ARAD is delighted to welcome our new Program Associate, Shreya Sanjeev. Learn more about Shreya, what brings her to this role, and what she does outside her work and studies at TC!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
I grew up in Bangalore, India, and did most of my schooling and undergraduate studies there. I moved to Australia in 2012 for two years to pursue my master’s in marine biology and moved back to India soon after to work on marine conservation. I was mainly focused on studying dolphin behavior around anthropogenic stress. During this time, I also worked at a private university to help facilitate their environmental conservation activities. This led me to pursue a second master’s in environmental conservation education from New York University in 2019. I’ve lived in New York ever since.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
So far, all my roles have involved some degree of managerial responsibilities, especially my role in higher education involving interacting with students. When I worked at the university in Bangalore, interacting with so many undergraduate and postgraduate students and building programs with them was perhaps the most exciting facet of my job! It felt like we were building a community within the university and using our resources for critical social causes. In addition, I was leading various academic departments, which added greatly to my overall experience working in the higher education realm. I was exposed to the nuances of business and cinema very early on in life, and I developed a keen sense of interest in management and leadership. The ARAD program is not just a program in performing and visual arts but also the degrees of management and leadership in those spaces, which I found to be profoundly interesting!
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
I am currently pursuing my doctoral program (Doctor of Education) at Teachers College. The amalgamation of my previous roles (in conservation and higher education) led me to pursue this degree. I am interested in researching and understanding how developing countries’ higher education institutions respond to sustainability and environmental preservation as a social movement. I also hope to work with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations in their Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) to help Indian universities build their profiles and initiatives for environmental conservation.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
As a doctoral student at Teachers College, you don’t get the opportunity to interact with many people apart from your cohort. I am really looking forward to interacting with students and faculty and helping develop the program in any way that I can!
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
In my free time, I take a lot of recreational classes around the city, and I mainly love kickboxing and dancing and usually take those classes more often. I also spend a lot of time taking long walks looking for good restaurants and coffee joints. But, if New York’s weather’s dreary, I just curl up with a good book and a hot cup of coffee!
Shreya Sanjeev is currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Teachers College in the Interdisciplinary Studies program focusing on sustainability and higher education in developing countries. She graduated with a triple-honors Master of Science from James Cook University, Australia, and a Master of Arts from New York University. She has interned at various organizations, including the United Nations Democracy Fund looking at projects within the Asia-Pacific region. Her professional interests include sustainability, management, and leadership in higher education.
We had an opportunity to chat with Lina Alfonso (ARAD ’15) and hear how the ARAD program shaped her career journey and the wonderful work she does at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Lina shared what she has learned about working closely with communities, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building, empathy, and communication.
Could you share a bit about your background? What was your undergraduate degree?
I started the ARAD program in 2013 and graduated in 2015. Before I came to New York to complete my Masters in Arts Administration, I lived in Colombia. I lived in Bogotá for many years. In Colombia, I studied visual arts and economics. So, my background really comes from two different places. The ARAD master’s program was great because it helped me unify my two academic interests.
I was studying visual arts and was so excited and thrilled to be able to express myself through art and experience the work of my fellow classmates. I really enjoyed being a practicing artist. But then I saw this kind of unique field within a city’s dynamics and economics and arts as a profession that needs support beyond the academic world. I see myself as being a logical thinker as well as being creative. I studied economics because I was interested in the different pieces of the socio-economic side of a city or nation moving forward. I started making the connection of how cultural workers and arts workers at the time in Colombia were lacking support and weren’t seen as contributors to the local economy and the social dynamics of the city.
I finished my programs and I knew that I didn’t want to be an artist full-time and I knew I didn’t want to go into economics because I felt that the arts were so important and so relevant. So that’s what led me to come to New York and pursue this program. I felt that there is more to do, that there are more strategies and ways to offer support to artists after they finish their studies so they can grow more in their practice and have a sustained livelihood from being an artist. Many people I went to school with ended up stalling their artistic practice or moving to completely different fields because they just couldn’t sustain themselves as artists. So, I came from a place where I saw the potential of learning something I couldn’t in Colombia and that’s why I came to New York to pursue this program.
Could you speak a bit more about what attracted you to the ARAD program?
There are many programs in the U.S. and in Europe for Arts Administration. When I was looking, I felt really strongly about this program mostly because it was very well aligned with where I was coming from and the type of support that I was seeking.
I wanted to join a program that had that connection of arts with a little bit of business and infrastructure, and more of that organizational side of the arts. Not just curatorial work or arts as an independent practice, which I had already experienced. I was seeking something that was a marriage of the two backgrounds I was bringing. I felt that Teachers College offers a strong academic program and so much context and background to things that were very new to me. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, I didn’t know anything about the non-profit structure and marketing in the arts. All of these things were very new to me and I saw that the program offered flexibility in terms of seeking which path you wanted to pursue within arts administration.
It also offered access to other arts classes and more arts-driven courses within Teachers College and even a little bit with the greater Columbia University network. It was nice to still have a connection of the two of those and lean towards a stronger arts admin background and knowledge. Also, the program is in New York, which is an iconic city for arts and culture in the world. So it was a perfect triangle of elements that really made it an easy decision for me to come to Columbia.
Where do you currently work and what is your role?
Right now, I am the Program Manager of Grants and Services at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, also known as LMCC. I have been here for just a little bit over four years now.
After graduating, I followed the non-profit path. Right before joining LMCC, I worked at another non-profit organization called Art in General, which was an organization focused on providing financial resources as well as space for artists to create works. It was commission-based work and we would present it in the organization’s gallery space – first in Manhattan, and then in Brooklyn. I was at this organization for about three years including my internship time, which I did while finishing the ARAD program.
In my second year in the program, I became really interested in fundraising in non-profits, which led me to join Art in General, where I was a Development Associate. I was supporting the fundraising efforts of the organization. From grantwriting for government and federal grants, private foundations, to supporting other efforts around private donors, such as the gala and membership events, annual campaigns. All of the different components of non-profit work. I was able to gain a lot of experience because this organization was very tiny – only five staff members. It was great – it gave me a sense of the structure of a nonprofit and also an idea of what it takes to fundraise.
