Alumni Spotlight: Beryl Briane Ford (ARAD’19), viBE Theater Experience

In continuation of our Alumni Spotlight series, we spoke with Beryl Briane Ford (ARAD’19), who is currently the Co-Executive Director of viBe Theater Experience– a Brooklyn-based, nationally serving, youth performing arts nonprofit.

Could you share a bit about your previous experiences and your time at ARAD?

During my time at ARAD I was really interested in how the public uses space, and particularly how that correlates with the arts. So my internship was at the Studio Museum in Harlem (SMH). That was the same year that I was working on my thesis, which looked at Black spaces and how communities organize in those spaces. My thesis looked at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in particular, because of their capital campaign and how people would engage with both the physical space and the activities that happen. From that, I was inspired to join BlackSpace, which is the board that I served on for three years. It’s an interdisciplinary organization, newly established as a nonprofit last year, that’s now national and brings together architects, artists, organizers, and academics.

I graduated from ARAD in 2019 and the first job that I had out of the program was at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I worked in the development department for two years. When I first started there, it was closed to the public for its own capital campaign. I grew up in New York my whole life and I remember being young and going there for field trips. Having studied Art History at Smith College too, I felt like it was a great opportunity to work for a leading institution in the arts. I learnt very quickly how development functions at such a large institution. At MoMA, you have the Director of External Affairs and then all the department heads across individual and institutional giving, and membership under that director. Then, there are teams working under them. I worked on the Foundation Relations team, writing grants and assisting with the stewardship of different foundations. We would all meet once a week as a whole department to talk about what functions and activities were happening and what’s coming down the pipeline.

Interestingly, development happens to be a skillset that I had, and is also one that is really needed in the arts. I think of fundraising and grant writing as storytelling. Your job seems more fun in that way. Crafting a narrative about the mission and the values about whatever project you are working on or whatever organization you are working with to an audience can be more fun if you put it in that perspective. I really like this performative aspect of it. During my time at ARAD, I was also doing work-study in the institutional giving department, helping in the capacity of an assistant. My internship at Aperture was also development-related. All these skills prepared me for working at The Museum of Modern Art first, and then viBe after. Before grad school, I studied Art History and Museum Studies at Smith College. During that time, I did a lot of work with photographers and the Smith College Museum of Art , that’s also when I first learnt that I wanted to do arts administration. I didn’t necessarily want to be siloed within museum education. I feel like arts administration was the perfect bridge between my interests. Also, it really is a marriage between the artists and their work. I really take my roles in arts administration very seriously and I think about how I could leverage my own skill sets to really advance the careers of artists and bring visibility and create platforms for them.

What is your current role and what are your responsibilities?

Currently, in my capacity as Co-Executive Director of viBe, I am still doing grant writing and fundraising. I am working more closely with funders and potential investors in the organization. This role is very fitting given that my experiences in ARAD focused on development, community organizations, and building relationships. At viBe, I oversee both institutional and individual giving, while also working closely with the Board. I’m really fortunate that our Board of Directors recently decided to bifurcate our organization’s leadership model. So it’s me, and then my Co-Director, Michelan Le’Monier and we are both responsible for the executive leadership of viBe.

What are some of the exciting opportunities you are looking forward to in your current role and what are some of the challenges?

We are celebrating our 20th year as an organization, so I think it just came at a wonderful time to really think about what youth leadership looks like. Everyone on our team is under the age of 33 and we work very closely to and listen to our participants, ages 13 to 26. It is a model of being youth-led. For this 20th anniversary campaign, it will run during our fiscal year, which is from September to August. We will be carrying out this campaign throughout the year. There will be a small fundraiser in the summer, which will act as a launching pad for our larger gala that’s gonna happen in the fall of fiscal year 2024. 

With that being said, ageism is one challenge we face in the larger context of the nonprofit sector. We as a team don’t ever think about that because we don’t think of our ages as a deficit. We value the innovation that comes from having such close relationships with the young people that we serve. We really do see how the work we do is directly benefiting them.

The main strategy that we implement here, especially for me as a grant writer and someone’s who is fundraising on behalf of the programs and our constituents, is being intentional about creating feedback loops between our program participants, teaching artists, staff, our board, and making sure that communication is transparent, and that their involvement is participatory. When we are creating new cultures, we are constantly thinking about whether we are including the right stakeholders. That has benefited not only me in my current role here, but also in the organization that I co-lead.

Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?

I really enjoyed the fundraising class and an elective about curatorial practice. I identify as a curator, but I don’t necessarily get to practice that as often because I am now doing resource generation. But it’s definitely a passion of mine. I also loved all the classes taught by Dr. Mangione. She was my thesis advisor and I remember spending a lot of time in her office hours outside of class, learning about her experiences working at the Whitney Museum and her experiences with getting her own PhD. I would like to go back to school to get a doctorate in Art History, but that’s no time soon. Maybe in the next five years. Working closely with her on my research was really wonderful. She really helped me strengthen the types of questions I was asking and how I thought about community engagement.

What was your capstone project about?

