ARAD is delighted to welcome our new Program Associate, Shreya Sanjeev. Learn more about Shreya, what brings her to this role, and what she does outside her work and studies at TC!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
I grew up in Bangalore, India, and did most of my schooling and undergraduate studies there. I moved to Australia in 2012 for two years to pursue my master’s in marine biology and moved back to India soon after to work on marine conservation. I was mainly focused on studying dolphin behavior around anthropogenic stress. During this time, I also worked at a private university to help facilitate their environmental conservation activities. This led me to pursue a second master’s in environmental conservation education from New York University in 2019. I’ve lived in New York ever since.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
So far, all my roles have involved some degree of managerial responsibilities, especially my role in higher education involving interacting with students. When I worked at the university in Bangalore, interacting with so many undergraduate and postgraduate students and building programs with them was perhaps the most exciting facet of my job! It felt like we were building a community within the university and using our resources for critical social causes. In addition, I was leading various academic departments, which added greatly to my overall experience working in the higher education realm. I was exposed to the nuances of business and cinema very early on in life, and I developed a keen sense of interest in management and leadership. The ARAD program is not just a program in performing and visual arts but also the degrees of management and leadership in those spaces, which I found to be profoundly interesting!
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
I am currently pursuing my doctoral program (Doctor of Education) at Teachers College. The amalgamation of my previous roles (in conservation and higher education) led me to pursue this degree. I am interested in researching and understanding how developing countries’ higher education institutions respond to sustainability and environmental preservation as a social movement. I also hope to work with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations in their Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) to help Indian universities build their profiles and initiatives for environmental conservation.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
As a doctoral student at Teachers College, you don’t get the opportunity to interact with many people apart from your cohort. I am really looking forward to interacting with students and faculty and helping develop the program in any way that I can!
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
In my free time, I take a lot of recreational classes around the city, and I mainly love kickboxing and dancing and usually take those classes more often. I also spend a lot of time taking long walks looking for good restaurants and coffee joints. But, if New York’s weather’s dreary, I just curl up with a good book and a hot cup of coffee!
Shreya Sanjeev is currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Teachers College in the Interdisciplinary Studies program focusing on sustainability and higher education in developing countries. She graduated with a triple-honors Master of Science from James Cook University, Australia, and a Master of Arts from New York University. She has interned at various organizations, including the United Nations Democracy Fund looking at projects within the Asia-Pacific region. Her professional interests include sustainability, management, and leadership in higher education.
We had an opportunity to chat with Lina Alfonso (ARAD ’15) and hear how the ARAD program shaped her career journey and the wonderful work she does at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Lina shared what she has learned about working closely with communities, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building, empathy, and communication.
Could you share a bit about your background? What was your undergraduate degree?
I started the ARAD program in 2013 and graduated in 2015. Before I came to New York to complete my Masters in Arts Administration, I lived in Colombia. I lived in Bogotá for many years. In Colombia, I studied visual arts and economics. So, my background really comes from two different places. The ARAD master’s program was great because it helped me unify my two academic interests.
I was studying visual arts and was so excited and thrilled to be able to express myself through art and experience the work of my fellow classmates. I really enjoyed being a practicing artist. But then I saw this kind of unique field within a city’s dynamics and economics and arts as a profession that needs support beyond the academic world. I see myself as being a logical thinker as well as being creative. I studied economics because I was interested in the different pieces of the socio-economic side of a city or nation moving forward. I started making the connection of how cultural workers and arts workers at the time in Colombia were lacking support and weren’t seen as contributors to the local economy and the social dynamics of the city.
I finished my programs and I knew that I didn’t want to be an artist full-time and I knew I didn’t want to go into economics because I felt that the arts were so important and so relevant. So that’s what led me to come to New York and pursue this program. I felt that there is more to do, that there are more strategies and ways to offer support to artists after they finish their studies so they can grow more in their practice and have a sustained livelihood from being an artist. Many people I went to school with ended up stalling their artistic practice or moving to completely different fields because they just couldn’t sustain themselves as artists. So, I came from a place where I saw the potential of learning something I couldn’t in Colombia and that’s why I came to New York to pursue this program.
Could you speak a bit more about what attracted you to the ARAD program?
There are many programs in the U.S. and in Europe for Arts Administration. When I was looking, I felt really strongly about this program mostly because it was very well aligned with where I was coming from and the type of support that I was seeking.
I wanted to join a program that had that connection of arts with a little bit of business and infrastructure, and more of that organizational side of the arts. Not just curatorial work or arts as an independent practice, which I had already experienced. I was seeking something that was a marriage of the two backgrounds I was bringing. I felt that Teachers College offers a strong academic program and so much context and background to things that were very new to me. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, I didn’t know anything about the non-profit structure and marketing in the arts. All of these things were very new to me and I saw that the program offered flexibility in terms of seeking which path you wanted to pursue within arts administration.
