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Guest Blog: A Practical Arts Education

By Julia Rael, ACSO Program and Membership Intern

Note from ACSO: The author of this blog, Julia Rael, interned for ACSO during the summer of 2021 and her internship was generously supported by a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.

What does it mean to work in “arts administration”? Until my junior year of college, I had no idea. I had never even heard of such a thing. To this day, when I tell people that my after-college goal is a career in arts administration, the number one question I’m asked is “What is that?”

“It’s hard to explain,” I say.

Even after multiple internships in the field, it’s still hard for me to explain. The easy (and vaguest) answer is “It’s a little bit of everything that needs to be done behind the scenes to make art and music come to life.”

Every time I have a conversation like this, I wonder why so few people know about arts administration. It’s a business, just like anything else; but for whatever reason, I wasn’t taught about it in school.

This is not uncommon. At the University of Southern California (the school I attend), there are no undergraduate courses offered that train students about arts administration. At the master’s level, there is a course in Arts Leadership, but when you’ve already poured an exorbitant amount of money into a bachelor’s degree in Choral & Sacred Music that you now find to be arbitrary, the idea of going back for a master’s degree doesn’t sound very appealing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset I got that arbitrary degree. I’ve met some wonderful people and overall had a great time. But I’m sorely disappointed that I did not learn one single technical skill while I was there. No one taught me what a 501(c)(3) nonprofit was. I had to google it. No one taught me that “development” means “fundraising”. And - perhaps most importantly - no one taught me about arts advocacy. Instead, I learned how to sing solfege and read tenor clef. Will I use these skills in my future career? Unlikely.

The only way I learned about arts administration was through two USC alumni who came and spoke to the choral students about their careers in arts administration. And the only way they learned about arts administration was because they got the right internship at the right time.

I, too, got the right internship at the right time. I’ve learned more in the 10 weeks that I have worked as the ACSO intern than I learned in the 3 years that I have attended USC.

As I look around campus on my last semester at USC, I can’t help but think there have to be more students like me - students who want to work a job in the arts that will offer them some stability and consistency. Perhaps they don’t want to be teachers or recording artists, they just don’t know what their other options are.

So what can we do? I don’t expect my righteous indignation to be enough to motivate universities across the country to change their curriculums. But orchestras and their executive directors also have a part to play in this.

Talk to the people on your staff and ask them, “What do you wish you had learned in college to help you better prepare for this job?” Reach out to your local community college and university and ask them if you can talk to the students about a career in arts administration. Talk to them about arts advocacy and advise them on some of the classes they could be taking that could actually prepare them for a career in your field. And most importantly, offer to be a mentor to students who are interested in arts administration. I cannot express enough the value that mentorship has had (and is yet to have) on my career.

In doing these things, you’re not only providing practical education to people who need it, you’re also investing in your own orchestra. You’re ensuring that the next generation of arts administration workers is fully equipped to do their job well, and you’re ensuring that the future is bright for orchestra management across the country. Trust me, it’ll make everyone’s jobs easier in the long run.

About the Author: Julia Rael will graduate in December 2021 with a degree in Choral Music from the University of Southern California. Her time studying choral music has given her a deep love of collaboration and working with others on a team, and she enjoyed making music with her family at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. She believes that music is one of life’s greatest gifts, and her greatest joy is sharing that gift with others.

About our Guest Blog Series: Our membership network is full of incredible people with a wealth of life experiences, talents, and diverse perspectives and backgrounds. We want to share their insights, points of view, and wisdom with all of you, as well as raise the voices of individuals who are making a difference for the classical music field. Our guest blog series features people from different communities throughout California and the western region, from different sizes and types of classical music organizations, and with different jobs and responsibilities. They share what they have learned, express their opinions about the sector, and ask challenging questions that will help us shift our thinking and be better advocates for this art form that we all love.

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