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.
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.