Sunny Leerasanthanah was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and lives in New York City, where she is completing her MA at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2016, she received a BFA in Film, Photography, and Visual Arts at Ithaca College, New York. Sunny plans to work with non-profit visual arts organizations and institutions in the future, while balancing her work as a multidisciplinary artist. She has previously completed curatorial internships at the Brooklyn Museum, Public Art Fund, and most recently, Art21, where she contributed to their upcoming anthology book of interviews with international contemporary artists. In addition to work and graduate school, she enjoys working on different artistic projects.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Chad Rabago attended Service Unites in Atlanta, GA this June with funding from the ARAD Spring 2018 Microgrant. We were eager to hear about his experiences!
Service Unites is the largest service-related conference for non-profit, government, business, and civic leaders. Hosted by Points of Light, an organization dedicated to volunteer service and mobilization, Service Unites brings thousands together to collaborate and share knowledge, resources, and connections to awaken the power of people to change the world. I have wanted to attend the conference since learning about it during my year with AmeriCorps, and through a grant from the Arts Administration program I was fortunate to be able to attend for the first time!
This year’s theme was “Igniting Civic Culture,” challenging attendees to cultivate a culture in which civic engagement is the norm, and every person is inspired, prepared, and mobilized to make a difference. Throughout the conference, I attended workshops on topics like branding through social media, engaging millennial volunteers, rethinking volunteer recognition and training, developing audiences without overspending, and forming college partnerships. I heard from professionals in various sectors, including higher education, consulting, museums, PR, and corporate philanthropy. At the conference’s opening assembly, we heard from various activists, politicians, artists, and celebrities, including Brooke Shields, Adam Rippon, Jesse Williams, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, theatre producer Alia Jones-Harvey, and students from Parkland, Florida.
In addition to attending the workshops and learning from so many experienced professionals, part of what made the conference so great was being surrounded by people who were all interested in working with volunteers in so many different ways. I met and connected with students, current service members, and professionals from various fields, including non-profit management, corporate social responsibility, human resources, venue management, start-up businesses, arts administration, government, and policy, and I am looking forward to following up with people for informational interviews and thesis research! It was really humbling and thrilling to share stories and resources with people who have similar career experiences. Whether it was the house manager at a folk music venue in Michigan who works with volunteers every day, or a specialist with AARP who coordinates volunteers digitally all over northern California, their unique perspectives enlightened my own experience of working with volunteers, as well as the career possibilities in this field.
Being in Atlanta for the first time, I also had the opportunity to visit The Center for Civil and Human Rights, World of Coca-Cola, Mercedes Benz Stadium, and Fox Theatre. I also did a whirlwind tour of Montgomery, Alabama, where I saw the former homes turned museums of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Dr. King, Rosa Park’s bus stop, and the abandoned movie set of one of my favorite movies, Big Fish.
It’s my hope that I will be able to attend future Service Unites conferences. Thank you to the ARAD Program for giving me this opportunity!
The Arts Administration Program (ARAD) at Teachers College, Columbia University is pleased to announce recipients of the Spring 2018 Microgrants for Student Professionalization.
Through the Microgrant Program and with generous support from the Arts and Humanities Department at Teachers College, ARAD proudly supports student professionalization activities on campus and beyond. This award champions special projects proposed by Teachers College student groups (with ARAD student membership), as well as conference attendance for individual students in the ARAD program. Applications were invited through an open call process, and selected by ARAD faculty.
Please join us in congratulating the following recipients on their Spring 2018 awards:
Emerson Chang graduated in 2016 from National Chengchi University in Taiwan with double majors in Business Administration and Accounting as well as a minor in Japanese. Her ambition to become an arts manager stemmed from an unwavering passion for the performing arts. She conducted the university choir, co-curated a music festival on campus, and participated in productions of the internationally award-winning Taipei Chamber Singers. Prior to joining ARAD, Hsun-Fang worked at Trees Music & Art as an album field researcher, programming assistant, and marketing coordinator for the label’s Migration Music Festival and New Narratives Film Festival. She enjoys connecting with new audience, and looks forward to gaining practical experiences in audience and fiscal development of art events at ARAD.
