“Without having earned the certificate, I would never have thrown my hat into the ring. But thanks to the program, I can now speak the language, I understand the processes involved, and I know where to find the resources I need to do my job. The UConn certificate program uniquely qualified me to apply for the job and definitely gave me a big competitive edge.” - Robert Kwalick, Fall 2019 Graduate, Arts Administration Online Graduate Certificate
Robert Kwalick credits the UConn Arts Leadership & Cultural Management Online Graduate Certificate program, in large part, for giving him the skills needed to be hired as the Executive Director for the new Bantam Cinema & Arts Center.
When One Door Closes…
The pandemic has changed life so much for many of us—for some, it has turned our world topsy-turvy; for others, like Robert Kwalick, it has opened doors to new opportunities.
First, a little background…
In early June 2020, when we were well into the pandemic, the owners of the Bantam Cinema in Bantam, CT, the oldest continuously operated movie theater in the state, decided that they could not survive and permanently closed their doors. Fortunately, a group of local film enthusiasts formed a nonprofit organization to preserve this important cultural and historic landmark. Ultimately, they raised the money needed to purchase the building, creating a new entity called the Bantam Cinema & Arts Center. Its vision wasn’t simply to show movies, but to offer live theater, visual arts, and arts-related programs as well.
Meanwhile, Robert, a lifelong actor, past teacher at the Forman School in Connecticut, and all-around theater whiz, was managing the theater program at The Cambridge School of Weston (CSW) in Weston, MA. During the week, he taught theater, oversaw the direction of plays, and lived in the dorm, serving as a dorm monitor. On weekends, he would return home to Litchfield, CT, a two-hour drive from Weston. During that time, he was also immersed in the University of Connecticut (UConn) Arts Leadership & Cultural Management Online Graduate Certificate program. As he explains, “I was looking for graduate programs in the State of Connecticut because I was considering earning a PhD in Theater so that I could teach at the college level. During my search, I stumbled upon the certificate program’s website. Finding the program took me in a great new direction.”
Okay, so here’s the connection to the Bantam Cinema & Arts Center. In March 2020, both of Robert’s two adult sons returned to Connecticut to live at home during those early months of the pandemic. “When I came home for spring break in 2020 from CSW, I never went back. I didn’t want to miss one minute of having my sons home with me,” says Robert, who continued to work remotely at CSW through August 2020. At the end of that summer, he took on two part-time jobs: teaching public speaking to students in China and exam scorer for the Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure in Theater. That’s when he learned about a job opportunity as the Executive Director of the new Bantam Cinema & Arts Center, which is located just minutes from his home in Litchfield, CT.
“Before starting the UConn Arts Leadership & Cultural Management Online Graduate Certificate program, I had absolutely no experience in marketing and fundraising—those roles were always someone else’s job,” says Robert, who adds: “But after gaining a solid understanding of the key areas needed to manage a nonprofit arts organization, I applied for the Executive Director position at the Bantam Cinema & Arts Center.”
He got the job and began in August 2021. Says Robert: “Without having earned the certificate, I would never have thrown my hat into the ring. But thanks to the program, I can now speak the language, I understand the processes involved, and I know where to find the resources I need to do my job. The UConn certificate program uniquely qualified me to apply for the job and definitely gave me a big competitive edge.”
Putting new knowledge into practice
Robert attributes the content of the four courses with his ability to get up to speed quickly in his new position. “To this day, I continue to refer back to the reading materials and assignments we had. For example, in DRAM 5121 – Governance and Leadership in the Arts, I was very taken with a scholarly article about the relationship between Board of Director chairs and executive directors. I shared it with my board chair, and it has helped us focus on the importance of developing mutual shared trust. And that trust has permeated the whole team.”
The most difficult course—but Robert says, one of the most worthwhile—was DRAM 5120 –Financial Management for the Arts. “The course was hard because my artist brain doesn’t naturally work that way. But I learned so much about budgeting and financial reporting geared for nonprofits. It may not have been my passion, but it sure exposed me to a whole new area with which I was not familiar. In the position I hold now, it’s something I absolutely need to be familiar with.” He also says that DRAM 5123 – Marketing the Arts – made him very aware of the importance of social media marketing for “filling seats.”
