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Local Arts Classroom Meets the Graduate School Experience

Danielle Walter

I enrolled in an arts management graduate program with plans of pursuing a leadership position within a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to enhancing community engagement in contemporary art and craft.

Community-based art centers had made a powerful impact on my own artistic and personal development, and I wanted to contribute to that field in a way that would impact others.

In just a few short months, my graduate coursework opened my eyes to the national arena of arts policy and advocacy. I realized that supporting community arts engagement was layered and complex. My professional interests began to shift towards the major challenges and strategies influencing the advancement of local arts development across the United States.

It was around this time that I heard about the Local Arts Classroom, a web-based leadership development series offered by Americans for the Arts through a combination of interactive webinars and conference calls.

The opportunity was open to professionals with less than 10 years of experience in the arts sector and graduate students. The curriculum was focused around key topics, including:

  • Community Arts Development
  • Creative Placemaking
  • Stewardship & Resource Development
  • Cultural Planning
  • Arts Advocacy
  • Board & Staff Development

Some of these topics were new to me, but many resonated with my current graduate coursework and research interests. I remember thinking—I wonder what I could learn from discussing these issues with a whole new group of people? What new connections would I draw between my academic studies and professional practice? Who would I meet? What new material would I be exposed to in a setting outside the university environment?

Was it a bit much to take on in addition to my full graduate course load? Perhaps. But I was too curious to pass it up.

Prior to the start of the Local Arts Classroom I was a little skeptical about the online format. However, I quickly observed that it was no barrier to sincere engagement and lively discussion. This was due to quality presentations by the presenters and their honest approach, Stephanie Hanson’s great facilitation skills, and the overall enthusiasm of the participants. The webinars were packed full of enlightening pieces of history, real-world examples, useful tools, visual content, and additional resources.

The conference calls provided space for further discussion and deep investigation of the topics introduced in the previous week. One feature of the conference calls that I found extremely effective and helpful was the online Google document that acted as live documentation of the conversation. Anyone could add questions, comments, and ideas to the document as we talked and Stephanie made sure that the whole conversation was captured in writing. These Google documents continue to serve as a valuable resource throughout my graduate work.

I felt an enormous amount of mutual respect between all Local Arts Classroom presenters and participants, a collective desire to support each other in whatever way possible. Many offered up their personal emails to the group in order to continue discussions and provide additional resources. They are a community of emerging arts leaders that I feel I can turn to in the future for advice and collaboration.

I would highly recommend the Local Arts Classroom to all students pursuing a career in arts management. I am so glad I took it on. It is a unique chance to learn alongside a dedicated and energetic group of arts professionals.

The material covered throughout the series gave me a pragmatic context in which to synthesize key issues across my graduate coursework and solidify the national framework of arts advocacy and practice. Talking with fellow participants and hearing their stories encouraged me to visualize and imagine the variety of roles I could take on after I graduate.

There is still a good possibility that I will end up working for a local community arts center, but if I do I now have a strong national perspective, a set of strategies and tools, and a vast professional network to draw from.

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