My thesis was called “Beyond Brick and Mortar: The Studio Museum inHarlem.” Basically, it was a case study about the program called “In Harlem,” a series of partnerships with other local Harlem cultural and community institutions that SMH’s Public Programs and Community Engagement Department is collaborating with on an ongoing basis until the Museum is actually back up and open. It was definitely a positive experience and I was really grateful for the opportunity to have worked directly with the Public Programming team at the time. They were really generous with the resources that they offered and in helping me cultivate my thesis. They were receptive to sitting down with me and doing interviews. I also had an opportunity to join the Community Advisory Network that is part of the Studio Museum in Harlem, so hearing directly from people who live in Harlem, who love the Studio Museum, and hearing their firsthand experiences about what the building project means was really wonderful. It definitely helped me strengthen my research skills because I feel like sometimes I leaned more towards quantitative data versus qualitative data. Taking the qualitative approach was important because I think it is oftentimes undervalued in research practice, especially in academia.

What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators?

First, I would say try something new. If you see an elective that you might be interested in, I would just say take it. I would also say take time to rest. Don’t put too much pressure on finding a job right after. Also, ask questions. Especially at your internship sites, I would encourage you to make sure that you are fostering connections and keeping people in the loop about what you are doing. Not necessarily in a disingenuous way, but more so an organic way. If you see an article that you think your supervisor might like, say hey and send this along. You can do this with check-ins via coffee or zoom. Just letting people know what you are doing and also showing that you are invested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing is important. I think these are two of the biggest pieces of advice I’d offer, especially thinking about how these strategies are transferable and support relationship cultivation when fundraising. 

What do you do outside of work?

When I am not doing my current job full-time, I have an arts and grant writing consultancy called Knollwood Arts & Creative. I launched this consultancy in July 2021 and I am the principal consultant. I work closely with artists, small businesses, primarily ones of color, to generate resources. In other words, doing fundraising campaigns and grants writing. I saw a particular need, where there’s not really funding necessarily that’s advertised for individuals, only ever for non-profits or larger organizations. So I wanted to leverage my own skills and work closely to get funds for my community, so that they can finance their own artistic practices and pursuits. When I am not writing extra grants on the side, I am seeing art or spending time with loved ones. Cooking is also something that I really enjoy.

Alumni Spotlight: Alexis Yuen, Uprise Art

For this chapter of our alumni spotlight series, we had the opportunity to speak with Alexis Yuen (ARAD’16), who is currently an Art Advisor and the Manager for Trade Programs at Uprise Art. 

Could you share a bit about your background and what led you to join ARAD?

I grew up in Hong Kong and I went to art school in Boston for college. It was the Museum School of Fine Arts, which is under the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I did a dual degree with Tufts University majoring in Photography and Design, and I minored in Art History and Studio Art. After graduating, I ended up with a job with Christie’s in London in the Asian Art department. Being one of the youngest on the team and as one of the translators, I found it to be an exciting experience. If you look into archives for those times, that was when the auction prices were the highest for Chinese art. Starting as a paid intern, I was hired two months later as the Junior Administrator, then as the Senior Administrator. This meant that I was the liaison between clients, specialists, and other departments. I was there for three years; and as I was approaching my second or third year, I realized that I wanted to engage in a career related to business and I wanted to take my career to the next level. I also wanted to see what was outside the auction field. Within auction houses, you tend to either become a specialist or a business manager. As a business manager, you don’t actually get to interact with the artwork or people. Since I am a people person, I felt like there must be more. So that’s when I applied to the Arts Administration program in New York. 

What was your journey like after graduate school and how did you get to your current role?

During ARAD, I learned about  AEA consulting in Beacon. Very often, a lot of the planning and business policy aspects we learn at school are done by Executive Directors at non-profits. So unless you are in a similar position, it can be difficult to put these skills to use. However, there are a few consulting companies in the art world that do this really well. One example is that AEA was hired by one of the Department of Culture & Tourism (Abu Dhabi) to develop a 5-year business plan and financial model. To elaborate, if a city is lacking tourism, then the consulting firm would recommend them to put more resources into the sort of art that would attract that demographic for tourism sustainably. This kind of research and application of the arts was fascinating to me. So I started to look for positions that could use these skills and was fortunate to stumble upon Art Basel Cities, which was a new project back then. Art Basel is a global art fair; but what they did not realize initially was that Art Basel would transform Miami and Hong Kong as cities. Before they came to Miami, there were only a handful of galleries. Now there are 200+ galleries that emerged within the last 15 years. That was why the director kept receiving calls from mayors around the world asking him to bring Art Basel to their countries. At the same time, the Art Basel mindset was to refrain from expanding to avoid unsustainable practices. They didn’t want to expand so they started Art Basel Cities as a popup, or a kind of consulting for local governments. I loved the prospect of this project and I contacted the founder. Amazingly, I got this opportunity. He was based in Hong Kong so I actually moved back home for a while. We were hired by Buenos Aires in Argentina and received amazing press coverage throughout the world. We were able to get a lot of artists like Barbara Kruger to participate. Other than that, I also worked on Art Basel Inside, which was a conference to bring together people working in arts and technology, eventually leading to social change. I was able to put all my ARAD learning together.