After that, I ended up landing at LMCC, where I do the opposite. Instead of asking for grants, I give out grants, which is the amazing thing about my work. At LMCC, we have three re-granting programs that are funded by city and state agencies, which are the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. These agencies give block funds to LMCC and we regrant them to artists, collectives, and organizations based in Manhattan, which are presenting programs to the public in Manhattan. In a way, we are making these public funds accessible to individuals and entities that otherwise would not have the opportunity to go to these funding agencies directly. LMCC has been in this role for over 30 years. So I am just a small part of this history and legacy. My role is to manage those three regrant programs.
We also offer professional development opportunities for artists, primarily in the form of workshops for artists to develop skills, such as financial skills. That includes opportunities to learn about budgeting and the steps of grantwriting for individuals who are new to that process. I also support part of that work.
The last piece of what I do at LMCC is serving as the primary contact for people who prefer to communicate in Spanish. As a Colombian and as an immigrant that is something very important to me. I hold my language very close and dear to myself. I love walking around the city hearing Spanish being spoken. The reality is that many people cannot access resources available to them because they do not speak English and really prefer to communicate in their native language. I am really proud and thrilled to serve as that contact and offer support and assistance with information throughout the application process in Spanish. So that’s a little bit about all the different hats I wear at LMCC.
Are there any courses at TC that you feel were particularly helpful for your career journey?
I remember, it all started with some of the core classes – understanding the different income structures that a non-profit organization can explore. It was an introduction to fundraising, and I remember that in that class we would see the different ways of supporting an institution. So this idea of earned income as well as contributed income and in-kind contributions. I remember asking during that class about in-kind contributions because I had no idea what that was!
That class, I believe, was in the second semester of the first year. It gave me a baseline of how the non-profits work and how they structure their financial plans. This idea that you not only have your expenses but you need to map out your income and there are many different avenues for fundraising. Then it comes down to what is best aligned with you, the capacity, what is available, all of these different things. This class was a good first snippet of that.
I also took classes at the school of continuing education (Columbia School of Professional Studies). They have great classes in fundraising – I remember taking two or three classes there. This allowed me to continue developing my fundraising skills. We would take a case study of an organization and prepare a fundraising plan and a financial projection, so I think that really gave me a lot of preparation and skills that I applied when I went to work in my first position at Art in General. These skills allowed me to help the organization with financial planning, even going beyond just applying for grants. Having those classes not only gave me the basics but this idea of putting skills to practice in a theoretical way, which was really helpful once I started working.
Could you speak a bit more about the history of LMCC?
LMCC was founded in 1973 with the opening of the World Trade Center with the idea of bringing arts programming and activities to the Financial District. Throughout the years, LMCC has grown into the cultural council of Manhattan. There are five borough arts councils in New York City and LMCC is the arts council for the borough of Manhattan.
Today, LMCC has a mission of serving, connecting, and making space for artists and communities in Manhattan. We do that through a wide range of offerings. We have grant programs, which is very much what I do. We also have artist residencies in the Arts Center at Governors Island as well as other satellite spaces in the Financial District, which are for artists across stages of their careers to develop work or immerse themselves in their creative practice.
Those are the primary services for artists but then the organization also offers a lot of programming for the public. We have our annual festival “River to River,” which has site-specific performances in Lower Manhattan and Governors Island, as well as exhibitions at our gallery in the Arts Center at Governors Island. So we provide a wide range of activities and programs both for the public as well as for artists directly. That is roughly the scope of LMCC.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
It comes down to the idea that this grant program is the first grant that many artists receive. We see people who are very new to grant writing or have tried to figure it out on their own and have lost interest because they weren’t funded in a particular year. There is a lot of skepticism around preparing an application and how this process works at funding institutions.
One of the most interesting challenges I face in my work is trying to expand the reach of our programs every year. They are annual programs, which open in June and applications are due in September with projects happening in the next calendar year. Because this is public funding, contributed by taxpayers, it should be going back to people in Manhattan.
And with that idea, we really try to ensure that our programs represent the makeup of Manhattan and the rich diversity of the city. Not only in terms of geographical locations, which means that we want to fund people from Inwood all the way to Battery, but also a wide range of artistic disciplines – music, theatre, dance, visual arts, media, literary projects, interdisciplinary projects. From more traditional art forms to contemporary, from small events to big events. We also place a lot of emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity. Although the city is very diverse, it is known in the fundraising world that the largest percentage of available money goes to white-identifying individuals and white-led organizations. This is something that happens and is a criticism of this field. A big challenge and something we strive for from year to year is to make sure that those who have been underrepresented by the programs know about them. Every year we are trying to increase access to our programs and reach out to those who haven’t heard about them or are skeptical.
It involves a lot of relationship building and going to the communities we want to reach, and establishing partnerships with key local stakeholders or with artists who have come to us to understand how the process works. We want to demystify this notion that it’s difficult to get a grant or that there are many hoops that you have to jump through.
Ultimately, the programs are competitive. We do get over 500 applications a year and get to award around 50-60% of that. Every year we change the people who make decisions. It isn’t staff that makes decisions, those are other artists and professionals in the field who make decisions.
We really try to ensure people that they can still come back year after year, even if they don’t get a grant on their first try. We are here to help people to strengthen their applications, answer questions about the process and help people put their best foot forward, but doing that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. Being on the ground, being on the phone, and meeting people where they are and their comfort level in terms of writing a grant. Language, of course, is a big part of it. To me, these are some of the biggest challenges but also rewards of my work. Being able to meet new people every year and see that the makeup of our applicants and grantees continues to become more and more diverse.
How is LMCC funded?
We receive money from all sides. We receive money from city agencies, state agencies, federal agencies as well as private foundations, and individual donors. That is to support the whole organization. When it comes to the grant money that we give out, those grants really come just from NYSCA, DCLA, and UMEZ, which is an economic empowerment corporation in Upper Manhattan.
What is the most exciting part about your role?
There are so many things! I enjoy my job at LMCC quite a lot. One of them is that every year I try to push the needle more and more to ensure that we connect with more people and have more diversity in our programs.
Through my work, I have come to appreciate and know many neighborhoods of the city that I previously didn’t know. The pandemic has made us shift our practices but before the pandemic, we were always on the ground doing information sessions during the summer in different neighborhoods in the borough. We were also going to grantee events to experience the work that we were funding. That helped me expand my awareness of artistic disciplines because I come from a visual arts background, a very narrow view of the art world. Through LMCC, I have been experiencing music events, theatre, dance, projects in many different disciplines, and people approaching the artforms in different ways. This work at LMCC has really helped me to expand my own vision of the art world and also of Manhattan – getting to explore new areas that I otherwise would not have explored, perhaps. Also having a pulse on community arts in the city, which previously I didn’t have so much access to.
