Learning the business of art

Posted by Julia Leef

The college provides many programs designed to aid art students in perfecting their craft and preparing them for future employment in the art industry. Two new courses were created last year to promote art as a career option.

These new courses, AA-201 "Foundations of Arts Administration" and AA-221 "Philanthropy and the Arts," are part of a new arts administration curriculum implemented by the college. David Howson, a visiting associate professor and Arthur Zankel director of Arts Administration has been working with representatives from the Tang Teaching Museum, Management & Business and other art departments to establish arts administration as a minor.

"The field of arts administration combines a passion for the arts with the tools of business, including marketing, accounting and management, just to name a few. Legal issues are also explored and include contracts, labor relations and intellectual property," Howson said.

Students with various interests and backgrounds, not just those majoring in studio art, participated in the Foundations course last fall. Katie Lane '11, a theater and dance double major, found the course incredibly helpful. "I chose to take the arts administration course because working for the Skidmore theater department has allowed me to combine my passion for the arts with practical business knowledge, and I wanted to extend that into a more formal learning experience," Lane said.

The Foundations course featured many guest speakers who shared their real-world experiences with the business aspects of the art industry with students. "I really learned a lot from hearing the journeys and advice of real-life arts professionals and their presence allowed Professor Howson to extend the breadth of the course even further than his already vast knowledge of the arts industry," Lane said.

Lane has just begun a marketing internship at SPAC this semester, an accomplishment she attributes to the knowledge she gained from the arts administration course.

The arts administration curriculum prepares students like Lane for their future careers in the arts. "A major focus of the curriculum is on non-profit organizations, including both the performing arts and museums," Howson said. "Artists and arts organizations need creative people to help them navigate the real world and support their artistic vision."

According to Howson, the program is the result of the gift from the estate and family of Arthur Zankel, who supported the arts and the creation of a liberal arts program that would aid students in becoming leaders in their respective fields. The two courses, Howson hopes, are just the beginning of what may soon blossom into the curriculum Zankel envisioned.

In fall 2010 David Howson invited several speakers to his Foundations class to discuss issues ranging from being the chief executive officer of a large performing arts complex to writing arts reviews. Scott Mulligan, from Management & Business, discussed intellectual property and copyright and its relevance to students interested in any kind of arts enterprise. As an intellectual property lawyer, Mulligan spoke about the basic information students would need to know regarding contract negotiations involved in any kind of arts production.

"Intellectual property is one of the most important ‘intellectual commodities' . . . that we have in the U.S. today," Mulligan said, emphasizing the importance of protecting artistic ideas in the business world. His course, Intellectual Property in the Global Economy, touches on many different areas of people's lives where intellectual property is involved. "Imagine that this lawsuit is hanging over your head and affects your ability to fundraise . . . it affects the way a production might be valued [monetarily], in a Broadway or off-Broadway production." With the new arts administration, various people with different forms of experience can be brought in to teach students from a multiple-angle approach, Mulligan said.

Another important aspect of any art business is the ability to manage and maintain donor relations and fundraising, which is what Mary Solomons, director of donor relations at North Hall, talked about along with John Chaplin. "A key part of any arts organization is fundraising," she said, "that's how you're going to get resources in order to survive."

Solomons emphasized the importance of working with donors on a personal level, adding that according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, the cost of attaining new donors is 10 times more expensive than maintaining old ones. "I found the skills I developed in arts management have been very good for me in development," she said, adding that, "if you look at any large arts organization . . . ticket sales are not going to keep the lights on in places like SPAC or other arts administrations; they depend on the support of their patrons."

"I think it's terrific that Skidmore's offering this type of art program," Solomons said. "It's a key part of the art, being able to oversee and manage a non-profit organization."

Penny Loretto, the interim director at Career Services, spoke about resumé preparation and how to target it to fit a specific position or employer. She also ran several resume workshops last November, which is one of the ways in which Career Services has provided resources to the Foundations class.

"An effective, targeted resume helps students get interviews and a foot-in-the-door for an internship or a job," Loretto said, adding that Career Services will continue to work with arts administration students in the future.

Howson also anticipates several other guest speakers for his spring course, Philanthropy and the Arts, including Elizabeth Schlatter, deputy director of Harnett Museum at the University of Richmond, Judy Hansen, trustee of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Bill Ladd, a Skidmore trustee. He hopes that the arts administration program will be a great help to students for years to come.

"I look forward to seeing ‘Skidmore College' on the resumés and in the bios of future arts leaders," he said. "Skidmore already has many alumni working in the field, so this program formalizes a field of study that students have already been crafting on their own."

Howson will host an information session before the fall registration for any students interested in the arts administration. He asks students to contact him directly at any time if they have questions regarding the program.

The racial divide at Skidmore College: Practical Race and Diversity

SGA grants Treblemakers charter