It also offered access to other arts classes and more arts-driven courses within Teachers College and even a little bit with the greater Columbia University network. It was nice to still have a connection of the two of those and lean towards a stronger arts admin background and knowledge. Also, the program is in New York, which is an iconic city for arts and culture in the world. So it was a perfect triangle of elements that really made it an easy decision for me to come to Columbia.
Where do you currently work and what is your role?
Right now, I am the Program Manager of Grants and Services at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, also known as LMCC. I have been here for just a little bit over four years now.
After graduating, I followed the non-profit path. Right before joining LMCC, I worked at another non-profit organization called Art in General, which was an organization focused on providing financial resources as well as space for artists to create works. It was commission-based work and we would present it in the organization’s gallery space – first in Manhattan, and then in Brooklyn. I was at this organization for about three years including my internship time, which I did while finishing the ARAD program.
In my second year in the program, I became really interested in fundraising in non-profits, which led me to join Art in General, where I was a Development Associate. I was supporting the fundraising efforts of the organization. From grantwriting for government and federal grants, private foundations, to supporting other efforts around private donors, such as the gala and membership events, annual campaigns. All of the different components of non-profit work. I was able to gain a lot of experience because this organization was very tiny – only five staff members. It was great – it gave me a sense of the structure of a nonprofit and also an idea of what it takes to fundraise.
After that, I ended up landing at LMCC, where I do the opposite. Instead of asking for grants, I give out grants, which is the amazing thing about my work. At LMCC, we have three re-granting programs that are funded by city and state agencies, which are the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. These agencies give block funds to LMCC and we regrant them to artists, collectives, and organizations based in Manhattan, which are presenting programs to the public in Manhattan. In a way, we are making these public funds accessible to individuals and entities that otherwise would not have the opportunity to go to these funding agencies directly. LMCC has been in this role for over 30 years. So I am just a small part of this history and legacy. My role is to manage those three regrant programs.
We also offer professional development opportunities for artists, primarily in the form of workshops for artists to develop skills, such as financial skills. That includes opportunities to learn about budgeting and the steps of grantwriting for individuals who are new to that process. I also support part of that work.
The last piece of what I do at LMCC is serving as the primary contact for people who prefer to communicate in Spanish. As a Colombian and as an immigrant that is something very important to me. I hold my language very close and dear to myself. I love walking around the city hearing Spanish being spoken. The reality is that many people cannot access resources available to them because they do not speak English and really prefer to communicate in their native language. I am really proud and thrilled to serve as that contact and offer support and assistance with information throughout the application process in Spanish. So that’s a little bit about all the different hats I wear at LMCC.
Are there any courses at TC that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
I remember, it all started with some of the core classes – understanding the different income structures that a non-profit organization can explore. It was an introduction to fundraising, and I remember that in that class we would see the different ways of supporting an institution. So this idea of earned income as well as contributed income and in-kind contributions. I remember asking during that class about in-kind contributions because I had no idea what that was!
That class, I believe, was in the second semester of the first year. It gave me a baseline of how the non-profits work and how they structure their financial plans. This idea that you not only have your expenses but you need to map out your income and there are many different avenues for fundraising. Then it comes down to what is best aligned with you, the capacity, what is available, all of these different things. This class was a good first snippet of that.
I also took classes at the school of continuing education (Columbia School of Professional Studies). They have great classes in fundraising – I remember taking two or three classes there. This allowed me to continue developing my fundraising skills. We would take a case study of an organization and prepare a fundraising plan and a financial projection, so I think that really gave me a lot of preparation and skills that I applied when I went to work in my first position at Art in General. These skills allowed me to help the organization with financial planning, even going beyond just applying for grants. Having those classes not only gave me the basics but this idea of putting skills to practice in a theoretical way, which was really helpful once I started working.
Could you speak a bit more about the history of LMCC?
LMCC was founded in 1973 with the opening of the World Trade Center with the idea of bringing arts programming and activities to the Financial District. Throughout the years, LMCC has grown into the cultural council of Manhattan. There are five borough arts councils in New York City and LMCC is the arts council for the borough of Manhattan.
Today, LMCC has a mission of serving, connecting, and making space for artists and communities in Manhattan. We do that through a wide range of offerings. We have grant programs, which is very much what I do. We also have artist residencies in the Arts Center at Governors Island as well as other satellite spaces in the Financial District, which are for artists across stages of their careers to develop work or immerse themselves in their creative practice.