The other part is that component of language. It is very special to me to have a job, where my language is a key part of my work. It helps me reinforce my identity. Being able to speak Spanish in my work is something I so appreciate and getting to see more people who come to us seeking Spanish language communications is something that I feel so proud and excited about. When I get an email or a call in Spanish- that’s a joy for me.
Finally, I would say that LMCC as an organization has such a strong legacy and it is so remarkable to be able to be part of that history in a small way.
How did the pandemic affect your work?
The pandemic has been a hard situation for many of us. When it comes to our work, it definitely made us shift a lot of our practices. It made us adapt a lot. Before the pandemic, we were always on the ground. That is how we built trust and relationships. By showing up. Even if people were not expecting us. Just showing up or hosting events in different neighborhoods in the city and inviting people so that they know about us. That has been a very key component of our work – being on the ground or welcoming people to our offices for consultations and encouraging them to call us at any time.
With the pandemic, we lost that ability to go to events and meet people face to face to build relationships. Connecting with other people and showing people that we were still there. Also getting to meet new people. That was a big challenge for us. We are now doing some hybrid events but most have remained virtual. Last summer, we tried doing some smaller events in Upper Manhattan and in Chinatown, but still trying to limit them in terms of capacity. Last summer we noticed there was still a lot of anxiety in the air in terms of doing in-person events. It was very hard to want to be out there but still not being able to. That was one of the biggest challenges for our team.
We are funding over 200 projects every year. The pandemic was very impactful for all of our grantees, both in 2020 and 2021. Still, we are helping people navigate through ways to do their projects. The first year was the hardest because no one knew what to do, no one knew how long this was going to go. We had people calling us and emailing us asking what they could do with the money. So, we were really able to adapt and offer support in any way we could. Assuring people that it was okay, that projects can be postponed and we can figure out ways for projects to happen and minimize that anxiety. A lot of it was trying to navigate and help people manage their own stress around these projects. That was a big challenge for us and also mostly for our grantees. Finally, trying to find ways to help people envision new ideas for their projects, new ways to still engage the public in a way that is safe for them and for the public.
Artists are incredible. Artists and organizations were very quickly coming up with ideas about how to do things virtually, how to do things remotely via phone if they were working with older adults or sending packets to participants because we also have an arts education grant program. It was interesting to see them developing ideas and adapting quickly but then experiencing and seeing all of the struggles that they were having – how can we support them in the best way we can, given what is going on?
Last year we saw that people were excited about the city opening up in the summer. We saw some grantees move to presenting projects in person in parks or smaller capacity venues. We saw excitement around everything opening up. But then, everything started shutting down again. So, once again, we were in a place of helping people navigate different situations in the best way possible.
Do you have any suggestions for current students who are looking to go into fundraising, grantmaking, or working with communities?
Something that really helped me was staying curious and open. I didn’t know that this was the path I wanted to pursue. Never would I have imagined that I would be working as a grantmaker. But it all started from a place of curiosity. Thinking about this thing that I wanted to know more about. How can I explore this regardless of whether it will lead to a job? Leaning into that curiosity is a big piece.
Explore all the different paths and options available at TC and at Columbia! That is something rich about the school, that it has such a rich diversity in course offerings and perspectives. There is so much knowledge you can get out of this program. Having that curiosity and exploring what gets you closer to answering the question that you have in your head and then going towards that.
Going into fundraising, if you have never done grants, try exploring that process. I remember that was one of the exercises in this first class that I mentioned. We were given one application that we had to write. I thought this exercise was so helpful for understanding what it takes to prepare a grant proposal. What are the elements of it? How can you come up with successful narratives? Either writing a grant for your personal practice or some artist or other purposes, or maybe just as a fictional exercise. A lot of that work was very helpful for me as I was starting to work in the fundraising world.
When it comes to working with the community, one of the biggest pieces that I have learned through my work at LMCC is that it is important to meet the community where they are. To show up, to be there, to build relationships and trust. And that it is something that only happens with time. It is something that you have to show up year after year for. You have to be present and listen to what people are interested in and if there are any needs, and what they are. If you are a person or an organization that can offer this support or fulfill that need or perhaps you just have to make space for other people to step in and provide that support. That idea of being at the same level and building relationships.
I have been able to build a lot of connections through my work. However, the most meaningful has been connecting with people, speaking with them year after year, hearing about how they are doing and the challenges they are having. As people get comfortable and they feel that they trust you and that you are really there to support them in a genuine way, they open up. Sometimes they have shared with me: “This is something that is very difficult right now.” It comes from a very friendly conversation. And then I’m like: “Oh, okay! Let me look into that and do something about it.” Some of the great feedback I have received from grantees and applicants has come from that open conversation that has only been possible after many years of building trust and relationships. I think that’s key when it comes to working with communities.
We had a chance to chat with Sharon Duncan (ARAD ’98),Director of Individual Giving, and Ebonie Pittman (ARAD ’08), Senior Director of Development, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Sharon and Ebonie shared the story of how ARAD brought them together, and their experience as development professionals at Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from? What were your undergraduate degrees? What brought you to ARAD and how did you two ultimately meet?
SD: I’m born and raised in Harlem. I went to Howard University, where I majored in Dental Hygiene and Human Development. I first completed the Dental Hygiene program and then got my B.S. in Human Development. I was thinking that I would eventually go to Dental School. However, that did not happen. I ended up working every summer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where I went after school every day as a little girl because it was not far from where I lived. I never wanted to be a dancer; I just really liked the structure of it. I loved studying dance basically.
So, I had worked several positions at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. At the time, I was Arthur Mitchell’s Assistant. We were on tour in Germany, and I was probably in my fifth or sixth year as his assistant and he saw me one day in the afternoon before the performance and he said, “What’s happening? What up?” and I said “Oh, nothing. I’m just a little bored with the job. I mean, I’ve done it, I know what to do”, and he says to me, “Okay, you know what you need to do? You need to get an advanced degree in arts management, and you should go to Columbia.” And, I was like, “Really?” So, I started researching different programs, and I liked Columbia’s program. I also had another colleague who came through the program and I talked to him about it. He knew Joan Jeffries, who at the time was the program manager, and encouraged me to apply. So, I did. I get my interview with Joan, get accepted, and only then do I realize, “Shoot! This is a full-time program! I can’t do this program. I work full time!” So, I called Joan and she said, “You will do this program, and you will do well in this program so please just accept the admission!”
