulo, and afterwards went on to live in London to study photography at the University of the Arts London. For the last ten years, she has worked as a full-time professional photographer and after moving to the US in 2015, graduated from ARAD program this past May. 

Get to know her through these rapid fire questions:

What attracted you to the Arts Administration Program at Teachers College, Columbia University?

I was looking for an Arts Administration program specifically. The Columbia program, beside being a very well esteemed program in a Ivy League University, had the most approachable students and faculty. I felt wanted there.

What are the three things you need to have on you at all times?

Phone charger, a bottle of water, and migraine pills.

How are your studies helping to advance your career goals?

My studies definitely helped me to get a better overall understanding of the area. Also, as we can tailor half of the credits to our own interests, it is possible to find classes to target specific flaws in your own knowledge.

Describe student life as a member of the ARAD community.

As we have such a small program, we developed a “family like” environment, were everyone knew each other’s names. I have no doubt that I have made some friends for life during my two years at TC.

What have been some of your favorite cultural experiences?

My favorite cultural experiences were in fact visiting amazing museums and organization outside the city, and learning about what else happens in the tri-state area. These experiences can only happen when you are not a tourist focused only in New York City.

What is your professional ambition or dream?

Work as a ED of a large visual arts museum.

Who are your three favorite artists, in any medium?

Van Gogh, William Kentridge, and Agnes Martin.