After Art Basel, I decided to go on my own. By that time, I had worked for many large corporations so I wanted to work for myself. I started a small business in art advisory and started to offer consulting services to help people buy art. I helped small organizations and nonprofits on how to engage artists. I did that for two years and I worked privately on the client list that I had built. I was traveling around the world, writing articles, and learning about how to start a business. A lot of the ARAD skills didn’t quite come to use until I started my entrepreneurship journey. I chatted with my more senior friends and those who have their own freelancing companies, they benefit a lot from the program. Because the program helps you become entrepreneurs, basically it’s all about how to be a leader. When I was working for myself, I was really excited to rely on myself such as building my own website and doing my own accounting. I started freelancing for AEA and conducted architectural research around the world to see how much money each government was putting into cultural infrastructure. Once COVID happened, I couldn’t travel and didn’t have a team. That was when I decided that I really wanted to go back to working in a group. I knew I didn’t want to go back to large corporations like Christie’s, so I ended up working as part of the small team at Uprise Art. It’s a very small team and very entrepreneurial. We were founded in 2011 and we went on being from an online gallery to a brick and mortar gallery with an online platform. We still have that entrepreneurial energy, which is really fun. 

What are some of the challenges that you face in your current role?

As the Manager of the Trade Program, which is a program for interior designers, architects, real estate developers, basically anyone that buys for a client, otherwise known as B2B. For me, that’s very different from talking to my old clients who were buying for themselves. For now, my main clients are interior designers. It’s super cool that I am talking to design professionals and my day to day is looking at floor plans, mood boards, and then doing the creative curation that I didn’t get to do in my previous positions. Also, because our group is small enough that I can do the curation personally and I don’t have to hire a curator to do that. However, the drawback is that it can also be hard to work with designers. They have their own creative visions and the struggle is to balance between interior designers, artists, and clients. With artists, I want to keep their artistic integrity, but at the same time, I would also like to please my clients. Sometimes if a client loves your work, they’ll want to see the same thing. This may be great for financial gains when you’re beginning your career, but we want to make it more differentiated for the artists. It can be hard to balance varying visions but it’s also fun to be the art advisor and to be able to appease both sides. 

How did COVID-19 impact your work and Uprise Art?

Back when our organization was founded, we were one of the only online galleries. Our founder, Tze Chun, decided something that was unheard of in 2011. Because we had 9 years of building up our website, we were already set up for our online presence when the pandemic hit. Our advantage was that we were ready for a stay-at-home experience. Our sales actually went up as more people were purchasing during their time at home. This helped us sustain our website and our normal operations. Now we are looking at how we can keep it exciting for our artists as we expand. The artists we represent have now grown so much with us, so we want to bring in more opportunities from abroad and go into new markets and new companies. Basically, to keep them inspired and to create new work. 

What attracted you to the ARAD program?

I chose the ARAD program because I liked that students came from different aspects of the arts administration field. I don’t like the idea of having only one path in your career. For example, there can be a lot of performance art in the visual arts world. I came to Columbia University with this mindset and it was the best decision because I met friends who are now at the Met Opera, at the Martha Graham Dance Company, and at a lot of visual art companies. I also chose ARAD because I wanted to pursue policy and planning and take a multi-disciplinary approach.

Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?

Business Policy taught by Martin Vinik, who also went to Tufts and ARAD. He was a theater person but eventually started doing consulting. One of his projects back then was on the West Kowloon district in Hong Kong, which led me to be interested in cultural districts and arts planning for a city. I am really passionate about how arts can change a city and its community. Through that class, I got to explore these topics a lot.

Cultural policy was also really helpful. As I look back, they may not be directly related to what I am doing now. But I am now part of the business development team and I am now able to make use of the different aspects of the arts.

Back then, I also got myself into a GSAPP class about urban planning, which became instrumental to my consulting work. I know a lot of ARAD students previously expressed that they struggle to cross-register but it’s worth it. For the business school, I recommend anything entrepreneurial. I think there’s a class about building a company with your class; so I took it with two other ARAD students and we were approached by many other groups when it came to formulating a plan. It was really cool that we had a musician, an artist, and myself as an art administrator. I would find a professor that supports your work, pitch yourself, and tell them what you can bring to the class. They will be so glad to have you in the class. There are also so many professors who are passionate about the arts that teach in other schools too. For example, I found a professor at the architecture school that supported what I was saying about city planning/arts. You need to be part of the conversation. Try to get in until you’re sure you’ve tried everything.

What was your capstone project about?

It was titled: “Art Museum Capital Projects in New York City: The Dual Role of Art Museums as Economic Drivers and Community Anchors” because I am interested in how arts institutions affect a city. Back in 2016, there were all these capital projects, which meant multi-billion dollar buildings going up for museums around the world. That was also happening in New York, a place that seems less open to change in capital projects due to the limited space. Yet, Whitney Museum, Cooper Hewitt Museum, and the Queens Museum were all doing this at the same time. I studied all these projects and interviewed people to talk to them about their goals and accomplishments in these capital projects. My findings included how community development rolled out and how the architecture would reflect that. The Whitney Museum used to be on the Upper East Side, but now they are in the Meatpacking District and West Village. I interviewed people who were part of the move and one thing they said was that they wanted it to be a welcoming space for the community, hence why they abandoned the old concrete building sectioned off from the street, a design from the 70s, and opted for an all-glass building in 2016 to make everything transparent. That’s an example of what I was interviewing people for.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I am a docent trainee at the Whitney Museum. I joined their docent program when I was working freelance. Even though I am working in the for-profit field, I wanted to do something that was very grounded in non-profit and I also like talking to people about art. I applied during my time at ARAD and I was on the waitlist to volunteer for four years. When I did my thesis project there, one thing led to another, and I think this is what will happen for current students too. You’re gonna do projects and you’ll be meeting new people whom you might work/volunteer for later. 