EP: I’m a native North Carolinian. I studied dance all the way through college at the Ohio State University. In my freshman year there, I already knew I wanted a degree in Arts Administration. I was always that person who knew that I had a dual interest in the performing and the business side of the arts. So, even at 18, going into college, I knew that TC was my future. Fortunately, it worked out that I got into the program. So, after graduation, I moved back to North Carolina for about a year and then moved to NYC in the fall of 2004. I started the program at TC in the fall of 2006, which worked out nicely – I was ready to get back to school. So, that’s what happened, I just kind of knew that I wanted to be there. That’s been my trajectory ever since, dance and arts administration.
Then, what happened with Sharon and me. I was taking the Principles and Practices course, and we had to do a case study. My classmate at the time, Claire and I, decided on the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Joan Jeffries, who was also the program manager at the time, put me in contact with Sharon and mentioned that she was an alumnus of the program. We went up there, did a site visit, and interviewed her for our paper. Then Sharon and I just stayed in contact over the years. That was back in 2008.
What are your current roles and how did you get here?
SD: So, I’ve been at Dance Theatre for a long time. I’ve been here for over 30 years in various capacities, including school administrator and director of administration. I had wonderful mentors and role models at DTH eager to teach me all aspects of the organization, and I took full advantage of it. I enrolled at TC when I was the school administrator for the DTH School. Later, I went to Alvin Ailey because I realized all my experience had been at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Ailey was seeking a director for its arts education program, so I went there. I was the Director of Arts Education and National Director of Ailey Camp for two years, establishing partnerships with private and NYC public schools and expanding their youth camp around the country. It was great work, but at the time, Ailey was not the size it is today, it was a smaller organization, and I was a department of one. I began to burn out from managing the school residencies around the city and setting up the camps.
After leaving Ailey I got hired at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to be the Director of Development. They were structured differently and focused on higher education. What was most exciting was the opportunity to attend The Fundraising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy with the 40+ advancement officers from the HBCU member schools that fell under the Thurgood Marshall umbrella. The Fund received a major grant to offer the training, and I was fortunate to be able to participate and hone my skills in fundraising while working.
I ended up back at the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2002 as the Director of Administration. We suffered a financial crisis in 2004, which resulted in laying off the professional company and many staff members. I was asked to stay on and transfer to the Development department, having known many of the relationships DTH had with donors and funders, having been Arthur Mitchell’s executive assistant. We continued to operate the DTH School and its education programs and slowly made our way back, thanks to major funding. However, the Company did not return until 2012. DTH had new leadership and the Development team was in a state of transition. In 2015, I found myself as a department of one with a part-time associate. It was challenging for a few years. Thanks to major funding from the Mellon Foundation, we were finally able to rebuild the department. I encouraged Ebonie to apply for her position. At first, she didn’t think she was ready for it, but she probably was. Then she came back in 2020, and she is winning in her role! Now, she’s the Senior Director of our department! So, I work under Ebonie now as the Director of Individual Giving and it’s a pleasure. With Ebonie, we’ve brought more structure to the department and we’re able to do some things that we couldn’t do before; set goals and do some good work.
EP: Speaking of the crisis, that was actually what the case study was about for my class. Dance Theatre at the time did not have a company. The school was operating but the company was not performing. It couldn’t have been a better case study for school. How does an organization with such an incredibly rich history, that has a very particular role culturally in the ballet canon and continuum, survive and think about the way that they’re modeled in order to move forward and continue the work that Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook sought to do when they founded it in ‘69?
So, fast forward to 2017. I moved back to NYC in 2014 and was working at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2017, I learned about the Director of Development position at Dance Theatre. I had a conversation about it, interview for it, but ultimately decided to stay at ABT for another 3 years. Then, in June of 2020 I finally made the jump. Which is moderately crazy because we were well into the pandemic. There were no live performances. Everything was on Zoom. We were a team of 2 ½ because we only had a part-time Development Associate. We are now a team of five, which is significant because while Dance Theatre may be small compared to other ballet companies such as ABT or New York City Ballet – we do just as much work. We do the same amount of programming. We do the same amount of cultivation and stewardship. How Sharon held that down by herself all those years is still beyond me! So, I’ve been honored to step into this role and help build what I believe will be a sustainable development program. There are still a lot of things that we need. Some strategic planning and thinking needs to happen for sure. But, there are some systems in place that weren’t there before.
In all your experiences, were there any specific courses, classes or projects at TC that you feel were very helpful?
SD: Organizational Behavior! These were electives but they helped so much. That course taught me how to look at an organization and see what works and what doesn’t, make assessments and come up with solutions; understand how individuals work, what skills capacity is needed, etc. I had a boss at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and he would say, “Okay, we’re going to do this project,” and I had already thought through so much of it in my head. I drove him crazy! He would just say, “We’re not there yet, Sharon.” I credit that course in teaching me how to navigate within different organizational cultures.
EP: The thing about the Organizational Behavior class is, when you’re in development, you’re dealing with people. Development is literally about building relationships with people. So, you have to learn how to manage personalities. Knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses. How to delegate and get the results that you’re looking for. Not just in terms of the dollars raised but, again, in the relationships that you’re trying to build internally and externally with donors and prospects. I think I took two or three of those classes.
I would say, as far as the actual classes in the program, they provided a lot of foundational information. We learned about unions and collective bargaining, fundraising, accounting, and marketing for the arts, and how those things impact the work of an artist and arts organizations. I think, at the time, there were two tracks in the program, one specifically for visual arts and the other for performing. Given my background, I took Principles and Practices of the Performing Arts. This was where we learned about strategic planning and proper budgeting.
But, I think in hindsight, it’s when you step out of the program that you really realize how everything works together. Academic spaces are academic spaces. Until you really do the work, it only takes you but so far. You have to be in the trenches to understand how all pieces work. I only say that because I know that in my class we had people come straight from undergrad who didn’t have work experience in between. It really made all the difference in terms of how you were able to participate in some of the discussions in class and what you would ultimately take from the program long-term.
What do you feel is the role of arts administrators?
SD: The role of the arts administrator is to support the vision and mission of the organization. It is to ensure that good art is made and supported by skilled individuals, who ensure the work provided by that institution can thrive and be financially sustainable in an environment that benefits the staff and the larger community it serves. My experiences at DTH showed me the value of administrators. Artists are creative and they’re visionaries! They’re brilliant! They have all these great ideas but may not have the business acumen to do it. So, you began to see that we need to put people around them and these ideas, to bring them to fruition. This became so clear to me in working with Arthur Mitchell, who was very passionate and driven. Our role as arts administrators is to make the dream a reality or put it on hold until we can.