Those are the primary services for artists but then the organization also offers a lot of programming for the public. We have our annual festival “River to River,” which has site-specific performances in Lower Manhattan and Governors Island, as well as exhibitions at our gallery in the Arts Center at Governors Island. So we provide a wide range of activities and programs both for the public as well as for artists directly. That is roughly the scope of LMCC.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
It comes down to the idea that this grant program is the first grant that many artists receive. We see people who are very new to grant writing or have tried to figure it out on their own and have lost interest because they weren’t funded in a particular year. There is a lot of skepticism around preparing an application and how this process works at funding institutions.
One of the most interesting challenges I face in my work is trying to expand the reach of our programs every year. They are annual programs, which open in June and applications are due in September with projects happening in the next calendar year. Because this is public funding, contributed by taxpayers, it should be going back to people in Manhattan.
And with that idea, we really try to ensure that our programs represent the makeup of Manhattan and the rich diversity of the city. Not only in terms of geographical locations, which means that we want to fund people from Inwood all the way to Battery, but also a wide range of artistic disciplines – music, theatre, dance, visual arts, media, literary projects, interdisciplinary projects. From more traditional art forms to contemporary, from small events to big events. We also place a lot of emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity. Although the city is very diverse, it is known in the fundraising world that the largest percentage of available money goes to white-identifying individuals and white-led organizations. This is something that happens and is a criticism of this field. A big challenge and something we strive for from year to year is to make sure that those who have been underrepresented by the programs know about them. Every year we are trying to increase access to our programs and reach out to those who haven’t heard about them or are skeptical.
It involves a lot of relationship building and going to the communities we want to reach, and establishing partnerships with key local stakeholders or with artists who have come to us to understand how the process works. We want to demystify this notion that it’s difficult to get a grant or that there are many hoops that you have to jump through.
Ultimately, the programs are competitive. We do get over 500 applications a year and get to award around 50-60% of that. Every year we change the people who make decisions. It isn’t staff that makes decisions, those are other artists and professionals in the field who make decisions.
We really try to ensure people that they can still come back year after year, even if they don’t get a grant on their first try. We are here to help people to strengthen their applications, answer questions about the process and help people put their best foot forward, but doing that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Being on the ground, being on the phone, and meeting people where they are and their comfort level in terms of writing a grant. Language, of course, is a big part of it. To me, these are some of the biggest challenges but also rewards of my work. Being able to meet new people every year and see that the makeup of our applicants and grantees continues to become more and more diverse.
How is LMCC funded?
We receive money from all sides. We receive money from city agencies, state agencies, federal agencies as well as private foundations, and individual donors. That is to support the whole organization. When it comes to the grant money that we give out, those grants really come just from NYSCA, DCLA, and UMEZ, which is an economic empowerment corporation in Upper Manhattan.
What is the most exciting part about your role?
There are so many things! I enjoy my job at LMCC quite a lot. One of them is that every year I try to push the needle more and more to ensure that we connect with more people and have more diversity in our programs.
Through my work, I have come to appreciate and know many neighborhoods of the city that I previously didn’t know. The pandemic has made us shift our practices but before the pandemic, we were always on the ground doing information sessions during the summer in different neighborhoods in the borough. We were also going to grantee events to experience the work that we were funding. That helped me expand my awareness of artistic disciplines because I come from a visual arts background, a very narrow view of the art world. Through LMCC, I have been experiencing music events, theatre, dance, projects in many different disciplines, and people approaching the artforms in different ways. This work at LMCC has really helped me to expand my own vision of the art world and also of Manhattan – getting to explore new areas that I otherwise would not have explored, perhaps. Also having a pulse on community arts in the city, which previously I didn’t have so much access to.
The other part is that component of language. It is very special to me to have a job, where my language is a key part of my work. It helps me reinforce my identity. Being able to speak Spanish in my work is something I so appreciate and getting to see more people who come to us seeking Spanish language communications is something that I feel so proud and excited about. When I get an email or a call in Spanish- that’s a joy for me.
Finally, I would say that LMCC as an organization has such a strong legacy and it is so remarkable to be able to be part of that history in a small way.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
The pandemic has been a hard situation for many of us. When it comes to our work, it definitely made us shift a lot of our practices. It made us adapt a lot. Before the pandemic, we were always on the ground. That is how we built trust and relationships. By showing up. Even if people were not expecting us. Just showing up or hosting events in different neighborhoods in the city and inviting people so that they know about us. That has been a very key component of our work – being on the ground or welcoming people to our offices for consultations and encouraging them to call us at any time.