Alumni Spotlight: Alexandra Tweedley, The Juilliard School

We had an opportunity to chat with Alexandra Tweedley (ARAD ’17) and hear what excites her as she begins the role of Assistant Director of the Dance Division at The Juilliard School. Alexandra also shared how the connections she made during her time in ARAD shaped her career journey.

Alexandra Tweedley, ARAD ’17

Could you share a bit about your background and career journey? 

I’ve been a dancer my whole life. I went to George Washington University in D.C. and decided that I was going to major in dance. I did a double major – I was in the undergraduate dance program there and also studied communications. Towards the end of my time there, I knew I wanted to be involved in dance, but I knew I wasn’t going to be performing. I knew that I wanted to be on the administrative side.

In my junior year, I interned at The Washington Ballet as an Artistic Intern – I helped with the day to day of rehearsal and performance scheduling. I was working with the Company Manager and Administrative Director to handle licensing and all these different aspects of putting on the ballets that really fascinated me. The summer after my experience at The Washington Ballet I was an intern in the Marketing Department at the American Ballet Theatre, so I had an artistic  experience and also marketing experience supporting ABT during their summer Met season.

I decided to apply to the Columbia program because I was interested in getting more experience and learning about different aspects of arts administration. I had both of those experiences, but I wanted to explore all the other aspects of the field and just get some more skills that the ARAD program could provide. Right after school, I went to the ARAD program and graduated in 2017. I did my required internship at Juilliard, so I got a taste for what the organization is like. After finishing that internship, I also worked there part-time in their Global Department. I then saw that the Administrative Assistant position in the Dance Division was open, so I applied and got that position upon graduation from ARAD. And I’ve been with the Dance Division ever since! 

My role as the  Administrative Assistant was supporting the day-to-day operations of the Division and then I was promoted to Administrative Associate. Later, with the change of leadership at Juilliard, both in the Dance Division and at the school, we changed the structure of the staffing in the Division. I had the opportunity to be the Events and Projects Coordinator because we had more inquiries for special events and additional performance projects and the Administrative Director thought it was a good opportunity for me. I’ve been doing that for the last three or so years, supporting all the interesting and exciting events that we do.

Also more recently, I took over as the Administrative Lead for our Summer Dance Intensive, which has been really exciting. For the last two years, it’s been virtual and that’s how I started the program but this year we’re back to a fully in-person program so that’s exciting.

I was just promoted to Assistant Director of the Dance Division which will be an expansion of what I’ve been doing supporting events, projects, and our Summer Dance Intensive. Plus, I’m managing a new Operations Assistant position, so it feels very full circle to me because it’s a similar role to what I started with in the Division.

Could you speak a bit about what attracted you to the ARAD program?

I knew I wanted to be in New York, because of the artistic climate here. I liked the idea that performing and visual arts were both encompassed within the program because a lot of the other programs I had explored were very specific to performing arts.

Though I knew I would be interested in working in dance and performing arts, I think that the insight of understanding the full perspective of artistic disciplines working in both performing and visual arts is really important, because there’s so much cross collaboration between these organizations.

Columbia has such an amazing reputation as a higher education institution and I knew that the program would have excellent faculty. I liked how small the program was too because you really get to understand your cohort’s experiences and work together and it’s equally as valuable to learn from your peers as it is to be in classes with these amazing professors.

Could you share a little bit more about your current role?

The Dance Division has an academic curriculum of dance classes and liberal arts classes –  a whole bachelor of fine arts degree as well as a full public performance season. A big part of my role is to support the performance activities – those that are within our regularly scheduled season, but also a lot of outside opportunities that come our way.

For example, we’ll have collaboration opportunities with other organizations or other opportunities to collaborate with other departments at Juilliard that are not necessarily planned within our academic year but do come up and are really exciting for our students to get another opportunity to practice their craft. My role is to produce those events that are outside of what the general curriculum is. Some collaboration opportunities with Juilliard departments include with our Development Office, which hosts Juilliard member events and alumni events that are both outside of the curriculum that we produce. Outside performance projects include Lincoln Center collaborations (as Juilliard is a constituent organization on the Lincoln Center Campus) and other outside engagements. Whenever we have special projects, I’m responsible for producing them and being the administrative lead to make sure that everything is covered. 

Also, within our current season, I handle all of our ticketing and programs. I’m the liaison for our Marketing department, our Development Department, and our box office within our Division as well as the Office of the President, who spearheads a lot of outside project opportunities. Also, our annual Gala is something I work on each year. 