ED: Yes, founder’s syndrome is a real thing. Arthur Mitchell was definitely a part of this generation, where a lot of artists started their own company but did not have the people with the business acumen helping them. We have been very fortunate that the larger arts community sees the power and the importance of Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, while we went through that very difficult 8-year period, they did what they saw as necessary at that time.
Michael Bloomberg was the Mayor at the time and put money towards keeping the school open, which was very necessary because quite frankly, I don’t know if DTH would have survived had that piece not been operating at all. But this is the role of arts administrators. I think that we have an opportunity, because a lot of people still don’t know who we are, what we do, or the importance of our work. On the back end, the dancers don’t just get up and dance, and I think that’s what drives both Sharon and me, and everybody else who works for the arts. This is not easy work, at all. And, again, throw a pandemic in it. We’re competing with public hospitals and schools that are trying to educate and keep people healthy. It’s like – who are we, asking for money for ballet classes?! What people realize is that art maintains the perspective. I like to say that the arts are what give people something to live for. So you may ask yourself: “Why are you here?” To engage. Art comes in many forms– whether it’s ballet, television, music on your radio, going to a gallery, watching something on your phone, the clothes you wear, or the designer who made them. You engage with art every single day!
SD: And a lot of the feedback we would receive from our online programming this past year has been, “Thank you for this…This is really helpful to me in this time…Oh, we found this so comforting.” You know, Mr. Mitchell always said that art is a healing balm. He often referred to DTH as a healing balm. The Company sometimes found themselves performing in cities after a catastrophic event (Mt. St. Helena’s) or in places of unrest, such as South Africa, during Apartheid. He always saw our role as one of comfort and healing.
What are you excited about in the coming year?
EP: I think I’m most excited about us as a global community accepting that this is our new reality and finding ways to work within it so that we can continue to do what we do best, which, in the context of arts, is making it available and accessible to all people.
The dancers just did a world premiere last weekend in Detroit and this was the last destination they were supposed to perform at before the pandemic in March 2020. So, now, 2 years later, they had the chance to do the world premiere of this ballet, set to the music of Stevie Wonder, who is from Detroit. I was able to go on Saturday night. It was wonderful, everyone was really excited! But, the best part! There was a woman sitting diagonally across the aisle from me. During intermission, she walks over to her friend in front of me and says, “I have never seen anything like that in my life!” I got the sense that engaging and watching ballet was not something that was very high on her list. But, to know that someone who has had little exposure to ballet saw that piece and was floored! “I didn’t know what that music was or where the movement was going! But, that was BAD!” And when I say bad, I mean good, because she was of a certain generation. I look forward to more moments like that.
I also look forward to DTH getting to a place where we can think more creatively and strategically on this other side of “the pandemic”. It feels like in some way we’ve been maintaining and holding on because we’ve had to. I’m looking forward to new works! I’m looking forward to new programs! We’ve done things in this last year and a lot while I’ve been here but there’s room for so much more! I think we’re finally at a space to have those conversations and I really look forward to what DTC will be in 2022, 2023, and beyond. It’s a different company now than it was 20 years ago.
SD: I’m a lot like Ebonie in that I’m looking forward to seeing where Dance Theatre of Harlem is going. The first 50 years have been great! There’s so much that we have accomplished and there’s still so much that we can do. What does that look like? I don’t know, but I look forward to the exploration. We’ve always thought of ourselves as being innovative. So, figuring out what that looks like in this new reality is exciting. I’m also interested in DTH establishing new partnerships with our community.
What advice would you give aspiring arts administrators thinking about development or fundraising for the arts?
SD: Keep mentors and keep growing your network. If you’re thinking about development or fundraising, be sure you like people. I often hear fundraising compared to sales and I know why they say that, but you need to like people and know how to listen. Ebonie said it earlier – this work is about relationships. You need to be comfortable with hearing the word “No,” it just means not now. Also, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone excited about supporting the work you do, or the work of an organization. They feel a sense of belonging and making a difference. Fundraising is challenging and rewarding! Development personnel are the facilitators. We tell the stories and build the relationships that hopefully lead to partnerships and support of the mission. Be inspired by the work of the organization.
EP: I would cosign that, especially the network piece. I’m still friends with people and colleagues that I graduated with in 08. They’re very much still a part of my network and community. We lean on each other.
Also, if you know what you want to do when you get out of school, great! But if you don’t, I would advise you to take that admin assistant, associate job so that you have an opportunity to learn all the pieces, all the wheels and the cogs in the system. So that you can figure out exactly what you want to do and what your sweet spot is. The beautiful thing about development is that because we fundraise for the entire organization, we know every bit of it. We know everybody because we have to. We’re writing for production. We’re writing for programming. We’re writing to fund a new software for operations. You name it. We’re in there. Whereas, some other departments can feel a little more siloed. But I think Sharon and I have a broad perspective of how the bigger picture works because we started out as administrative assistants and associates. All of that experience really helps to shape which direction you may go in. And if you don’t know in the beginning, that’s fine. Learn as much as you can. Just be open to it because, again, it’s hard work regardless because you’re in the not-for-profit arts. So, you have to have a passion for it. You have to know that this is what you want to do, the importance of it, and why we, as an arts and cultural industry, are necessary.
Sharon Duncan is the Director of Individual Giving, Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has held several positions with Dance Theatre of Harlem including Director of Development and Director of Administration. She was the former Director of Arts Education for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the former Director of Development for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Sharon received her B.S. in Human Development from Howard University and her M.A. in Arts Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has a CFRM from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is a fellow of the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.
Ebonie C. Pittman is the Senior Director of Development at Dance Theatre of Harlem where she oversees the strategic planning, development, and execution of all fundraising activities. Previously she was the Senior Director of Philanthropy, Institutional Support at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she managed all corporate, foundation, and government fundraising. She has served as an applications review panelist for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on Arts. A champion of diversity and inclusion in the arts, Ms. Pittman has played an active role in the advancement of ABT’s former Project Plié, now RISE, diversity initiative. As a fervent supporter of the performing arts, and a dedicated arts administrator, Ms. Pittman previously worked for the North Carolina Theatre, The Wallace Foundation, Young Audiences New York, and Buglisi Dance Theatre.