With the pandemic, we lost that ability to go to events and meet people face to face to build relationships. Connecting with other people and showing people that we were still there. Also getting to meet new people. That was a big challenge for us. We are now doing some hybrid events but most have remained virtual. Last summer, we tried doing some smaller events in Upper Manhattan and in Chinatown, but still trying to limit them in terms of capacity. Last summer we noticed there was still a lot of anxiety in the air in terms of doing in-person events. It was very hard to want to be out there but still not being able to. That was one of the biggest challenges for our team.
We are funding over 200 projects every year. The pandemic was very impactful for all of our grantees, both in 2020 and 2021. Still, we are helping people navigate through ways to do their projects. The first year was the hardest because no one knew what to do, no one knew how long this was going to go. We had people calling us and emailing us asking what they could do with the money. So, we were really able to adapt and offer support in any way we could. Assuring people that it was okay, that projects can be postponed and we can figure out ways for projects to happen and minimize that anxiety. A lot of it was trying to navigate and help people manage their own stress around these projects. That was a big challenge for us and also mostly for our grantees. Finally, trying to find ways to help people envision new ideas for their projects, new ways to still engage the public in a way that is safe for them and for the public.
Artists are incredible. Artists and organizations were very quickly coming up with ideas about how to do things virtually, how to do things remotely via phone if they were working with older adults or sending packets to participants because we also have an arts education grant program. It was interesting to see them developing ideas and adapting quickly but then experiencing and seeing all of the struggles that they were having – how can we support them in the best way we can, given what is going on?
Last year we saw that people were excited about the city opening up in the summer. We saw some grantees move to presenting projects in person in parks or smaller capacity venues. We saw excitement around everything opening up. But then, everything started shutting down again. So, once again, we were in a place of helping people navigate different situations in the best way possible.
Do you have any suggestions for current students who are looking to go into fundraising, grantmaking, or working with communities?
Something that really helped me was staying curious and open. I didn’t know that this was the path I wanted to pursue. Never would I have imagined that I would be working as a grantmaker. But it all started from a place of curiosity. Thinking about this thing that I wanted to know more about. How can I explore this regardless of whether it will lead to a job? Leaning into that curiosity is a big piece.
Explore all the different paths and options available at TC and at Columbia! That is something rich about the school, that it has such a rich diversity in course offerings and perspectives. There is so much knowledge you can get out of this program. Having that curiosity and exploring what gets you closer to answering the question that you have in your head and then going towards that.
Going into fundraising, if you have never done grants, try exploring that process. I remember that was one of the exercises in this first class that I mentioned. We were given one application that we had to write. I thought this exercise was so helpful for understanding what it takes to prepare a grant proposal. What are the elements of it? How can you come up with successful narratives? Either writing a grant for your personal practice or some artist or other purposes, or maybe just as a fictional exercise. A lot of that work was very helpful for me as I was starting to work in the fundraising world.
When it comes to working with the community, one of the biggest pieces that I have learned through my work at LMCC is that it is important to meet the community where they are. To show up, to be there, to build relationships and trust. And that it is something that only happens with time. It is something that you have to show up year after year for. You have to be present and listen to what people are interested in and if there are any needs, and what they are. If you are a person or an organization that can offer this support or fulfill that need or perhaps you just have to make space for other people to step in and provide that support. That idea of being at the same level and building relationships.
I have been able to build a lot of connections through my work. However, the most meaningful has been connecting with people, speaking with them year after year, hearing about how they are doing and the challenges they are having. As people get comfortable and they feel that they trust you and that you are really there to support them in a genuine way, they open up. Sometimes they have shared with me: “This is something that is very difficult right now.” It comes from a very friendly conversation. And then I’m like: “Oh, okay! Let me look into that and do something about it.” Some of the great feedback I have received from grantees and applicants has come from that open conversation that has only been possible after many years of building trust and relationships. I think that’s key when it comes to working with communities.
We had a chance to chat with Sharon Duncan (ARAD ’98),Director of Individual Giving, and Ebonie Pittman (ARAD ’08), Senior Director of Development, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Sharon and Ebonie shared the story of how ARAD brought them together, and their experience as development professionals at Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from? What were your undergraduate degrees? What brought you to ARAD and how did you two ultimately meet?
SD: I’m born and raised in Harlem. I went to Howard University, where I majored in Dental Hygiene and Human Development. I first completed the Dental Hygiene program and then got my B.S. in Human Development. I was thinking that I would eventually go to Dental School. However, that did not happen. I ended up working every summer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where I went after school every day as a little girl because it was not far from where I lived. I never wanted to be a dancer; I just really liked the structure of it. I loved studying dance basically.