I also will retain my role as the Administrative Lead for the Summer Intensive, which means coordinating all of the faculty and programming in conjunction with our Dean and Director, who’s the Artistic Director of the program. She’ll design the curriculum and I will implement it and hire all of our faculty and staff.

I am also the liaison for the students who are coming to our program. I make sure that all their paperwork is completed and I work with all the different departments at Juilliard that are involved in making summer programs possible. The summer program will be performing at Lincoln Center this year for the first time in Damrosch Park as a free event, so I’m also working with the Lincoln Center team to produce that performance opportunity for them.

The last aspect of my role will be supervising our Operations Assistant. It’s a brand new position responsible for the day-to-day operations of our studios, making sure our facilities are up to date and there are no issues, and supporting our faculty and staff on a day-to-day as-needed basis, to make sure everything runs smoothly.

What are some of the challenges you think you will face in your new role?

The scheduling and some of the logistics can be really challenging because of course we want to support all the opportunities that come our way, but sometimes, depending on what else is going on, we really have to think about the students. Balancing opportunities that will develop our students with the capacity that they might have during the year and weighing those positives and negatives, as we try to decide what to offer. That’s definitely a challenge when working across divisions. The school is very big, and I mean not population-wise, but offerings-wise, and each department has different schedules and processes for making things happen. Those are two big challenges.

What is the most exciting part about your role?

Continuing my involvement in the Dance Division! It’s a small Division, we only have 24 students per class and it’s all undergraduate, so in total, we have about 90 students. We have about 35 or so faculty, so we get to know everyone really well and it is such a community.

In this position, I have the opportunity to further my involvement with the community and help support everyone and be even more involved in making everything happen. This is really exciting because it’s very rewarding to see the benefits of offering these opportunities and having a successful school year.

How did the pandemic affect your work?

It was huge, and I mean I say “was,” but it still is! When in 2020 everything shut down, Juilliard did move to a totally virtual environment for the last part of the spring semester, which was exceedingly challenging for all divisions, but particularly from my perspective, Dance. Dance requires space and proper flooring and things like that, so it was really difficult both mentally and physically for our students to have their classes in a virtual environment.

I had to support producing a Zoom graduation for our seniors, which was incredibly challenging because I was new to the platform, like so many people, and also, we wanted to make something really special for them, given the circumstances, so that was really hard.

But then, in the next school year, the 2020/2021 year, we had a slow return to campus which presented other challenges, because we had to remain socially distanced and keep class sizes really small. So, our team really had to think creatively about how to make everything happen and get the students through their curricular activities, while also giving them exciting opportunities – both performance opportunities and otherwise. We had a couple of film projects that the students explored, which was fun. We just wanted to give them more opportunities and take advantage of a virtual environment, giving them educational value in these circumstances. This year, we came back to a mostly normal situation given the vaccines being widely available.

We are still masked and testing, and it can be disruptive given positive cases at various important moments of the school year, but we were just grateful to have a somewhat normal academic year. This year’s summer program will be a test of those policies as we invite even younger students to the school and see how we can operate.

Are there any courses you took during your time in ARAD that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?

Our Law and the Arts classes – learning the basic fundamentals of music rights has been enormous and very much part of my job. Particularly given the virtual environment that we have had to step into, but even in a regular performance season. Music rights for dance can pose a lot of challenges. Getting rights so that we can live stream a performance can be an added challenge. A basic understanding of copyright and how to secure rights for various purposes – just the fundamentals of that are huge. I think not a lot of administrators have that kind of basic knowledge, unless they are trained in law, and I think it’s uniquely valuable that our program gave us that opportunity to take a year of law, so that you really get some understanding of copyright that you can use within your day-to-day. 

Also, Financial Accounting. Though it is a challenging course, notoriously so, being the Lead Administrator for the summer program, I’m responsible for managing the budget and understanding our balance. It’s really important to be able to confidently understand financial statements for our summer planning conversations and that course really sets you up to be able to do accounting for any program that you’re managing. I am grateful to have had it so that I don’t get afraid of seeing a giant spreadsheet of a balance statement – it’s important.

What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators?

I would say, utilize the connections that you make within your internship opportunities. I think that is one of the biggest reasons I ended up at Juilliard in the first place. Because I had gotten this internship, I met a lot of people at the school and did informational interviews with them. One of the informational interviews I did was with the person who ended up hiring me a year later. So, I really recommend doing this. If you don’t like your internship, that’s valid too. If you find an organization you’re interested in, even if you’re not working or interning there, I think informational interviews and just getting knowledge from different people within the company whose titles interest you is really valuable because then you get a sense of the company’s culture. You also get a sense of their roles and how they got there, so that you can kind of think about your own trajectory. 

Also, when I did interviews for my thesis I found it really valuable to understand the company cultures of the people that I was speaking with. I spoke with three ballet companies. One of them was The Washington Ballet, so I had already interned there, but two of them were places that I thought I might be interested in working for in the future, so it was nice to have met a contact and get an understanding of the organizations from the inside, even if I was asking them academic questions related to my thesis.

Take the opportunity to reach out to people, talk to people, and learn from people within the field, because in my experience, saying that you’re from the Arts Administration Program at Columbia really opens the door for you in that way, so I would say – take advantage of it.

