Internships Take Center Stage in Arts Management Program

Posted: June 20, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

With an artist-friendly curriculum and abundant internship opportunities, it is no surprise that the Master’s in Arts Management (MAM) Program at George Mason is a success. The program began admitting students in fall 2004, and will graduate its first three students in August. The program has grown to 70 students as it begins its second year of operation in the fall.

“I think the appeal of Mason’s program is the internship component,” says Meg Brindle, director, who notes there are approximately 30 similar accredited graduate programs in the country. “Twenty-five percent of the program is internship-based, and we have excellent relations with the major arts organizations in the area. In addition, our curriculum invites artists who want to be managers, rather than management-trained people wanting to get into arts.”

Washington, D.C., has the third largest concentration of visual and performing arts groups in the country, so organizations such as the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institute, Arena Stage, and Torpedo Factory have provided internship opportunities as well as adjunct faculty for the program. Students can choose a focus area to concentrate on, ranging from arts policy and law to budget and financing.

The program also requires internal and external internships. Brindle says many of the sought-after internships in the area—such as Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, which recruits nationally for interns—hire from Mason because of the quality and experience of the students. “We have our students do an on-campus internship before their external one,” says Brindle. “That way, when they go out to the community, they really shine. It’s a definite advantage.”

Internal internships can include Center for the Arts productions, gallery management, or help coordinating and planning annual events. Debra Smyers, who will be one of the first graduates of the program, worked in the development office for the Friends of the Center for the Arts for her internal internship. She attended staff meetings, wrote promotional materials, and coordinated a 70-person preperformance event. Another soon-to-be MAM graduate, Dan Brady, was a volunteer coordinator for the annual Fall for the Book festival last September. “It gave me the opportunity to work with nationally known authors and poets,” he says.

Passionate for the arts, many of the students are also ambitious and unafraid to take on new projects. Student Alison Christ coordinated an art show last semester at a hotel near Dulles Airport and provided space for 25 local visual artists to showcase and sell their works. She designed the web site, promoted the event, and found sponsors; the MAM Program sponsored and funded the show. Eighty percent of the artists sold work at the event—some of them for the first time—and 10 percent of the sales was donated to the International Child Art Foundation. Christ is now in the process of developing her own not-for-profit organization so she can continue to do similar art shows for local artists.

She’s not the only one. Many students in the program have taken the initiative to do all kinds of projects—art shows, photo exhibits, and monthly gallery events—for the community. “Students in the MAM Program are insightful, tenacious, hungry, and intelligent,” says Michael Hill, director of the Next Stage Campaign at Arena Stage and an adjunct professor in the program. “I’ve been thrilled by my interactions with them.”

According to Hill, the not-for-profit industry is growing more complex every day, and its leaders need a strong foundation to understand the issues facing arts organizations in a new century. “Mason’s program offers a dynamic mix of strong theory and practical skills,” he says. “Its focus on practical applications and its mix of instructors—professionals working inside and outside academe—provide graduates with a variety of skills and perspectives.”

For Smyers, the external internship gave her an understanding of how the artistic process works in professional theaters. Smyers worked at Arena Stage, conducting in-depth research for two plays. Another student, Miria Varghese, interned at the Arlington Arts Center, which recently reopened after extensive renovations. She met and interacted with members of the board, artists, curators, press, and the visiting public. These opportunities will no doubt help her reach her goal of opening an art school in Bombay, India.

With Brindle as the director and a teacher in the MAM Program, students are in good hands. A professor of management for more than 15 years for MBAs and undergraduates, Brindle also has had a passion for the arts since she was young. She encourages students to continue their passions and take electives in their art interest. “The students are really amazing and come from such diverse backgrounds,” she says. “It’s been a pleasure to work with them.”

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