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!