So, I had worked several positions at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. At the time, I was Arthur Mitchell’s Assistant. We were on tour in Germany, and I was probably in my fifth or sixth year as his assistant and he saw me one day in the afternoon before the performance and he said, “What’s happening? What up?” and I said “Oh, nothing. I’m just a little bored with the job. I mean, I’ve done it, I know what to do”, and he says to me, “Okay, you know what you need to do? You need to get an advanced degree in arts management, and you should go to Columbia.” And, I was like, “Really?” So, I started researching different programs, and I liked Columbia’s program. I also had another colleague who came through the program and I talked to him about it. He knew Joan Jeffries, who at the time was the program manager, and encouraged me to apply. So, I did. I get my interview with Joan, get accepted, and only then do I realize, “Shoot! This is a full-time program! I can’t do this program. I work full time!” So, I called Joan and she said, “You will do this program, and you will do well in this program so please just accept the admission!”
EP: I’m a native North Carolinian. I studied dance all the way through college at the Ohio State University. In my freshman year there, I already knew I wanted a degree in Arts Administration. I was always that person who knew that I had a dual interest in the performing and the business side of the arts. So, even at 18, going into college, I knew that TC was my future. Fortunately, it worked out that I got into the program. So, after graduation, I moved back to North Carolina for about a year and then moved to NYC in the fall of 2004. I started the program at TC in the fall of 2006, which worked out nicely – I was ready to get back to school. So, that’s what happened, I just kind of knew that I wanted to be there. That’s been my trajectory ever since, dance and arts administration.
Then, what happened with Sharon and me. I was taking the Principles and Practices course, and we had to do a case study. My classmate at the time, Claire and I, decided on the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Joan Jeffries, who was also the program manager at the time, put me in contact with Sharon and mentioned that she was an alumnus of the program. We went up there, did a site visit, and interviewed her for our paper. Then Sharon and I just stayed in contact over the years. That was back in 2008.
What are your current roles and how did you get here?
SD: So, I’ve been at Dance Theatre for a long time. I’ve been here for over 30 years in various capacities, including school administrator and director of administration. I had wonderful mentors and role models at DTH eager to teach me all aspects of the organization, and I took full advantage of it. I enrolled at TC when I was the school administrator for the DTH School. Later, I went to Alvin Ailey because I realized all my experience had been at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Ailey was seeking a director for its arts education program, so I went there. I was the Director of Arts Education and National Director of Ailey Camp for two years, establishing partnerships with private and NYC public schools and expanding their youth camp around the country. It was great work, but at the time, Ailey was not the size it is today, it was a smaller organization, and I was a department of one. I began to burn out from managing the school residencies around the city and setting up the camps.
After leaving Ailey I got hired at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to be the Director of Development. They were structured differently and focused on higher education. What was most exciting was the opportunity to attend The Fundraising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy with the 40+ advancement officers from the HBCU member schools that fell under the Thurgood Marshall umbrella. The Fund received a major grant to offer the training, and I was fortunate to be able to participate and hone my skills in fundraising while working.
I ended up back at the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2002 as the Director of Administration. We suffered a financial crisis in 2004, which resulted in laying off the professional company and many staff members. I was asked to stay on and transfer to the Development department, having known many of the relationships DTH had with donors and funders, having been Arthur Mitchell’s executive assistant. We continued to operate the DTH School and its education programs and slowly made our way back, thanks to major funding. However, the Company did not return until 2012. DTH had new leadership and the Development team was in a state of transition. In 2015, I found myself as a department of one with a part-time associate. It was challenging for a few years. Thanks to major funding from the Mellon Foundation, we were finally able to rebuild the department. I encouraged Ebonie to apply for her position. At first, she didn’t think she was ready for it, but she probably was. Then she came back in 2020, and she is winning in her role! Now, she’s the Senior Director of our department! So, I work under Ebonie now as the Director of Individual Giving and it’s a pleasure. With Ebonie, we’ve brought more structure to the department and we’re able to do some things that we couldn’t do before; set goals and do some good work.
EP: Speaking of the crisis, that was actually what the case study was about for my class. Dance Theatre at the time did not have a company. The school was operating but the company was not performing. It couldn’t have been a better case study for school. How does an organization with such an incredibly rich history, that has a very particular role culturally in the ballet canon and continuum, survive and think about the way that they’re modeled in order to move forward and continue the work that Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook sought to do when they founded it in ‘69?
So, fast forward to 2017. I moved back to NYC in 2014 and was working at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2017, I learned about the Director of Development position at Dance Theatre. I had a conversation about it, interview for it, but ultimately decided to stay at ABT for another 3 years. Then, in June of 2020 I finally made the jump. Which is moderately crazy because we were well into the pandemic. There were no live performances. Everything was on Zoom. We were a team of 2 ½ because we only had a part-time Development Associate. We are now a team of five, which is significant because while Dance Theatre may be small compared to other ballet companies such as ABT or New York City Ballet – we do just as much work. We do the same amount of programming. We do the same amount of cultivation and stewardship. How Sharon held that down by herself all those years is still beyond me! So, I’ve been honored to step into this role and help build what I believe will be a sustainable development program. There are still a lot of things that we need. Some strategic planning and thinking needs to happen for sure. But, there are some systems in place that weren’t there before.