Alexandra Tweedley (she/her/hers) is an arts administrator working both in the performing arts and in education. She is currently the Assistant Director in the Dance Division at The Juilliard School and has previous administrative experience at The Washington Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. As part of her role as Assistant Director in the Dance Division, she is also the lead administrator for Juilliard’s Summer Dance Intensive program. She received a B.A in Communications and a B.A. in Dance from The George Washington University and received a Master’s in Arts Administration from Columbia University. In addition to her work as an arts administrator, Alexandra has also choreographed and stage directed for theater and opera companies such as Brouhaha Theatre Project and New Camerata Opera. She has also served as Camp Coordinator at Broadway Bootcamp, a summer musical theater program for students ages 8-16.

Links:

juilliard.edu/dance

Alumni Spotlight: Lina Alfonso, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

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.

Lina Alfonso (ARAD ’15)

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.

Links:
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: lmcc.net

Alumni Spotlight: Sharon Duncan and Ebonie Pittman, Dance Theatre of Harlem

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.

Sharon Duncan (ARAD ’98) and Ebonie Pittman (ARAD ’08)

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. 

Bios:

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. 

Links:
Dance Theatre of Harlem: https://www.dancetheatreofharlem.org/

Alumni Spotlight: Carolina Cambronero-Varela, Co-Producer of “Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation”

What is your role in working with Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation? How did Artivism begin and how did it become a multi-institutional collaboration?

Thank you for this opportunity ARAD family, such an honor to be back home!

My motto goes: Trust engenders opportunities; opportunities: a dignified life. This motto describes what is happening with this ongoing endeavor, the cumulative labor of love of many.

The initiative Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation emerged from the book Illuminations of Social Imagination, which flourished from the event Liberating Imagination Through Artistic Activism, and the exhibition Brave Spaces: Where You, Me and We Meet. This event and exhibition were made possible via Columbia University’s Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA) in collaboration with New York University’s Advocates for Cultural Engagement (ACE). Thank you SAA then fellow board members Lauren Williams and Ulrike Figueroa Vilchis and ACE president Briana Zimmerman. Much gratitude also to Ms. Katarina Wong, Dr. Gemma Mangione, Dr. Jennifer Lena, all SAA sponsors, and collaborators.

As a note to current ARAD students, SAA has enormous potential. In my previous interview, I mentioned that teamwork, dedication and discipline, with a little sacrifice, are all you need as the infrastructure for your dreams. Go get them!!

Thank you God and all that have made this evolution possible. As you can imagine, collaboration is the key in building this robust network of what is now Artivism. Immense gratitude to you all for your trust!

Because of this book’s collaborative spirit, featuring 15 authors and three co-editors, it felt only natural to create a program with the authors, their thought-provoking chapters, and the socially engaged projects they’re involved in. This is how the idea came about with the Gottesman Libraries: How about a year-long Program (Spring-Fall 2021) emphasizing the topic of our recently published book regarding Social Imagination and the arts for social change?

It was thanks to Artivism’s fairy godmother, Ms. Jennifer Govan, Senior Librarian and Director of the Gottesman Libraries, that doors were opened and Artivism grew into what it is today. With her trustful “yes”, we contacted Dr. Christine Riordan, President of Adelphi University, who then connected us with her team, Dr. Stephanie Lake, Professor Argiro Agelarakis, and Sarah Avery from the Criminal Justice Program. In addition, we were also joined by Dr. Inés Archer from Adelphi’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Soon thereafter, Sing for Hope co-founders, Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, saw potential in the idea and became Artivism’s co-collaborators and co-sponsors.

Can you explain what “artivism” is and what it means to you?

Artivism looks to ignite the passion within each of us to be the change agents of our moribund society: with our current resources, where we are. Artivism builds networks of content creation, collaborations, and new ways of thinking as tools to transform systemic societal disjunctives. 

Artivism brings to light how the arts can redress inequities, reflect all voices, and push society forward. This interdisciplinary, multi-institutional collaboration aims to engage people in transforming society through the power of art. The initiative’s vision is to generate a movement where committed social ‘artivists’ are responding to historical global unrest and creating community through multidisciplinary teamwork toward a more dignified and meaningful coexistence.  Artivism hosts presenters and their initiatives from all over the world, encouraging teamwork, working for the common good, and exchanging ideas. Artivism is currently also building its European chapter.

Artivism is the result of dedication, teamwork and reciprocity. Artivism is an example of selfless collaboration for the greater good. To me, this is the objective-solidarity, sharing and being one; one family that cares for each other worldwide in hopes of transforming societal systemic disjunctives.

What initiatives is Artivism currently working on?

Our current season started this past September and will feature an amazing line-up of international presenters, spanning from locations such as Ecuador, Greece, Costa Rica, Russia, the Philippines, Iran, and France. In addition, we are also collaborating with Adelphi University’s “Fall Arts Festival” on October 6th, 2021, with a live roundtable discussion, held in the Olmsted Theater at Adelphi University’s Performing Arts Center. Adelphi students are also currently working on creating an official Artivism Club on campus. Our ongoing Student Ambassador Program continues to provide a platform for students to share their voices while also connecting directly with other artivists. This upcoming Spring 2022 season is all lined up and ready to ignite our audiences.

