Naomi 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.
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?
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.