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College of Continuing Education News

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New professional master's degree helps the best and the brightest build the skills necessary to be leaders in the arts

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The brainchild of Sherry Wagner-Henry (director of graduate programs in the College of Continuing Education), the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership (ACL) degree is a unique opportunity for working professionals in the Twin Cities to learn, exchange, and develop working solutions that can be applied immediately in the community, through the arts and culture sector.

The program grew out of the College's interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) degree in response to the demand for more professional master's degree programs, as well as the need for a degree specifically designed for those wanting to lead and manage in arts-related industries (the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs offers a general nonprofit management certificate program, but not one that deals specifically with the arts).

"The Twin Cities is a cultural mecca. We're in an area of the country that prides itself on its strong, supportive arts community, yet we didn't have any type of program that could educate people to become leaders and managers to benefit that community," says Wagner-Henry.

She continues, "Through feasibility study research, I discovered that many of our emerging leaders were headed off to other parts of the country to get graduate-level training. If you're lucky, they come back. But often, they left for good, making a home and an impact in their new community. It makes sense for us to target these people for our graduate program--otherwise we're losing some top talent that could be making their creative community impact here."


"One day, I had an MLS student tell me she wanted to focus her degree on arts management. And we began to see more and more students who were looking for a degree that would help them connect their arts and cultural skills with their desire to impact community, and they wanted to do their degree at the University of Minnesota, so they came to MLS to create a curriculum. Eventually, we reached a critical mass of students, and realized that a professional master's degree in arts and cultural leadership would meet an emerging need and be a perfect fit in the College."

"Our focus is not only on leadership capacity but also on midcareer professionals already working in the industry whereas other programs in the country are targeting folks new to the sector," Wagner-Henry says. "Our students already have a base built and are looking to expand their opportunity to work and study with people already in the profession who are approaching leadership in new and different ways."

ACL students come from a variety of backgrounds--some are artists themselves, others want to advance to higher executive levels in their organization, and still others are working community professionals who want to use the arts as a deliberate change agent. The one thing they all have in common, says Wagner-Henry, is the desire to serve as a voice of the arts in the larger community dialogue around economic and creative development issues.

"We're trying to build capacity in community leaders who are working through the lens of arts and culture. We're helping them to think about how they fit into their communities, how they help build communities, and how to strengthen their communities, while stewarding healthy organizations."

This fall's incoming class features just such a diverse mix of backgrounds. Four of the newest students, Scott Artley, Holly Radis-McCluskey, Natalie Wilson, and Stephanie Xenos, are profiled here in their own words.

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Scott Artley
I have been involved in the Twin Cities nonprofit art world since high school. Most recently, I wrapped up a six-month position as the Open Field coordinator at the Walker Art Center, where I managed a public engagement program that invites members of the public to bring participatory arts activities to the grassy lawn outside the [museum]. We've had a wide range of activities, including discussions, workshops, performances, and even an opera for dogs.

While I've seriously considered moving into the for-profit sphere a few times (I'd certainly be making more money), I always come back to what I really care about doing in this world: getting people to step out of the everyday and experience the world through the eyes of an artist.

I'd been looking at grad programs in various disciplines, including arts management programs across the United States, but to find something like this in my very own backyard made me think it was meant to be.

I plan on studying community-based arts practices at the individual artist, organizational, and community level. Creative placemaking, neighborhood engagement, and locally focused sustainable leadership development are my "keywords." I think there are great possibilities in new/social media, story-based documentation, and program development around these issues. I'm finding that I'm infused with an entrepreneurial spirit, so I may just have to start my own community-based arts organization. Eventually I would like to teach at the college level, since I think education and mentorship of the next generation is a key element in sustaining cultural infrastructure.

I'm sure I'll also use my grad work to connect in new ways to places I've already been, I'm especially interested in returning to the West Bank--and pulling the University's many intellectual and human resources into its own neighborhood.

