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'Foundations of Arts Administration'

Posted: 01/18/2011

Things are looking up for The Treehouse, a non-profit  organization in Bridgeport, Conn., that has transformed a pre-existing community theater into a visual and performance learning center . The departure last year of its long-time artistic director left a big hole in the organization, but the board has hired an energetic new director just in time to plan next year’s season. Now it’s time for the new executive team to share its plan with the board.

If you’ve never heard of The Treehouse, there’s a simple reason. It exists only in the minds of four Skidmore students who created it last month in the closing weeks of Foundations of Arts Administration, the introductory course in the College’s new arts administration curriculum. Thirty-one other students enrolled in the course’s two sections – which are taught by David Howson, Visiting Associate Professor and Arthur Zankel Director of Arts Administration – invented similarly creative organizations dedicated to the arts, including:

  • The Atizay Colony, a New Orleans art center dedicated to bringing back to the city artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina;
  • White Cube Black Box, a Cincinnati-based cultural arts center;
  • The New Art Haven, a contemporary art gallery and dance-theater for the Greater New Haven area.

The objective of the exercise is to “help students see for themselves the collaborative nature of visual and performing arts organizations,” says Howson.

“Though each team member has his or her own individual responsibilities, the team must work together to function as an organization. For instance, the marketing director needs to know what the artistic season is before they can develop a marketing plan. Using what they learned in class and through our guest speakers, students make certain decisions that affect the final outcome. That often requires creative compromise.”

Giving each team a $50 budget for printing and supplies, Howson asked students to include in their presentations a mission statement, a five-year strategic plan, an organization chart, a full season of events, a list of major gift prospects, and a summer arts program for kids. He also asked them to produce a folio of marketing materials and to come up with “something tangible” to give to board members. New Orleans-based Atizay served jambalaya, while the Seattle Visual and Performing Arts Center gave out raincoats.