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. 

Meet Tianqi Liao, ARAD’s New Social Media Coordinator

ARAD is delighted to welcome Tianqi Liao as our new Social Media Coordinator. Learn more about Tianqi, 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 was born in Hangzhou, China and I spent my childhood there until I was 10; after that, I attended a boarding school in England for seven years. When I was studying for my A-Levels, I wanted to deepen my interest in English Literature, but later decided to study Journalism at New York University. During that time, I took a lot of courses related to visual storytelling. I’ve been in New York City ever since.

What previous experiences have led you to your current role?

After my undergraduate studies, I joined the Bronx Documentary Center as an intern before moving into the development department. Throughout my time as the Development and Communications Coordinator, I’ve been helping with non-profit fundraising, annual photo auctions, and photojournalism-based exhibitions. Previously, I was also the Manager of Photography and Video at Art in Odd Places, which is an arts festival that aims to present visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces. Besides these experiences, I’ve also worked at the Center for Architecture, which focuses on informing the public about the role of design through exhibitions and public programs.

How have those experiences informed your current professional path?

Whether it was developing digital strategies for fundraising campaigns or documenting artist performances and maintaining digital archives, all these professional learning experiences were instrumental in shaping my career path. In combination with my previous academic background, everything seemed to coalesce and I was determined to pursue arts administration in a more systematic way. Now as I prepare to begin my MA program, I am looking forward to taking courses that might add to my knowledge of branding and marketing for museums, galleries, and other arts organizations.

What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?

As a new student, I think this role provides a good opportunity to connect with both groups of past and current students. For past students of ARAD, I want to leverage the potential of our alumni network and highlight their achievements and milestones. At the same time, I look forward to using my previous experiences in digital content creation and audience engagement to bring our program to more people’s attention.

What do you do outside of your time at TC?

I’m always down to explore new exhibits throughout the city, especially ones involving photography as a medium. I also practice photography myself and take on personal projects that combine conceptual and documentary styles. When I’m not working, you are likely to find me snuggling with my cats.

Tianqi Liao will begin her pursuit of her M.A. in Arts Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Fall. She graduated from New York University with double majors in Journalism and Media, Culture & Communications. She has worked with various arts and cultural organizations such as the Bronx Documentary Center, Art in Odd Places, and the Center for Architecture.

Meet Dr. Yan Xiao, ARAD’s Adjunct Assistant Professor

ARAD is delighted to welcome a new faculty member, Dr. Yan Xiao! Learn more about Dr. Xiao, what brings her to our program, and what she does outside her work at Teachers College!

Dr. Yan Xiao, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Program in Arts Administration

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your educational background?

I grew up in China and got my higher education in Beijing and Columbus, Ohio. My research focuses on arts and cultural policy, arts administration, arts entrepreneurship, cultural diplomacy, and the management of nonprofit organizations.

What previous experiences have led you to your current role?

I got my Ph.D. degree in cultural policy and arts management from the Ohio State University. Prior to it, I worked in nonprofit (National Centre for the Performing Arts of China) and for-profit (entertainment industry) sectors for several years. 

How have those experiences informed your current professional path?

I always believe in the power of arts to foster social change. This belief encouraged me to learn more and experience more in the field of art, both academically and practically. 

After attaining a Ph.D., entering a career in academia is a continuation to examine and challenge conventional notions about the arts, and to pursue a more inclusive understanding of its social and economic impact.

What are you looking forward to in taking on this role?

As an Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, I look forward to mentoring students to prepare them for a variety of careers. I am excited to support students’ professional development that shapes the field of arts administration and reflects ARAD values. 

What do you do outside of your time at TC?

I have two boys, a baby and a preschooler. Most of the time outside of TC, I am with them and my husband. We go ice skating, kayaking, hiking, strawberry picking, camping, or simply pretend playing. If you can’t get through to me, I am probably taking a trip with my kids and Peppa Pig to the North Pole, riding on clouds.

Yan Xiao, PhD, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor specializing in arts administration in Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Xiao’s research focuses on arts and cultural policy, arts administration, arts entrepreneurship, cultural diplomacy and management of nonprofit organizations.

Over the past years, Dr. Xiao has taught graduate and undergraduate-level courses in arts administration. She is also an arts management professional with years of experience in international performing arts. She has been working with Philadelphia Orchestra, Arts Midwest, National Centre for the Performing Arts of China and other arts organizations on various research topics.

Dr. Xiao received her PhD in Cultural Policy and Arts Management from The Ohio State University, and Master’s degree from Renmin University of China.

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

Meet Alise Pundure, ARAD’s new Social Media Coordinator

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.

ARAD Holiday Service Project 2021

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 artsadmin@tc.columbia.edu with any questions.

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: Kimberly Theodore Sidey(ARAD ’11), Music Education Grants Program Officer at Chorus America

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.

Bio:

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.

(taken from Chorus America’s website)

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.