Online? No problem
Doing the four-course online program was a no-brainer for Robert. He says he found the HuskyCT/Blackboard platform to be extremely user-friendly. “I like to plan ahead, so as soon as I was registered for the first course, I got set up in Blackboard before it began. I also found that UConn has a very helpful Technology Support Center. Whenever I had any questions, the team at the center was great about answering them and providing the information I needed in a clear and understandable way.” Robert says the instructors were not only helpful during the program, but they have continued to be supportive whenever he has questions or needs information.
A really smart move
In summary, he encourages anyone in the arts field who wants to get into a leadership or management role to consider UConn’s Arts Leadership & Cultural Management Online Graduate Certificate program. “The program gave me a solid knowledge of marketing, finances, governance, and fundraising for nonprofits—all areas that you will need to understand if you’re making a career change. It is a great introduction into the field for anyone with an arts or teaching background. I can’t guarantee that you’ll land a job like I did, but I do think that enrolling in the program will prove to be a really smart move.”
“I think the program is useful no matter what size of an organization you work for, whether you wear many hats, or you’re like me and primarily have one area of responsibility. We learned about every aspect of how to run an arts organization successfully. It really delivers the brass tacks of what you need to know.” - Isabel Tipton, Fall 2018 Graduate, Arts Administration Online Graduate Certificate
Isabel Tipton credits the Arts Administration Online Graduate Certificate program for playing a key role in her being hired by the Nashville Ballet as its Board Relations and Project Manager.
Getting Down to Business
Isabel Tipton always knew she was destined to have a career in the arts field. After all, her mom is a painter, her dad is a musician, and her sister is a jazz pianist. But as Isabel says, she was drawn to another aspect of the arts: the management side of running an arts organization. “While I was at the University of Tennessee, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in theater, with a focus in sound design,” she explains. “While I really enjoyed my time in the theater, I realized that I wanted to help manage arts organizations, versus being an actual performer.”
She credits this change of heart to an internship she held for two summers—after her junior year in college, and then again, after her senior year—at WUOT 91.9 FM, a local public radio station. There, she did extensive audio editing, while also being exposed to the ins and outs of the station’s operations, including programming.
After she graduated from college in 2015, reality set in and Isabel knew she needed to start making money. So for the year after college, she took a job as assistant manager of the local Sunglass Hut. At the same time, Isabel had an internship with the Knoxville Symphony, which ultimately hired her for a box office position.
While she loved working at the Symphony, she wanted to pursue a job in some kind of management capacity within the arts industry. As she notes, I knew I would need new skills in order to even apply for those kinds of positions.”
A Connecticut native originally, she immediately thought that the University of Connecticut (UConn) might have a program that fit the bill—and she was right! “When I found the Arts Administration Online Graduate Certificate program, I was so intrigued. The topics to be covered in the four courses were exactly what I was hoping to learn about and give me broad exposure to the arts industry,” she says, and adds: “That was perfect because I wasn’t exactly sure what aspect of arts management I wanted to focus on.”
Isabel began the program in the fall of 2016. She took the advice of the program director and started with DRAM 5121 – Governance & Leadership for the Arts, which gave Isabel terrific insights into governance and legal issues.
She also credits the course with playing a role in her being hired by the Nashville Ballet as its Board Relations and Project Manager, who would be responsible for acting as a liaison between the organization and its 50-plus-member Board of Directors. Says Isabel: “I had only been in the program for two months when I got an interview with the ballet. The people interviewing me shared their strategic goals and said they were hoping to find someone who could more actively engage with board members and give them tools to be strong ambassadors of the ballet. I had already learned enough from that first course that I was actually able to answer their questions in an intelligent manner.”
As of December 2018, she had completed her last course—DRAM 5120 – Managing Financial Information in Arts Organizations—which Isabel says, was extremely beneficial. “So many of us working in the arts industry are not bankers or investors, including myself. For me, it was very helpful to learn the nuts and bolts of the financial side of the business, as well as gain a better understanding of how long-term planning can help an organization be fiscally solid.” Current program director, Constance DeVereaux, says that students like Isabel are the real strength of the program. “They go out into the world with the strong skill set they’ve gained and become the great arts leaders of tomorrow.”