Funding from the ARAD Microgrant will support Emerson’s participation in the upcoming TEDxBroadway conference, whose speakers include successful practitioners in the performing arts field, including performers and administrators on Broadway. TEDxBroadway will enable her to compare the principles and practices pertaining to performing arts that she has been learning in the program with actual practices in the field.
Beryl Briane Ford recently graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA with high honors in Art History, a concentration certificate in Museum Studies, and a research fellowship from the Mellon Mays Undergraduate foundation. Prior to being admitted to the Arts Administration program, Beryl Briane interned at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2016 and winter of 2017. Once there, she discovered her passion for Arts Administration and the possibility of pursuing a graduate degree that supported her intersecting interests in public programming, education, and administration. During her time in the ARAD program, Beryl Briane intends on demonstrating how a career that engages rather than siloes her aforementioned interests is possible and sustainable. She is also interested in eagerly exploring how art museums address issues of community engagement and inclusion as they relate to audience development.
The ARAD Microgrant will support Beryl’s attendance at the Black Portraitures IV: The Color of Silence conference where she will have the opportunity to be exposed to new scholarship and network with academics, and museum and art professionals interested in the work of Black visual and performing artists.
Chad Rabago is a graduate of Chapman University where he studied Integrated Educational Studies and Organizational Leadership. He moved to the DC area to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at KID Museum, and following his service year worked as the Office & Volunteer Coordinator at ArtStream, Inc., a disability services arts non-profit. He has been involved in various areas of volunteer management, community outreach, and audience services at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Discovery Cube Orange County, the National Postal Museum, and Shakespeare Theatre Company. With a passion for working with volunteers, Chad is interested in civic engagement and service in the arts.
The ARAD Microgrant will support Chad’s attendance at the Service Unites Conference to develop his knowledge and resources of volunteers at an individual, organizational, communal, and corporate level, and learn how arts organizations can engage community members to affect positive change through service.
We followed up with our Fall 2017 Microgrant Recipient, Lauren Williams.
Funding from the ARAD Microgrant supported Lauren’s participation in the American Institute of Graphic Art’s AIGA Design Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Describe the opportunity you participated in and how it aligns with your career aspirations.
On October 13-14, 2017 I had the opportunity to attend the American Institute of Graphic Art’s AIGA Design Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the conference I attended general sessions along with 2,000 fellow designers and symposia with enlightening guest speakers. This year’s theme was Connect and according to Tina Essmake, 2017 Conference Chair, this theme was chosen because “we’re all in search of meaningful connections to the work we do—and ultimately, to each other.”
The conference allowed me to create new connections and expand my professional network, which provides access to future opportunities within the design industry. The speakers also helped me to create meaningful connections between ideas and projects they were presenting to ideas that I plan on pursuing in the realm of social design and the arts in the future.
I attended symposia including Type in the City and Design for Business Impact. In addition to symposia I also gained inspiration from speakers including:
Rhea Combs, Museum curator, photography and film, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Joe Gebbia, Chief product officer and cofounder, Airbnb
Ian Spalter, Head of design, Instagram
Elise Roy, Inclusive design strategist, Elise Roy & Associates
Annie Atkins, Graphic designer for film
What were the most important takeaways from your experience?
Each year the conference touches upon inclusive design. I found the talk given by Elise Roy, Inclusive Design Strategist at Elise Roy & Associates, most intriguing. Roy discussed how designing for extreme users, like people with disabilities, benefits us all. A major takeaway from her talk is that we can’t continue to make design for people with disabilities an afterthought or an element that is incorporated in phase 2.0 or 3.0. It has to influence the original design. As arts administrators and designers we must commit to universal design strategies.
How has the microgrant helped to enrich you professionally?
The connections made via the microgrant such as networking opportunities, increased awareness of resources, and links to new ideas from speakers have enriched me professionally. I believe that in order to effectively grow it is important to remain involved in the communities in which I am interested in operating in. The micogrant supported me by providing access to a space of like-minded individuals who are tackling innovative projects and concepts that have an impact on society. It also allowed me to enter into a space that emphasized the importance of responsible design, not only supporting my professional development, but also those within communities that interact with my 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
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!