Arts Management Grad School: One Year Down, One Year to Go

by Selene Santiago
Staff Writer

“Arts Management?  What’s that?”  I often get this question from folks who aren’t in the not-for-profit world.  A perplexed expression topped with furrowed eyebrows gazes steadily into mine as I start with the string of words that have almost become my tagline,  “Yeah, arts management…it’s like running a business but for arts not-for-profits.”  More times than not, the perplexed expression is not replaced by understanding but further embellished upon by a parted mouth that eventually ekes out a, “oh, cool…” or “huh…that’s interesting…”  I follow with, “Yup…that’s what I do…” and my eyes wander off to someplace else that is anywhere but that awkward silence.

So, what is arts management and who are Arts Managers?

An Arts Manager is one of the many people who keep the doors of an organization open.  We do everything from Marketing to Community Engagement to Advocacy to Fundraising to Programming to Education and so forth and so on, amen.

Arts management is not just relegated to the not-for-profit realm (though more often than not, that is where one will find an Arts Manager), we lurk in the dark shadows of profit and not-for-profit offices at cultural institutions the world over.  The biggest difference between profit and not-for-profit is tax breaks.  A not for profit institution does not pay taxes and instead abides by strict 501(c)(3) laws as mandated by the federal government.

When asked how I got started in arts management, I almost always preface my response with, “I learned how to be an Arts Manager on the streets!” and I do some ghetto fabulous movement with my hands like I’m some hardcore arts management chola.  I’ve had no formal arts management training.  I am a teatrista trained in design, directing and writing.  I am inherently someone who is a Doer and so I fell, and usually fall, into the role of Producer/Administrator when I am working on projects.  Creatively, I apply my skills to produce theater productions with Tongue in Chíc*ana, the theater group I have been creating original work with for the past five years.  Professionally, I have worked with several companies in California: CASA 0101, Latino Theater Company, Cornerstone Theater Company, El Teatro Campesino and other not-for-profits and independent companies/individuals.  

Up until recently, I was learning on the job, often from people who were also learning as they went along, which meant a lot of “what the heck are we doing?!” moments.  Thankfully I’ve met some fabulously knowledgeable people who help(ed) guide me through the many details of managing arts organizations.  Every job has been a rich learning experience, but I craved formal training.

Which brings me to why I am in an arts management graduate program.  When I first started on this career track, arts management was not a professional program widely offered at universities, nor was there a clear path, that I knew of,  to mentors and/or instructors that I could have hit up for help.  As time passed, I began to hear about programs sprouting up in Los Angeles.  “At last!” I thought, “I can finally get some legit training and meet people who have been shaping and will continue to shape this field!”

I looked at the two arts management graduate programs available in Los Angeles—Cal State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and Claremont Graduate University (CGU)—and opted for CGU because it was created for working professionals.  Although CSULB’s MA + MBA degree looked mighty attractive, going to school full-time for three years just wasn’t in the cards for me.  After a few years of biting my nails over the idea – Can I afford this?  How would going to grad school affect my (then) full time job??  How would I manage working and school AND being a mother??? – I finally made it out to an informational meeting on CGU’s program. I met the Program Director, Laura Zucker, who is also Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and decided to apply.

So here I am.  A year into the program and I am very pleased with it.  The arts management program at CGU is a blend of the world-renowned Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management and the School of Arts and Humanities.  The degree is comprised of business courses like Marketing Management, Finance & Accounting for Non-Profits, Organizational Behavior, and Self Management; It blew my mind that the practice of mindfulness has been and IS being taught in business schools. There are a bevy of other courses and advanced cultural studies courses tailored for arts management like Theory & Practice of Arts Management, Arts & Cultural Policy, Practice-Based Research for Arts Leaders, The 21st Century Nonprofit Leader: Building a Sustainable Resource Engine and the culminating course of the Arts Management Consulting Practicum.  We must also fulfill 16 units of study that can be taken across the university.

The arts management faculty is a group of high-caliber individuals who are leaders in the arts management field and I have been nothing but impressed by every one of them.  My classmates are brilliant and passionate individuals who come from as far as China and close as Alhambra.  I enjoy the camaraderie that is built in this small program—class size averages 15 to 20 and the program currently holds 56 students—and I look forward to working with these individuals outside of academia.

My one gripe about attending the program is the cost; CGU is a private school and private school = crazy expensive.  I have made peace with this for the most part as I feel that the cost is equivalent to the experience/knowledge I am gaining and that it is indeed an investment in my career.

I gladly share whatever arts management related information I have with friends and colleagues and try to convert people to the dark side of arts administration whenever I can!  We need more professional Arts Managers in the world, especially Latina/o Arts Managers.  When I come across an arts organization, one of the first things I do is look over the staff for Latinas/os…unsurprisingly there are few of us in the field.  I am definitely the minority in my program.  Even the international students outweigh the Latina/o graduate students!  What’s up with that?

Arts Managers.  We are the mostly faceless individuals who are thrilled to keep the arts where they belong: in the spotlight.  If you are interested in the arts management program at CGU or just want to chat about the gig, feel free to drop me a line at chicanoiresque@gmail.com.

selene   yuki   books

Me and my favorite study partner, Yuki.

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