In all your experiences, were there any specific courses, classes or projects at TC that you feel were very helpful?
SD: Organizational Behavior! These were electives but they helped so much. That course taught me how to look at an organization and see what works and what doesn’t, make assessments and come up with solutions; understand how individuals work, what skills capacity is needed, etc. I had a boss at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and he would say, “Okay, we’re going to do this project,” and I had already thought through so much of it in my head. I drove him crazy! He would just say, “We’re not there yet, Sharon.” I credit that course in teaching me how to navigate within different organizational cultures.
EP: The thing about the Organizational Behavior class is, when you’re in development, you’re dealing with people. Development is literally about building relationships with people. So, you have to learn how to manage personalities. Knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses. How to delegate and get the results that you’re looking for. Not just in terms of the dollars raised but, again, in the relationships that you’re trying to build internally and externally with donors and prospects. I think I took two or three of those classes.
I would say, as far as the actual classes in the program, they provided a lot of foundational information. We learned about unions and collective bargaining, fundraising, accounting, and marketing for the arts, and how those things impact the work of an artist and arts organizations. I think, at the time, there were two tracks in the program, one specifically for visual arts and the other for performing. Given my background, I took Principles and Practices of the Performing Arts. This was where we learned about strategic planning and proper budgeting.
But, I think in hindsight, it’s when you step out of the program that you really realize how everything works together. Academic spaces are academic spaces. Until you really do the work, it only takes you but so far. You have to be in the trenches to understand how all pieces work. I only say that because I know that in my class we had people come straight from undergrad who didn’t have work experience in between. It really made all the difference in terms of how you were able to participate in some of the discussions in class and what you would ultimately take from the program long-term.
What do you feel is the role of arts administrators?
SD: The role of the arts administrator is to support the vision and mission of the organization. It is to ensure that good art is made and supported by skilled individuals, who ensure the work provided by that institution can thrive and be financially sustainable in an environment that benefits the staff and the larger community it serves. My experiences at DTH showed me the value of administrators. Artists are creative and they’re visionaries! They’re brilliant! They have all these great ideas but may not have the business acumen to do it. So, you began to see that we need to put people around them and these ideas, to bring them to fruition. This became so clear to me in working with Arthur Mitchell, who was very passionate and driven. Our role as arts administrators is to make the dream a reality or put it on hold until we can.
ED: Yes, founder’s syndrome is a real thing. Arthur Mitchell was definitely a part of this generation, where a lot of artists started their own company but did not have the people with the business acumen helping them. We have been very fortunate that the larger arts community sees the power and the importance of Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, while we went through that very difficult 8-year period, they did what they saw as necessary at that time.
Michael Bloomberg was the Mayor at the time and put money towards keeping the school open, which was very necessary because quite frankly, I don’t know if DTH would have survived had that piece not been operating at all. But this is the role of arts administrators. I think that we have an opportunity, because a lot of people still don’t know who we are, what we do, or the importance of our work. On the back end, the dancers don’t just get up and dance, and I think that’s what drives both Sharon and me, and everybody else who works for the arts. This is not easy work, at all. And, again, throw a pandemic in it. We’re competing with public hospitals and schools that are trying to educate and keep people healthy. It’s like – who are we, asking for money for ballet classes?! What people realize is that art maintains the perspective. I like to say that the arts are what give people something to live for. So you may ask yourself: “Why are you here?” To engage. Art comes in many forms– whether it’s ballet, television, music on your radio, going to a gallery, watching something on your phone, the clothes you wear, or the designer who made them. You engage with art every single day!
SD: And a lot of the feedback we would receive from our online programming this past year has been, “Thank you for this…This is really helpful to me in this time…Oh, we found this so comforting.” You know, Mr. Mitchell always said that art is a healing balm. He often referred to DTH as a healing balm. The Company sometimes found themselves performing in cities after a catastrophic event (Mt. St. Helena’s) or in places of unrest, such as South Africa, during Apartheid. He always saw our role as one of comfort and healing.
What are you excited about in the coming year?
EP: I think I’m most excited about us as a global community accepting that this is our new reality and finding ways to work within it so that we can continue to do what we do best, which, in the context of arts, is making it available and accessible to all people.
