“Make it or break it” doesn’t always hold for a career in the arts. “There was this really skewed expectation – I’m going to go to New York and make it or I’m going to be a taxi driver or a bartender,” Ramsey Lofton said. Now she can point to real examples of alumni who have taken other paths, some right here in New Mexico. “We have people who are doing amazing things for our communities.”
Arts and cultural industries rake in an annual $1.2 billion and generate 19,500 jobs in Bernalillo County, according to a 2007 report from UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. UNM alumni in the sector are helping the university pave a smoother path for future arts managers and entrepreneurs.
Lofton said the community needs arts management “if Albuquerque and the university are going to keep the arts community thriving.” Lofton advises students in UNM’s new arts management minor as supervisor for community education in the College of Fine Arts. The minor is a critical piece in the College of Fine Arts’ efforts toward strengthening the development of New Mexico’s creative economy.
Starting its second year this fall, the program has drawn upon the successes of alumnae who had to create their own arts management degrees. “We didn’t have any mentors. We were all self-taught,” said Regina Chavez, executive director of Creative Albuquerque, a nonprofit organization with a mission to grow the city’s creative economy through research, education and advocacy. “We’re trying to pass on our knowledge, our experience, and they’re taking advantage of it.”
Professors of Practice Chavez and Sherri Brueggemann, manager of Albuquerque’s Public Art Urban Enhancement Program, both completed Bachelor of University Studies degrees at UNM, using the flexible terms of a B.U.S. to construct a program the university wasn’t offering yet. Brueggemann built a curriculum around public art administration with courses ranging from law to architecture, while Chavez blended economics and music.
Lofton said the arts management minor pulls relevant courses together so that now students can choose from ready-made curricula in five tracks: arts development, arts organizational management, public and community arts management, arts entrepreneurship, and arts business.
The arts management internship is a major attraction of the program. Students taking the internship say they’ve learned the business of arts in ways they couldn’t have in the classroom.
As an arts management intern with Warehouse 508, Noah St. Croix organized the Uplift Arts Expo, an event to empower youth as artists cosponsored by UNM and held during UNM’s Sustainability Expo. Warehouse 508 is a youth center focusing on the arts and nontraditional sports. St. Croix said at 508 he helped write grant proposals, coordinate dancing, painting and poetry slam, book local and national artists, and teach a mural class. He said the experience confronted him with changes and the unexpected, making him aware of the challenges that arise beyond the pages of textbooks. St. Croix is studying for a B.U.S. in sustainability studies and arts management.
Melissa Gonzales worked on museum education with Sara Otto-Diniz, curator of academic initiatives and co-interim director at the UNM Art Museum. During her internship she developed her abilities as a professional museum educator through object and inquiry based learning practices. She learned to develop lesson plans and educational programs for students in kindergarten through college through conversational, writing and drawing activities for multiple works of art in eight exhibitions. Gonzales called the lessons “conversational learning experiences.” She said museum-based learning helps students to see things more closely. She also helped re-design the museum’s education Web page to post free educational materials for teachers to use in the classroom. “The mentorship and hands-on experience that I received in the field has most prepared me for a future in the arts,” she said. Gonzales was a program assistant for arts management before receiving her Bachelor of Arts in art history with a minor in arts management this year.
Art studio major Jamie Ho got to intern with a gallery she’s long respected – 516 Arts. The downtown, nonprofit gallery is partnering with UNM and others to bring the International Symposium on Electronic Art: Machine Wilderness to Albuquerque Sept. 19-24. It’s the first time in six years that the symposium has been hosted in the United States. Ho is working with 516 Arts on the website and accompanying events. She’s learned how much work can go into organizing an event, like canvassing businesses to get support for a block party and participating in a hearing to close the street. “It’s a great class to take right before graduating,” she said. Ho, who graduated this year, plans to continue working in the nonprofit sector in a gallery or museum before beginning graduate school.
As an intern for the city-owned Kimo Theatre, Manny Martinez said he met a lot of big names in New Mexico, such as when he worked with Mayor Richard Berry on planning a film series celebrating the state’s centennial. That series was such a success that Martinez was asked to create other series. He started Friday Fright Night showing classic horror flicks as a way to attract younger audiences. He said the internship also taught him legal aspects of media, like getting the rights to show films. Martinez is majoring in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program with a concentration in computer animation.
Planning for Careers in the Arts
Brueggeman taught the first Introduction to Arts Management course, followed by Chavez. The final project is a career or business plan, so students are developing a blueprint for professional success almost as soon as they enter the program.
Gonzales created her own five year career plan for the class. “It was a way to look at my goals realistically,” she said. In the process, she created a step by step path toward accomplishing her dream.
Her dream for right now? She’s moving to Denver soon and hopes to work at the Denver Art Museum, where she’s attracted by the highly collaborative educational program.
Chavez said students are often embarrassed at first to share their sometimes lofty goals, but as they see each other’s visions, they become more confident in their own.
Gonzales’ plan has changed along the way, and she expects it to keep evolving. “You learn as you go, taking time to reflect on your endeavors,” she said.
Loving Their Work
Combining passion and work is an important motivator for these students.
“Getting paid for your art is one of the hardest things to do,” Gonzales said. She completed the arts management minor to help her on that path. “I realized I wanted to be able to get a good paying job doing something I love, and I’ve found that helping others find meaning in art is very rewarding.”
“People should be able to do jobs they’re passionate about,” St. Croix said. He wants to focus on art-driven events that have sustainability messages and hopes someday to organize international festivals.