HollyRadisMcCluskey_ACL.jpgHolly Radis-McCluskey
I work as the director of programming for the University of Minnesota Tickets and Events and am actively involved in the arts community here through this role. Using a customer relationship management system, I provide ticketing and database services for all of the arts on campus.

Initially, I was in the Master of Liberal Studies program, designing a degree that featured similar course work to what I will be taking in ACL. I moved to this program because it is a great fit for me in terms of courses, but also because of the opportunity to meet and work with other professionals in the business.

It's exciting to have access to leaders in the field and see what they have achieved, and how they've done it. And being able to see what my cohorts are striving for and to broaden my knowledge of arts in our society is another bonus.

Great changes are taking place [in the arts], and many organizations need to redefine themselves and need leaders who can help them through this transition. The ACL program takes into account the great diversity and interdisciplinary training you need to be that kind of leader.

My course work is focused on trends and strategies in the arts, both today and in the past, as well as on financial planning and development, with a future career goal of establishing a ticket services department for all the arts on campus.

NatalieWilson_ACL.jpgNatalie Wilson
I've always been involved in the arts in one way or another, and have known for a long time that I would work in the theater. Currently, I am working as a freelance stage manager. I do a lot of work with Interact Theater Company, but have worked all over the Twin Cities theater scene, including the Guthrie, Theater Latté Da, and The Illusion.

I work in the technical side of theater, managing the communications and day-to-day schedule of theatrical productions. But I am also an avid music fan, gallery attendee, and audience member. I love the buffet of arts that the Twin Cities have to offer.

For me, the most appealing aspect of the ACL program is the ability to work in the field while I am pursuing my degree. I love that my career is seen as an asset to the program and not a hindrance. The professors teaching the classes are also working professionals, which I have found valuable beyond compare.

The program is helping make me savvy to the business practices of the arts and will help me to be a decision maker in the field. As a freelance artist, I am at the whim of the organizations that hire me. As an ACL grad, I will be able to be one of the folks at the table making decisions that affect the health and future of the theater that I work for. I want to be one the people who decides where an organization is going and what they are presenting. I will be able to create the vision instead of just supporting it.

In addition, I feel that international partnerships are an important part of a progressive arts community. The ACL program has helped me develop that interest as well. Around the time of my enrollment to the program, I had the idea of joining Interact Theater Company on an international development trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. My ACL adviser was integral in helping me arrange the trip and setting up the parameters of my independent study. I was able to work with Interact for two months and earn independent study credits. The partnership we created was so successful that next year I am going back to Thailand with Interact to continue the work. I would never have been able to be a part of such an extraordinary learning experience without the ACL program.

StephanieXenos_ACL.jpgStephanie Xenos
I am the associate director of communications at the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, and also work as a freelance arts writer.

In general, I'm interested in the role the arts plays in our society and how to make the arts even more inclusive and relevant (something on the minds of many arts leaders, no doubt). I'm interested in moving into a more arts-focused role because the arts can help us make sense of (or at least reflect on) the world we live in, and I want to be a part of that.

I am really intrigued by projects that put the arts in unexpected contexts like the Northern Lights Festival this past summer, and I think that kind of experience goes to the heart of what I want to explore in the ACL program. I want to explore how arts and culture institutions can drive social change and shape social discourse just as the "creative class," more broadly, drives economic activity.

When I was considering graduate school, I knew I wanted to do something that combined theory and practice. I recently completed a yearlong professional leadership program at the U called the President's Emerging Leaders program, so when I heard about the Arts and Cultural Leadership degree, everything just sort of clicked into place.

The program feels like part of a natural progression for me. It pulls together the threads of my experience, interests and background into something greater than the sum of the parts. The balance of conceptual and applied aspects of the program is very appealing to me. It offers insights from arts leaders about navigating in the real-world arts landscape and all that entails, and the opportunity to step back, see the big picture; it bridges present realities with future opportunities.

For more information on the Arts and Cultural Leadership program, or any of the individualized or applied/professional degrees, visit us on our website.

1 Comment

This is great and very interesting, because we all know that you have to be a very strong and self-motivated person to be a leader nowadays.
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