A native of Durham, NC, Ms. Pittman started dancing at a very early age under the tutelage of Lauren Lorentz de Haas and the late Barbara Bounds Milone, and spent summers studying at North Carolina School of the Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Bates Dance Festival. She danced professionally with Mezclado Movement Group in New York City, and she is currently on the Board of Directors of the Triangle Youth Ballet in Chapel Hill, NC.
Ms. Pittman graduated cum laude and with distinction from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, and she has a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Columbia University, Teachers College.
ARAD is delighted to welcome Alise Pundure as our new Social Media Coordinator. Learn more about Alise, her goals for her new role, and what she does outside of TC.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
I grew up in Riga, Latvia, where my parents exposed me to arts and culture from a very young age. I moved to the U.S. in 2017 to begin my studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In 2021, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Entertainment and Arts Management and a Minor in Business Administration.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
In the past, I have had internships and work experiences in communications, marketing, and project management. In 2019, I interned at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, which houses one of the largest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings in America and is one of my favorite places in the world! The next summer, I returned home to Latvia, where I was the communications intern at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. Most recently, I had the opportunity to manage the projects of a Latvian VR technology startup working with different cultural organizations.
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
During my undergraduate studies, I took courses in marketing, graphic design, and photography, which shaped my interest in digital marketing and communications. At the Barnes Foundation, I gained experience in writing copy and developing marketing materials. At the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Riga, I created a successful Instagram campaign for an art exhibition. During my time at Drexel University, I oversaw a team of writers for the Her Campus online publication. Last year, I independently organized a virtual art exhibition and created content for its Instagram and Facebook accounts to reach a wide international audience. All these experiences have helped me develop a passion for digital content creation. After graduating from the ARAD program, I hope to manage marketing and communications at an art museum.
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
Now, when so much of our time is spent online and we see an overabundance of digital content every day, I aim to create social media content that is meaningful and engaging. I hope to bring ARAD’s community closer together and highlight the accomplishments of our students and alumni. My goal is to show how supportive and inspiring this community is because this is how I have experienced it during my first semester as an ARAD student!
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
In my free time, you can find me exploring the city and taking pictures. I love street photography, and New York is one of the best cities in the world for capturing fascinating shots. I also love exploring the city’s many museums and going to Broadway shows. Finally, I enjoy going jogging in the beautiful Riverside park right next to campus.
Alise Katrina Pundure is currently pursuing her M.A. in Arts Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, Honors with Distinction from Drexel University with a B.S. in Entertainment and Arts Management in 2021. She has interned in art museums in the U.S. and Latvia, and most recently she worked for a Latvian immersive technology startup. Her professional interests include marketing, fundraising, and digital technology in arts organizations.
Since 2015, the Arts Administration Program (ARAD) at Teachers College, Columbia University has organized an annual Holiday Service Project for its faculty, students, staff, and alumni to contribute time, goods, and cheer to those in need during the winter holidays. This year, we had the pleasure of continuing our partnership with local arts organization, Art Start, providing 50 toy packages and holiday cards to over 170 children in NYC.
Aside from ARAD’s long-standing and continued support of Art Start, a non-profit organization that brings arts programming to at-risk youth living in city shelters, on the streets, or surviving with parents in crisis, we are excited to announce our efforts will also benefit the People’s Theatre Project.
Rooted in Washington Heights, People’s Theatre Project (PTP) creates ensemble-based theatre with Latinx, Black, and immigrant communities to strengthen the movement for social justice. Core programming includes: the PTP Academy, a multi-year theatre and social justice leadership program dedicated to the holistic development of immigrant youth (grades K-12); the PTP Partnerships, in-school theatre residencies focused on celebrating culture and identity; and the PTP Company, a touring company composed entirely of immigrant artists of color. Through these programs, PTP participants, artists, and audiences deepen their sense of power and strengthen their connection to community, reimagining a more equitable world.
This winter, PTP is raising full scholarships for the young artists in the PTP Academy.
Your gift of $25 sponsors the cost of a K-5 young artist’s tuition for one day.
Your gift of $50 sponsors the cost of admission for a family to see their young artist perform.
Your gift of $100 sponsors the cost of art supplies for a whole ensemble.
Your gift of $500 sponsors half the cost of a K-5 child’s tuition for a semester.
Your gift of $1000 sponsors the cost of a middle school/high school young artist’s tuition for a semester.
All contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law, and will be accepted through Monday, January 3, 2022. You can donate using the form on this page. Sign up for the People’s Theater Project mailing list by texting PTPSIGNUP to 41444!
Donations made by check should be mailed to Teachers College, Columbia University, Attention: ARAD Alumni Programming Fund, Box 306, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027-9988. Checks should be made payable to Teachers College, Columbia University, and in the memo field, please include “Alumni programming: ARAD.”
Thank you for helping us make the holidays brighter by providing the tools and access to creative self-expression through the arts! Please contact Grace J. Choi at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
What is your current role at Aurway Repertory Theater, and what led you to this position?
I was originally brought onto the Aurway team by way of company Co-founder, Lawrence Dandridge, who for many years prior had been building the foundation of Aurway with his network of friends and artists from the greater Newark area. A lot of us either grew up performing together or have met through his artistic nucleus. Based on my interests and skills in arts administration he asked me to be a part of the founding team and help propel his and Co-founder, Veronica Gonmiah’s vision for the organization.
We are based out of Newark, New Jersey. We currently don’t have a physical location at the but through rentals, and community partnerships are able to utilize various spaces in the greater Newark area. Officially as a company, we incorporated in 2020 however as a collective and a group, many have been performing together for over 10 years. I’ve joined in with them in the last 5 years.
What are your main responsibilities?
As the Director of Marketing and Development, I’m charged with driving the fundraising strategy as well as the business operations of the company. This leads me to write email communications, create and layout website content, manage the company database, write grant proposals, communicate with patrons and donors, and curate fundraising events. I am also an active company member participating in the cast of many of our original works.
Can you tell us about Aurway Repertory Theater and its mission and goals as an organization?
Aurway was birthed out of the idea of creating a platform for black and brown artists and voices. Through community partnerships, educational workshops, and public performances we create space for artists and viewers alike to engage in a dialogue on pressing social issues impacting our community while experiencing an unconventional approach to artmaking and theatrical performance. With that, we also recognize that our art is not just a form of entertainment but a tool that to be used for impact. We challenge all our members to be not just performers but ARTISTs geared to make a lasting change in and out of our community.