Of course, the online platform was also a big draw for Isabel, especially since she was working full time. As she notes, “The performing arts industry is episodic in nature. When you have a performance, it is such a busy time. But then it slows down when there are no performances going on.”
Fortunately, Isabel was able to flex her hours with the Nashville Ballet. With performances held mostly at night and on the weekends, she was able to take time off in the morning to do coursework. “If this had been a traditional on-campus program, I could never have had the flexibility to work around my schedule. Because of the online platform, I was able to do the coursework when I had time.”
All four courses also had a discussion board component, which Isabel says, helped create a strong sense of community with the other students who were in the program. “I loved hearing about the experiences and perspectives of my classmates. In the last course I just finished, we did webcam presentations in groups, which we recorded and submitted to our professor. There was a lot of sharing of ideas; it wasn’t just reading textbooks and sending assignments to the teacher.”
So does Isabel think the program would suit someone who works in a much smaller organization than Nashville Ballet, which has a $6 million budget, employs 30 staff members and has a company of 25 full-time professional dancers? “I think the program is useful no matter what size of an organization you work for, whether you wear many hats, or you’re like me and primarily have one area of responsibility. We learned about every aspect of how to run an arts organization successfully. It really delivers the brass tacks of what you need to know.”
"Arts Administration allows you to use both sides of your brain and to capitalize on the skills you already have as an artist or performer. I am very proud to have earned the certificate and grateful for all the support and encouragement I received from Frank Mack and my other UConn professors."
- Joy Pace, Arts Administration graduate
Joy Pace, who recently completed the Arts Administration Online Graduate
Certificate Program, proudly hangs a UConn flag outside her home in Louisiana.
Joy Pace, Artistic and Executive Director Itinerant Theatre Lake Charles, LA
Learning the Business Side of the Arts
When you run a small not-for-profit performing arts organization on a shoestring budget, you better be prepared to wear all kinds of hats, from marketing director to chief fundraiser to accountant. At least that's what Joy Pace discovered after several months on the job as Artistic and Executive Director for the Itinerant Theatre in Louisiana, a nonprofit professional theater company for which she was one of the founding board members.
The name—Itinerant Theatre—fits the performing arts company to a tee. As Joy Pace explains, a key part of its mission is to bring an affordable, professional forum for the performing arts directly to artistically underserved communities. "We are wanderers—we take our performances to places throughout Louisiana that are culturally underserved."
Joy had been serving as the theater's Artistic and Executive Director for about a year, when she realized she was missing a big piece of the knowledge she needed to manage the business side of the organization. "While I knew all about the creative parts of the job, I really didn't know enough about marketing, accounting, fundraising, or working with a board of directors—everything I did was trial by error," says Joy, who holds a BA in Speech and an MFA in Directing.
That was all about to change.
Joy received a postcard in the mail promoting UConn's Arts Administration online graduate certificate program. As she explains, "I couldn't take any time off to go back to school and there's nowhere locally to get the skills I needed. When I visited the website, read about the program's focus, and learned that I could take each of the four online courses one semester at a time, I was sold."
Since graduating from the program in May 2016, she says that the knowledge she gained has been invaluable. "The program was incredibly helpful and beneficial. It addressed all of the business aspects of managing an arts organization like ours."
Learning how boards of directors work.
The Governance and Leadership for the Arts course, Joy explains, enabled her to better understand how a board of directors works and how to inspire its members to handle many of the tasks that had been bogging her down. "I had been taking on so much that many people thought it was the Joy Pace Theater Company, rather than a collaborative organization with a great team working together to put on outstanding performances in a fiscally responsible way. With the new skills I acquired, we now have board members helping with a variety of projects, including one member who will soon be taking on our Kickstarter Campaign for us."
Sharpening her marketing and financial skills.
The program also helped Joy sharpen her marketing and financial skills. "I'm the only paid staff person, so all of the critical business skills were on my shoulders. Through the program, I learned how to write different types of marketing materials and use different marketing tools to target specific audiences. We also had the opportunity to examine a variety of marketing approaches used by theaters all over the country to figure out what was working and what wasn't ... and I learned how to read financial statements and audit reports. I draw on these new skills every day."
So what surprised Joy most about the program? "Thanks to the online tools we had at our disposal, it was very interactive. I was able to connect with many people from around the world, including an American women living and working in Korea. She was in a couple of my classes."