The dancers just did a world premiere last weekend in Detroit and this was the last destination they were supposed to perform at before the pandemic in March 2020. So, now, 2 years later, they had the chance to do the world premiere of this ballet, set to the music of Stevie Wonder, who is from Detroit. I was able to go on Saturday night. It was wonderful, everyone was really excited! But, the best part! There was a woman sitting diagonally across the aisle from me. During intermission, she walks over to her friend in front of me and says, “I have never seen anything like that in my life!” I got the sense that engaging and watching ballet was not something that was very high on her list. But, to know that someone who has had little exposure to ballet saw that piece and was floored! “I didn’t know what that music was or where the movement was going! But, that was BAD!” And when I say bad, I mean good, because she was of a certain generation. I look forward to more moments like that.
I also look forward to DTH getting to a place where we can think more creatively and strategically on this other side of “the pandemic”. It feels like in some way we’ve been maintaining and holding on because we’ve had to. I’m looking forward to new works! I’m looking forward to new programs! We’ve done things in this last year and a lot while I’ve been here but there’s room for so much more! I think we’re finally at a space to have those conversations and I really look forward to what DTC will be in 2022, 2023, and beyond. It’s a different company now than it was 20 years ago.
SD: I’m a lot like Ebonie in that I’m looking forward to seeing where Dance Theatre of Harlem is going. The first 50 years have been great! There’s so much that we have accomplished and there’s still so much that we can do. What does that look like? I don’t know, but I look forward to the exploration. We’ve always thought of ourselves as being innovative. So, figuring out what that looks like in this new reality is exciting. I’m also interested in DTH establishing new partnerships with our community.
What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators thinking about development or fundraising for the arts?
SD: Keep mentors and keep growing your network. If you’re thinking about development or fundraising, be sure you like people. I often hear fundraising compared to sales and I know why they say that, but you need to like people and know how to listen. Ebonie said it earlier – this work is about relationships. You need to be comfortable with hearing the word “No,” it just means not now. Also, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone excited about supporting the work you do, or the work of an organization. They feel a sense of belonging and making a difference. Fundraising is challenging and rewarding! Development personnel are the facilitators. We tell the stories and build the relationships that hopefully lead to partnerships and support of the mission. Be inspired by the work of the organization.
EP: I would cosign that, especially the network piece. I’m still friends with people and colleagues that I graduated with in 08. They’re very much still a part of my network and community. We lean on each other.
Also, if you know what you want to do when you get out of school, great! But if you don’t, I would advise you to take that admin assistant, associate job so that you have an opportunity to learn all the pieces, all the wheels and the cogs in the system. So that you can figure out exactly what you want to do and what your sweet spot is. The beautiful thing about development is that because we fundraise for the entire organization, we know every bit of it. We know everybody because we have to. We’re writing for production. We’re writing for programming. We’re writing to fund a new software for operations. You name it. We’re in there. Whereas, some other departments can feel a little more siloed. But I think Sharon and I have a broad perspective of how the bigger picture works because we started out as administrative assistants and associates. All of that experience really helps to shape which direction you may go in. And if you don’t know in the beginning, that’s fine. Learn as much as you can. Just be open to it because, again, it’s hard work regardless because you’re in the not-for-profit arts. So, you have to have a passion for it. You have to know that this is what you want to do, the importance of it, and why we, as an arts and cultural industry, are necessary.
Sharon Duncan is the Director of Individual Giving, Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has held several positions with Dance Theatre of Harlem including Director of Development and Director of Administration. She was the former Director of Arts Education for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the former Director of Development for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Sharon received her B.S. in Human Development from Howard University and her M.A. in Arts Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has a CFRM from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is a fellow of the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.
Ebonie C. Pittman is the Senior Director of Development at Dance Theatre of Harlem where she oversees the strategic planning, development, and execution of all fundraising activities. Previously she was the Senior Director of Philanthropy, Institutional Support at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she managed all corporate, foundation, and government fundraising. She has served as an applications review panelist for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on Arts. A champion of diversity and inclusion in the arts, Ms. Pittman has played an active role in the advancement of ABT’s former Project Plié, now RISE, diversity initiative. As a fervent supporter of the performing arts, and a dedicated arts administrator, Ms. Pittman previously worked for the North Carolina Theatre, The Wallace Foundation, Young Audiences New York, and Buglisi Dance Theatre.
A native of Durham, NC, Ms. Pittman started dancing at a very early age under the tutelage of Lauren Lorentz de Haas and the late Barbara Bounds Milone, and spent summers studying at North Carolina School of the Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Bates Dance Festival. She danced professionally with Mezclado Movement Group in New York City, and she is currently on the Board of Directors of the Triangle Youth Ballet in Chapel Hill, NC.
Ms. Pittman graduated cum laude and with distinction from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, and she has a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Columbia University, Teachers College.