Our official mission states “Aurway is a network of emerging and professional artists dedicated to the pursuit, presentation, and creation of culturally relevant art, highlighting the experiences of black and brown people.”
What kinds of programming has Aurway done this past season?
This past season Aurway has been working our way back into the world with some live events. In September we were featured in the Newark Arts Festival with, “An Evening with Aurway”, where we performed a few of our favorite original Aurway tunes. In addition, we continued our concert series, “Musicals in Concert”, with a virtual presentation of our newest work Life Through My Eyes as well as a live presentation and reunion of Wishlist, an original work by playwright, Kathy D. Harrison. We also have a bi-monthly play reading series called, PlayTime, where we read and explore works by black and brown playwrights.
We also got in the studio this past season to record the official cast album of Something Like a Fairytale, another original work written and composed by Aurway Co-founder and Artistic Director, Lawrence Dandridge. Available for pre-order now!
How has COVID-19 affected your work and Aurway?
Last year right before COVID, we were revved up to do a lot of new things in 2020. This included a residency at a local arts high school as well as a few live programs and workshops. So, as many artists and organizations had to do, we adjusted to virtual programming. We created a virtual series called “Staying Home” where we had interviews and discussions with the workshop cast of Coming Home, an Aurway original musical. In addition, for woman’s history month, we had our first virtual “Musicals in Concert” with a presentation of What Comes Next, another original Aurway work. We also held our first annual Kwanzaa fundraiser and celebration, uJAMaa, which was our first look at putting on a live-streamed event. Through the pandemic, we have learned to try new things and think outside of the box in the ways in which we reach audiences. I now believe more organizations should and will continue to incorporate a virtual aspect to their performance and increase access.
On the sadder note, however, Aurway experienced a huge loss this year with the passing of our dear friend and fellow team member, Jeremiah Trusty. Jeremiah was quintessential to building the foundation of this company. He was also a genuinely wonderful soul and a blessing to those he came in contact with. He is greatly missed. ❤
Can you tell us more about Aurway’s newest work, Life Through My Eyes, and what it is about?
Life Through My Eyes is a short musical, that follows the story of Tony, a young teen riddled with depression and anxiety. Through a series of journal entries, a group of his peers read through his experiences. Set to music and monologues, the group explores Tony’s inner thoughts in hopes that he will avoid the same devasting end that claimed his mother. This piece explores suicide awareness and the realities that face many urban teenagers.
This show was originally set to have its stage debut this past July as a part of the New York SummerFest 2021, however with continuing pandemic restrictions the production was postponed until this Fall. We are now gearing up for performances in the next two weeks! Come check us out! Click the image for more information.
We are also adapting this show into a feature-length film set to be released sometime in summer 2022. Check out our trailer!!
Can you tell us more about the annual fundraiser and Kwanzaa celebration, uJAMaa?
So uJAMaa is our annual Kwanzaa celebration and fundraiser to support our programming and operations for the next year. It only started last year, but we’d love for this program to grow into a huge annual event. We chose Kwanzaa specifically because of the intention and history that the holiday was built in. Created back in 1966, as the first African American holiday, I believe Kwanza founder, Maulana Karenga, wanted to redirect the mindset of African-American people and give us something to help redefine our identity, purpose, and direction as people in America. Through the use of 7 communitarian principles (the “Ngozu Saba”), Kwanzaa seeks to reconnect people of African descent to cultural and historical heritage. Similarly, Aurway was created as a space for us to reconnect and promote artistry that is genuinely steeped in our culture and experiences. Giving us the power to discover and express our identity, purpose, and direction as artists of color.
It’s going to be a night of songs, poetry, dance, and conversation as we raise funds for 2022.
What is the most rewarding part about working with Aurway Repertory Theatre?
I think the most rewarding part about Aurway is getting to publicly promote and tell these stories. I know how they make me feel after being a part of them and it’s exciting to know that an audience member may see these pieces and immediately connect to the work in a way that they never have with musical theatre. It’s a nuanced twist on a traditional art form. It’s a seat at the table we built. I think people underestimate the power of inclusion and representation and what that can do for another’s intrinsic motivation. I look forward to the fires that Aurway will continue to ignite.
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
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.
Kimberly Theodore Sidey (ARAD ’11) is currently the Music Education Grants Program Officer at Chorus America in Washington, DC. Program Associate, Nigel Finley, had the chance catch up with Kimberly via Zoom, where they spoke about the ARAD program and her life after Teachers College.
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree?
I grew up in a small town outside of Minneapolis, St. Paul, which in itself has a robust arts community. It was there, I was able to really dive into my interest in music, theatre, and dance. Then in the late ’90s, my family moved to Austin, Texas, which also has a really rich art and cultural community. I then studied Choral Music Education at the University of Texas at Austin. After undergrad, I taught choir and voice lessons in Austin and Houston before moving to New York City, which is where I completed my master’s degree and graduated from TC in 2011.
What attracted you to the program specifically at TC?
At the time, the majority of my professional experience had been in the classroom. But, in addition to being a certified music educator, I was also an assistant conductor for a small non-profit children’s choir – which is where I had the opportunity to learn about arts administration and the kind of skills needed for effective non-profit management. So, knowing that there was a real breadth and depth of programming is what attracted me to TC. I felt confident that this was the place where I could develop these necessary skills while also gaining a holistic understanding of the arts ecosystem.
Where do you currently work and what is your role?
As of May 2021, I work for Chorus America, the professional development, research, and advocacy organizations for the choral field. My position as the Music Education Grants Program Officer is actually a newly created position. Earlier this year, Chorus America, was very fortunate to receive a substantial grant from a private funder to create a regranting program. In my role, I will be very focused on building this new grant program. It’s specifically the Music Education Partnerships Grants program which is designed to support collaborations between non-profit organizations and schools during the 2022-23 academic year. Our goal in our inaugural year will be focused on increasing access to singing for K- 9th graders and to promote learning through cross-cultural exchange, while upholding the principles of access, diversity, and inclusion. This program is going to be making grants in four different regions: British Columbia, the Northwest, Central Appalachian, Southwest, and also the Upper Midwest.
This being a newly created grant program, how does this differ or not from your other grant programs?
This program is actually very aligned and similar to the other programs here at Chorus America. Music education specifically is a big part of our strategic plan and our mission. We support over 6,000 conductors, educators, board members, and non-profit professionals in the field. We know that access to earlier learning experiences in music and singing is really important in building a lifelong love for singing. So, this is really aligned with what we’re doing and a wonderful opportunity for Chorus America to increase our impact within the field.