Using both sides of your brain.
If you're concerned that moving into the Arts Administration field will detract from your artistic side, Joy says not to worry. She continues to use many of the skills and draws upon the work ethic she developed as an actor and director, such as her ability to persevere through long hours of practice to get a performance just right, using her creativity and vision to direct a performance, and orchestrating groups of people to work collaboratively. "Arts Administration allows you to use both sides of your brain and to capitalize on the skills you already have as an artist or performer. I am very proud to have earned the certificate and grateful for all of the support and encouragement I received from Frank Mack and my other UConn professors."
"My art is still my focal point—I may not be playing or teaching as much now, but I am working towards the greater goal of fostering arts in our community, thanks to the Arts Administration online graduate certificate program." - Daniel Brandl, Arts Administration graduate
Daniel Brandl, graduate of the Arts Administration certificate, is making
a big impact on the performing arts community in Eastern Connecticut as
the Executive Coordinator of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra.
Orchestrating a New Career
After many years as a successful musician, playing the jazz circuit in clubs around the country and serving as music director for several different organizations, Daniel is now having an even greater impact on the arts community because of the new job he landed. He credits having earned his Arts Administration Online Graduate Certificate from UConn for his current career success.
Daniel has always loved music—no small wonder considering he grew up in a musical family. His dad is an organist; his mom, a singer; and his sister, who graduated from UConn, teaches music.
You could say music is in his blood and he's done it all—he's played piano as part of a jazz trio in various clubs across the country and served as Resident Music Director for the Spirit of Broadway Theater (SBT) in Norwich, CT. He's also given his time as music director at his local church, served on many arts committees, and helped dozens of friends in the business find gigs.
"I realized I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself—something that would enhance the local performing arts community. I wasn't sure what that something was until I served on the board of directors during the time when the SBT was transitioning into the Chestnut Street Playhouse," says Dan.
Yes, you can do it all online!
As Dan tells it, the company was floundering after its executive director had left. "I got very interested in understanding why the theater fell into financial and artistic turmoil. At the same time, I was becoming interested in working on the business side of performing arts. So I Goggled nonprofits, 501C3, and arts administration. The UConn online graduate certificate program website came up immediately. That's when I said to myself, "You can go back to school for this? And you can do it online? I thought that would be so cool!"
When he began the program, Daniel—who is married with two young children—taught music at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, while performing in various community theaters at night. Because the program was offered online, he was able to work on assignments when it was convenient for him. "There were deadlines, but I never felt pressured because I could learn and work at my own pace. I set aside time on the weekends, later in the evenings—even during the day when I knew I had some extra time here and there. I really learned to multi-task."
Understanding how to be fiscally responsible.
It's a good thing, too. In his current job as Executive Coordinator of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Daniel handles everything from cultivating new donors to managing social media to deciphering financial statements—all skills he took away from the certificate program. "I now know how to develop relationships with potential donors and how to write direct mail letters and press releases that get results. I can look at a budget or audit report and know what it means, which is critical to running a fiscally responsible organization."
Dan also learned a lot about dealing with conflict. "When I joined the organization, both the executive director and I were new. There were some volunteers who weren't sure they wanted to stay on. The Governance and Leadership for the Arts course helped me learn how to nurture our volunteers so that they feel vested in the organization."
So what was the online aspect of the program like? As Dan recalls, the online interface was extremely easy to use. And he never felt lost because, at any time, he could reach out to the professors and they always answered his questions quickly. And he adds: "The people who teach the courses are all UConn professors."
The bottom line?
Daniel says that taking the certificate program led to his being able to get interviews with several outstanding nonprofits. "I went into interviews with real skills and even a portfolio of sample letters, press releases, capital campaign fliers, and other materials that I could give to a prospective employer and show them that I had the skills they would need on day one. My art is still my focal point—I may not be playing or teaching as much now, but I am working towards the greater goal of fostering arts in our community, thanks to the Arts Administration online graduate certificate program.
"There are a lot of for-profit online programs out there," he adds. "I could have chosen another program. But I chose UConn because I knew I would get credentials from a highly reputable institution with a great name. And if I want to continue with my education, I can use the credits I've already earned toward a master's degree."