Nicole Chen (ARAD ’20) currently is a Post Sale Administrator at Sotheby’s. As a recent graduate, we spoke with Nicole about her experience in the ARAD program and starting a new position in the midst of the pandemic.
How is the landscape of love changing now that we’re all trapped in our bedrooms? “Love In Quarantine” is a six-episode web series that follows the story of Susie and Jon, a new couple that decides to quarantine together rather than risk their nascent relationship. The result: an entertaining recount of how self-isolating proves difficult in the age of social media. We interviewed ARAD student Richard Mayer, who plays Jon, to learn more about his experience being part of this project.
Liliana Guerrero Delgado studied Business Administration at Los Andes University in Bogotá Colombia. After graduation, Liliana worked as a research assistant in the university and later joined the Alternative Contents division in Cine Colombia, her country’s largest cinema exhibitor and distributor. In this role, she distributed live events in cinemas such as New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s National Theatre productions and Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet amongst others. Liliana aims to work in the public sector in order to promote the strengthening of artistic endeavors by demonstrating the socioeconomic impact of this industry, making the cultural sector a key-contributor to Colombia’s development.
Given the current COVID-19 circumstances, what are some opportunities and challenges for international students in their post-graduation period? In a recent webinar co-hosted by ARAD and TC Alumni Relations, Rakhel Milstein, founder and CEO of the Milstein Law Group discussed some important types of employment visas in the arts for international students. She was joined by ARAD alumna Alexis Yuen (‘16) who moderated the question period afterward. (You can watch the full webinar here.)
The webinar focuses on the O-1 and H-1B visa options for international students who want to seek temporary employment after obtaining a graduate degree in arts administration and other arts areas. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar. Please note: due to COVID-19, the following may change. It is important to consult with an immigration lawyer to understand the latest regulations.
The O-1 visa, which is for people with extraordinary abilities, is one of the best options for foreign nationals in the arts. Many arts administrators overlook this category because it’s described as being based on “extraordinary ability” in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, education, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and television industry. However, this is a visa category that can also be applied to arts administrators. Different from the H-1B visa that has a quota each year, the O-1 is a three-year visa and doesn’t have an annual quota and therefore can be applied if the H-1B quota for the year has already been filled.
O-1 Visa Requirements:
An employer or an individual acting as your agent for the O-1 visa petition
Proof of future work offers
Evidence of extraordinary ability
Demonstrating at least three of the following six categories:
Has and will perform a lead or starring role in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation
National or international recognition
Has and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation
Commercial or critically acclaimed successes
Significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field
A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services to others in the field
Records for the O-1 Evidence
Published reviews of your work, performances, exhibitions, etc
Your published work in your field
Evidence of any awards or prizes for work in your field
Letters of recommendation from experts in your field
Programs, playbills, or advertisements evidencing your role in performances
Box office receipts, ore record, cassette, compact disk, or video sales
Letters of recommendation
It’s important to build your case to prove your achievements by preparing the materials above for a successful O-1 visa application. There is no disadvantage of applying for an O-1 visa outside of the U.S., and the applicant can take the time to reach out to contacts and get as much evidence as possible. An immigration lawyer can discuss how your experience as an arts administrator would fit the above criteria.
H-1B is a work visa for occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a specific specialty as a minimum for entry into the field. For this type of visa, the types of degree and employer (nonprofits vs. for-profits) matter, and a specific salary is required as well.
Job offer from an employer that will sponsor visa including paying all immigration fees
Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a major closely related to H-1B position
H-1B petition must be filed with USCIS by April 1st to be authorized to work in the following October
There are an additional 20,000 available for positions requiring a master’s degree and some additional narrow exemptions.
The H-1B visa has an annual quota of 65,000 H-1B spots every year for for-profit companies and organizations. For people who obtain a master’s degree from a US institution, there are additional 20,000 spots. Given this limitation on the number of H-1Bs, there is a lottery every year to process the H-1B visa application.
However, many arts organizations and other nonprofits organizations may qualify for the H-1B exemption, which means you don’t need to enter into the lottery to apply for the H-1B visa. Each organization would have their specific policies in terms of sponsoring H-1Bs, and it is important to know their hiring policies in advance.
Both the O-1 and H-1B visas provide opportunities for international students to work in the U.S., while they have different requirements that we should be aware of and make plans accordingly. O-1 visa might broaden the opportunities for people in the arts who can demonstrate extraordinary achievements. It’s key to build our portfolio well in advance to make the application process as successful as possible with objective evidence.
Both Rakhel and Alexis stressed the importance of being prepared for the visa application process well in advance. You can find more information about immigration law or connect with lawyers specializing in this field on the Milstein Law Group website as well as the Center for Art Law.