Artivism shows what dedication, teamwork and solidarity can do. It shows how each individual has the means, not in the future but NOW to be the change agent in their current context. By being mindful, attentive, present, and receptive in your everyday activities and taking selfless action, you are everything needed to inspire and transform the status quo, one person at the time- starting with YOU. Now, how are you inspiring others?

Artivism: Nurturing change for a more dignified and meaningful coexistence

Get involved

For more information on Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation, check out the links below.

Carolina Cambronero Varela, M.A. is engaged in community endeavors that promote a better environment and future through the arts and peace education. She believes these are human rights that will guide all, primarily children, to a deeper understanding of the power of transformation that each person has within. Carolina envisions the creation of these opportunities as integral components for a dignified life (please refer to The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966).

While at Columbia University, Carolina was president of Student Advocates for the Arts, co-chair of the Peace Education Network, and program representative in the Arts and Humanities Department Student Council. She also became a member of Kappa Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education, Global Citizens Club, and Columbia’s University Life Events Council.

Currently, Carolina co-produces the initiative Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation, an ongoing, multimodal collaboration sponsored by Sing for Hope, Adelphi University and Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University. Artivism aims to generate community through multi-disciplinary teamwork for a more dignified and meaningful coexistence, however you define these terms. The initiative aims to nurture confidence in taking continuous action from wherever you are by means of reciprocity.

Links:

Interview

National Arts Action Summit

From Negative to Positive Event

Artivism: The Power of Art for Social Transformation

Alumni Spotlight: Ty Cooperman(ARAD ’20), Director and Registrar at TW Fine Art

Ty Cooperman (ARAD ‘20) is currently the Director & Registrar at TW Fine Art in Brooklyn, NY. We had the opportunity to speak with Ty virtually, where he shared his experiences in the ARAD program and his life after Teachers College, Columbia.

Tyler (Ty) Cooperman at TW Fine Art’s Brooklyn Outpost

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your current position, and how did you step into your role?

Ty: I am a born and raised New Yorker, and in the ARAD Class of 2020. I entered Columbia just having received my BA with Honors in Art History from NYU knowing I wanted to do the business of art and work with artists, but I didn’t quite know exactly what that was going to look like. While at Columbia, I was super fortunate in that I found an amazing internship with a major collector named Mike De Paola, for whom I first became his personal registrar, I then became the registrar for his business, and have now become gallery director for TW Fine Art. It’s been crazy growth.

What attracted you most to the ARAD program at Teachers College?

Ty: I liked the fact that it was a holistic approach to the arts. I was fairly certain that I wanted to be on the for-profit side of the visual arts, but I liked that I regularly interacted with people who were on the opposite end of the fine arts spectrum, that being non-profit and performance. Because it is a small art world, it’s important for us to all understand what each segment does and the particularities of each group. I’m currently working with a movie studio to get commercial work for some of our artists, and I’m finding they don’t know how to speak our language. You can see the way it creates disconnect, so I feel like it really gave me a leg up in that I can speak intelligently about not only the visual arts but performance. Something that is increasingly clear to me but became clearer to me at Columbia is that regardless of whether you take the for-profit or non-profit route, if you’re working in the high end of the arts, you essentially serve all the same people. It’s a very small group that has that control, and understanding how to work with them on either level is a real advantage.

How did the ARAD program help prepare you for this role?

Ty: My last semester at Columbia when we were transitioning to online was quite crazy in that the art world didn’t know what anything was going to look like. Mike and I were just watching all these amazing small and mid-size galleries being forced to close. Learning what I learned at Columbia, I was able to execute a really precise and specific business model to develop a collaborative company where we not only continue to manage collections, but we also represent artists in an agency style. We do your typical gallery style where we show artists’ work and they ask when they need help, but we also do a 360 degree approach where we do everything; we help artists find commercial clients, develop connections with other galleries across the globe, as well as provide long-term career management.

Can you tell us more about TW Fine Art, it’s mission and goals as an organization? Is TW Fine Art a for-profit or non-profit gallery?

Ty: We started with one gallery space in Palm Beach, Florida in December which has now grown into two spaces with a second space in Brooklyn. In the next year or two we’re going to be expanding into a third space. We are a for-profit gallery, and we definitely have more of a moral and ethical bend than most contemporary art galleries. Something I’ve found very interesting and in a perfect world would love to move towards is the B Corporation model which is something I also learned about at Columbia. I’m a big believer in the idea that artists should not have to be beholden to grant writing in order to be financially viable. If we as a society let alone an industry actually value what the people who we claim to support do, we should all be working hard enough that they can live a nice quality of life. I feel like the easiest way I can accomplish that and be useful to artists at large is to help them by building these careers and direct relationships with collectors who not only ensure that you can pay your rent, but they’re the people who when in 5-10 years you want to do a real solo exhibition or a retrospective at a museum, those are the people who make it happen. It’s because you spent that time working with a gallery who really cares about building those relationships that that next step even becomes possible.

