Spotlight on Jessica Moore: Arts Administration Master’s Student ☆

Jessica is a second year Arts Administration Master’s student.  She did her undergraduate studies at Emory University in Atlanta where she majored in Dance and Journalism and minored in Music.  She has worked for the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts and recently interned at IMG Artists. She is a pianist, a freelance dance critic, and a member of Staibdance, an Atlanta-based modern dance company.

Can you please tell us about your experiences in arts administration?

After graduating from Emory I began working for the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory. We are not only responsible for supporting all the university’s academic arts departments—from Visual Arts to Creative Writing, Theater, Film, Dance and Music—but also for producing several different performance series featuring touring guest artists. We presented everyone from violinists Joshua Bell and Midori, to the Bergen and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestras, to Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance Company and David Dorfman Dance.

In one capacity I was the Communications Coordinator, which meant generating marketing and communications writing such as press releases, calendars, email blasts and PSAs. That’s where the Journalism degree kicked in—being able to write quickly and effectively is definitely a useful skill.

The other part of my job, which I really enjoyed, was as the coordinator for our Emory Coca-Cola Artist-in-Residence Program. Resident artists would participate in some sort of activity in addition to their public performance that would allow for a deeper interaction with the community. For example, I would often take dancers out to local high schools to teach dance class, or would organize lecture-demonstrations and masterclasses with instrumentalists. Sometimes it was as informal as a pizza party for Joshua Bell and the Emory Symphony and Youth Symphony string players, or a small group discussion with composer Philip Glass. The students were always so excited just to be in the same room as these artists.

This summer I interned at IMG Artists in the Dance Division. It is one of the big agencies that represents artists from vocalists to dance companies, conductors and instrumentalists. IMG definitely works with artists of a certain level—violinist Itzhak Perlman and the Bolshoi Ballet are some of the artists represented—and it was an interesting look at the booking and managing side of the industry.

Did you really learn about TC from a pile of papers?

It’s a funny story. While working at Emory, I was given a stack of old Excel spreadsheets to organize. As I was going through these files, I saw one on graduate programs in Arts Administration. I didn’t even know these programs existed, but that Excel file sparked my search.

Initially, I had to make a decision between an MA and an MBA, but I finally decided that I didn’t want to be in a classroom full of business students where I would have to constantly explain what arts administration means, and where I would have to tailor the program to suit my needs. I wanted to be in a program where my interest in the arts wasn’t an anomaly.

One of the draws of this program is that you are encouraged and required to take classes in business and law, so I actually am taking classes at Columbia with the MBA and EMBA students.  We are required to take Accounting and Marketing: Arts, Culture & Entertainment in addition to two courses on Law & Arts, and then we can take further electives. I strangely enjoyed accounting, and now I’m taking Digital Marketing: Strategy & Tactics as my elective. It’s an EMBA class that essentially covers all you ever wanted to know about social and digital media. It’s definitely useful knowledge to have because arts organizations are so often lagging behind in this area and will just assign an intern to handle social media because they don’t know what to do with it.

The Arts Administration program is so specific.  Will it get you to where you want to go?

A degree from Columbia will hopefully open doors. At this point, that extra validation that comes from a piece of paper is necessary, especially in a field like arts administration that doesn’t have an extensive academic history. It’s not business, it’s not law, it’s not medicine—it is something more intangible. I also think my classmates are going to be a great network of connections down the line. Need an orchestra?  Somebody is bound to be running one. It is a small class—there about 30 of us—and from the first day you are thrown into group projects so you really get to know everybody really well.

Professor Kantawala is very enthusiastic about your thesis.  What are you working on?

I have a background in dance, journalism and music, I’m a freelance dance writer for an arts blog, and I took a dance criticism class last fall. I just seem to keep coming back to dance criticism as a topic of interest. I haven’t quite nailed down my research question yet, but, given my interests, I’m going to focus on the role of the dance critic both past and present with an eye towards the future in the new digital age, and how changes in traditional journalism may affect critics, dance companies, and the value of criticism overall.

There seems to be an ongoing conversation among dance writers, administrators and artists about the changes in print media and everything moving online. Print media across the country is cutting back its arts coverage dramatically. If you are an editor of a paper and you have to make budget cuts, the first thing that’s going to go is arts coverage. It’s much easier to bring in a movie review from the AP wire to fill the space than it is to actually send out a critic to review a show.

What’s interesting about the Internet is that it enables anyone to go and see a show and then tweet about it or blog their review.  Everyone’s a critic.  So then what is the role of a critic now?

What is the value of their opinion?  A critic has a professional background and the relevant knowledge, but if anyone can just google a show and read audience reviews, then what place does the critic have?  And what will it mean, if and when print goes away, for dance companies that rely on critical reviews?  To have a review in The New York Times is like a golden ticket. Good or bad, the review validates your company as a presence.  On the marketing materials and press kits you get to put that quote, “’Stunning!’, says The New York Times”. Now, “’Stunning!’, says the blog” doesn’t have quite the same ring.