Where is your organization located?
Washington, DC however we support organizations across North America.
How would you say ARAD helped prepare you for this role or your career? Were there any courses, experiences, or skillsets that you feel were most valuable?
I think ARAD was so valuable in that it provided me this rich learning opportunity to develop the fundamentals but also the critical thinking skills required for this field. I left the program with an understanding of what makes a healthy, vibrant, arts organization. I think the other thing ARAD helped me understand was the funder and grantee relationship and how to effectively build those relationships and make a case for funding. That was particularly helpful in the beginning of my career when I focused on fundraising. I found that my experience as a fundraiser has really informed my work as a grant-maker.
How would you describe the difference between a grantmaker and a fundraiser?
A fundraiser is soliciting and building financial support for a nonprofit organization, whereas a grant-maker or funder is distributing grants to organizations to support their work.
How did the pandemic affect your work as a grantmaker?
Although I am still fairly new at Chorus America I understand we had a robust response to the pandemic. As you know, singing is one way that this virus can be transmitted. There was a lot of focus on aspiration and the droplets that are produced when you’re singing or speaking. Chorus America stepped up by providing a wealth of resources, articles, and guidelines on how to respond to the pandemic.
I think speaking broadly the pandemic had a major impact on the field of philanthropy. In 2021, we saw a lot of increased investment in terms of dollars. I think the pandemic also in tandem with the Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on how grants are distributed. There’s been much more conversation in this field to ensure that equity is centered in the work. And at the foundation I worked at a few months ago, I was really fortunate to be part of the substantial process to center our woman’s issues grants in equity. I believe organizations are asking themselves – How can we widen the circle of influence in our grant-making? How do we streamline the application process and increase transparency? How do we incorporate a community voice in the process in a way that before the pandemic we had not done? We have also been addressing implicit bias and providing training for grant reviewers – changes like removing identifying information or other tactics to help curb implicit bias. I think another thing we saw philanthropy do in general was respond by offering more flexible multi-year funding.
Chorus America has an incredible opportunity because we are not revising, we are able to build our grant-making program from the ground up. We’ve been working with a fantastic group of community advisors from across North America who are helping us co-create our grant guidelines. It’s been a huge joy to work with them! They’re a very talented group of musicians, touring artists, grant-makers, educators, researchers, arts non-profit professionals, and many other relevant fields. They bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and diverse lived experience to help inform our review process, which will ultimately decide how we distribute funding. To be involved in this type of community building has very meaningful and rewarding.
What are you most excited about in the next year?
I think the thing I’m most excited about will be the launch of this program. The guidelines will be released in October. Applications will open in November and due next January 2022. We’re granting out just over $900,000 in this next grant cycle across four regions in the US and Canada.
What advice would you give other arts administrators interested in pursuing fundraising or development in the arts?
If you are interested in pursuing development within the arts I would advise you to pursue an internship where you will get some hands-on experience. I think also listening is a very important skill. You have to understand your donor base and you won’t know what folks need unless you listen. Then, I would say you need the courage to not be afraid of making mistakes. Especially in philanthropy. We can spend a lot of time reviewing reports and planning and I think that just takes courage to just start doing the work.
Kim is delighted to combine her experience in grant-making and choral music education as program officer for Chorus America’s inaugural Music Education Collaborative Grants. Most recently, she served as program manager at the Austin Community Foundation, where Kim oversaw the RFP process and distribution of grants for the Women’s Fund, a signature program of the Foundation.
Her earliest professional experiences were teaching middle school choirs in Austin and Houston, TX, and since then, Kim has held arts management positions for ZACH Theatre (Austin, TX), Roundabout Theatre Company (New York, NY), and Opera New Jersey (Princeton, NJ).
She holds a Masters Degree in Arts Administration from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Music degree in Choral Music Studies from The University of Texas at Austin.
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.
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.
ARAD is delighted to welcome Grace J. Choi as our new Program Manager. Learn more about Grace, her goals for her new role, and what she does outside of TC.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree focused on?
Bay Area woman here! I grew up mainly in Palo Alto, California but also was partially raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where my Korean parents immigrated to as children before moving to the US as adults. After growing as an artist and writer at NYU (I majored in sculpture in the Studio Art program in Steinhardt), my interest in the intersection of the arts and technology developed upon revisiting where I “come from” and how different facets of my experience and upbringing could also be applied to designing learning experiences for others, particularly in cultural institutions.
What previous experiences have led you to your current role?
Prior to coming to TC as the secretary for the Program in Social Studies at TC, I worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a few years in a specialized team within their Member and Visitor Services Department working closely with VIPs and corporate sponsors, education groups (K-12 and higher ed), and third-party tourism companies as my main three circles of clientele. I then had the pleasure of working with the faculty and staff in the Social Studies program for two and a half years, which really broadened my perspective on higher education settings, the challenges presented to faculty, staff and students alike in an academic structure, and the ongoing question of how to best support students so that they, in turn, can be best equipped to support their own communities.
How have those experiences informed your current professional path?
Leading up to this particular opportunity to work with ARAD as its new Program Manager, I have on multiple occasions revisited what it means to be a part of an ideal academic community. What does a program in that community look, act, and move like? What spaces and opportunities does it provide for students and staff? How are faculty supported in providing their students a robust, challenging and growth-oriented learning experience? In essence, what makes that program unique?
When we consider more community-based aspects of the spaces we inhabit– be they academic, professional, cultural, of any kind– I find that each person brings in such valuable insight because they genuinely care about belonging. Not only as professionals, but also as people and as global citizens. Having worked at a museum and as well as another program at TC beforehand, I find this uplifting– because who are we if we don’t take care of each other and those around us?
What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?
The people! I consider myself extremely fortunate to join this community of burgeoning interdisciplinary professionals and leaders in the arts. Looking forward to meeting the students and supporting them through their journeys in ARAD and TC!
What do you do outside of your time at TC?
I wish I spent more time painting and drawing (continuing sculpture is just a little hard to do without a studio space), especially in the past year of staying in one place, but in the meantime I’ve also found pockets of peace in fishing in various quiet spots around NYC. I also really enjoy a good book– I’ve been reading Dr. Ruha Benjamin’s Race After Technology after wanting to get my hands on it for a long while, and can’t recommend it enough!