I wish it were not that way, but again what I found both at Columbia and since leaving is that the non-profit and for-profit art world are a lot more similar and intertwined than people like to admit, so I think the idea of a bifurcation between the two is no longer accurate. We do work with non-profits; Brian Kenny, one of our artists who we currently have a solo exhibition up for, just worked with the first LGBTQ+ health organization in Providence and did a mural highlighting local members of the community who advocated for those resources. We are believers in that element of giving back, and you can do it without sacrificing your artists’ ability to buy materials and rent a studio. Our artists already possess the cultural capital; they need people to assist them with the social and economic capital, and that’s what we’re able to do. We’re able to manage those so that they can focus on the gifts that they can offer culture at large.

You mentioned how TW Fine Art has two locations. What makes the Brooklyn location unique?

Ty: What we really try to be cognizant of is that each location of TW Fine Art is unique and the audience is different, and we really try to cater our content to that. There are certain considerations you make. In Brooklyn, we’re often showing work which I consider to be more avant-garde, and it’s often artists who are based in Brooklyn because we try to keep that hyperlocal element; that’s something we feel very strongly about. Brian Kenny, whose show is up now, is actually in Brooklyn. One of the artists in our next group exhibition literally lives down the block and walked in and showed us her work, and we were like “this is perfect for one of our shows!”…We try to really engage with the community. We’ve also been talking a lot about showing work from some of the people who live in the housing for chronically homeless individuals in Boerum Hill. We’re trying to deeply engage with the local community, and it makes me really happy. I think that as an arts professional let alone an arts administrator, that’s something we should all really consider. Again, this is why I believe you can be for-profit with a moral compass. Something we always think about when we’re planning an exhibition is the fact that we want it to be approachable to those who are not indoctrinated into the art world yet which means we do sell very expensive things to wealthy people, but we also provide an opportunity for anyone without having to pay anything. It’s a free opportunity to see great art, and we take our mission very seriously in serving that audience. You can wear whatever you want and speak however you’d like; we’re still going to treat you with respect and give you the same tour I would give a museum trustee, and I think that’s really valuable in that we have started developing locals who come back in and bring their children. It’s really rewarding to know that we’re adding something to the cultural fabric of this community. 

What are you most excited about in the coming year?

Ty: We sort of do this pendulum from figurative to abstract. I truly love both, but I’m most intrigued when we end up in those middle spaces where they’re starting to flow together. I think we’re about to see a period of abstraction make its way back into the market which I’m very excited about. I have to say there is a hotbed of talent right now in New York, in Philadelphia, in the UK. There’s so much great art talent that is yet to be given the right spotlight. I’m showing 11 artists in my next exhibition which opens on August 24th. I’m showing all these artists for the first time, and I’m so excited about each and every one of them. I really think we’re seeing this moment where we’ll get to see more dialogue between sculpture and painting and the environment versus the pictorial plain, and I think we’re ready for something that demands intellectually a little more of us. I’m ready to see what the market does next, and I’m quite excited. I think we’ll see a resurgence of performance. I’m working with an artist right now who I’m working to bring to the United States, and their work is very interactive. Now that we have the chance to let people into a physical space, I’m excited to see what it looks like when we do these interactive and immersive exhibitions, like taking the crux of the concept of the Museum of Icecream but turning it into something that’s actually intellectually and artistically engaging as much as it is Instagram-friendly and really taking it to that next level where we’re not dumbing down the art but rather we’re elevating the environment and at the same time making it approachable to people.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Ty: I live and breathe what I do. I love my job and love all the artists we’ve ever worked with. To be completely honest, I usually spend my days off with our artists in their studios or going to galleries. This is sort of my whole life. I genuinely couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Catching Up With Alums Megan Zhang (ARAD ‘20) and Mari Takeda (ARAD ‘20)

Megan Zhang (ARAD ‘20) and Mari Takeda (ARAD ‘20) are recent TC graduates. Megan is currently the Administrative Manager at Juilliard Preparatory Division, and Mari Takeda is currently the Donor Relationships Manager at Baltimore Center Stage. For this blog, they caught up with each other on what they’ve been up to since graduation. 

Continue reading “Catching Up With Alums Megan Zhang (ARAD ‘20) and Mari Takeda (ARAD ‘20)”

Alumni Spotlight on Nicole Chen: Post Sale Administrator at Sotheby’s

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. 

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight on Nicole Chen: Post Sale Administrator at Sotheby’s”

An Interview with GRAMMY Winner Eric Oberstein

By Blaire Townshend

Arts Administration Alumnus Eric Oberstein is a producer, musician, educator, and arts administrator—and now also a two-time GRAMMY winner. His work as producer on Arturo O’Farrill’s “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite” earned Oberstein and his creative team the award for Best Instrumental Composition at the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards this February. This win closely follows a win for The Offense of the Drum at last year’s ceremony—to read more about that award, click here. Oberstein currently serves as the Associate Director of Duke Performances, as well as co-chair for the recently established Alumni Committee of the Arts Administration Program here at Columbia University. For this interview, Oberstein was able to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions regarding his recent GRAMMY win, his administrative and creative philosophies, and his insights into the field of arts administration.

Eric 2
A screenshot of the team on stage at the GRAMMYs

Continue reading “An Interview with GRAMMY Winner Eric Oberstein”