Pilot Program Introduces U.Va. Undergraduates to World of Arts Administration

September 14, 2007
Sept. 14, 2007 — In today's society, arts administration careers range across the profit and nonprofit sectors, and the visual and performing arts. After an artist creates a work of art, it's the challenge of the arts administrators to manage all the complex issues related to bringing that work of art to the attention of the public. Their roles in this arena may encompass the management of artists and arts organizations, and often bump up against the realms of public policy, arts law, marketing and issues of finance and funding.

At the University of Virginia, a new program devoted to all aspects of the administration of the arts and arts organizations was introduced quietly in spring 2005 and was a hit before the first class began.

U.Va.'s Arts Administration Program is offered to undergraduate students through the College of Arts & Sciences and the McIntire School of Commerce, with the collaboration of faculty in the School of Law and the Darden School of Business. The program's success has led to a proposal to establish a fifth-year master's programs in arts administration.

Lecturer George Sampson, who has been active in the arts world since 1967 and most recently worked with U.Va.'s Office of Development on arts initiatives, is shaping the interdisciplinary program. Since spring 2006, he has taught two arts administration classes each semester — one a lecture, the other a seminar. The pilot semester was devoted to the principles and practices of arts administration. In 2006-2007, classes focused on arts marketing and promotion. Sampson said there is practically no limit to the academic areas that touch on the arts, including medicine, the environment, engineering and globalization. Sampson has plans to offer future classes in these areas.

To his delight and surprise, student demand has exceeded capacity from the first class offering. "The response has been phenomenal," he said.

Sampson conceived of the program from the premise that the arts combine the intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of what it means to be human.

"The program is designed to intrigue students to re-imagine how they might think about the arts world in general," Sampson added. "In my classes, I have students who will become trustees and board members of arts organizations."

Karen Ryan, interim dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, has been a supporter of the program since it was first discussed in 2005.

"We envision the program in arts administration as a bridge for our students between our excellent undergraduate programs in the arts and opportunities in the professional world. I hope that this program encourages students to follow their passion for art, drama, music and dance during their undergraduate years," she said.

"The program is intended to provide them with the additional curricular and internship experience to translate their undergraduate training into careers in the arts."

Sampson has fashioned each semester around a theme that puts the arts in intellectual and cultural perspectives. As he develops each topic, he draws upon the expertise of those working in the field and the strength of scholars at the University for lectures and behind-the-scenes ideas. The focus is to examine "the moment when the artist or the arts comes in contact with an audience," Sampson said. "It's an in-depth look at this interaction."

To that end, Sampson designs opportunities for students to interact with guest lecturers in class as well as providing occasions for participation in shaping many aspects of arts events. Students are charged with promoting and staging public events relating to the guests' visits.

"I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature and the breadth of the courses," said studio art minor Lindsay Friedman. "The most rewarding aspect was the quality and variety of guest speakers and lecturers that have taught the class … from the wide selection of experts and people who achieved success in their respective fields."

This spring, Sampson presented three opportunities for students to interact with professionals in the visual and performing arts fields. One event, developed in partnership with U.Va.'s Department of Studio Art and two Charlottesville galleries, was a panel discussion at one of the galleries that introduced students and the public to issues of administration in the visual arts from the perspectives of a curator and a dealer. Another opportunity offered occasions to learn from a Native American weaver who has been involved in art and public policy at the state level in New Mexico and was a contributor to design elements at the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian. Discussions in class and a public lecture in conjunction with the U.Va Art Museum were followed by an informal dinner with the Native American artist.

The third and most ambitious project of the semester was a music and arts management symposium that focused on creating brands in the entertainment industry and the management and stewardship of cultural property. Managers of the Dave Matthews Band and the Doors teamed with U.Va. professors from the Law School, McIntire School of Commerce and Darden School to give two public presentations focused on changes in the music business over the last 40 years, questions surrounding illegal theft and smart marketing on the Web, creating brands in the arts world and how to balance authenticity and the bottom line. The two public presentations were followed by an open session that drew more than 60 U.Va. students — class members and others — to discuss careers in the entertainment business with the guests.

The Darden School is publishing a business case based on these presentations with a scheduled 2008 release date, Sampson said.

With each experience, students had hands-on practice promoting and staging the events, illuminating and building upon what they learned in class.

"The hands-on experiences that we get with artists, members of the community and professionals is irreplaceable," psychology major Caitlin Brown said. "The connections we made will be great for post-collegiate jobs, and the internship-type work we have done have been great experiences, regardless of one's future plans."

Brown's experiences influenced her future plans. "I have decided to change my focus on criminal law to one of entertainment law to continue working with artists," she said.

"Classes offered through the arts administration program allow students [the opportunity] to understand the complexity of arts administration and the international importance of the arts," said Harrison Wade Reishman, a recent Commerce School graduate who plans to become a Hollywood producer.

"A program like this at a school of U.Va.'s prestige gives our University an upper hand in arts education and will produce alumni that will have fulfilling careers and influence in the arts world," Reishman said.