Anna Piotrowski
Joanna MillerKathryn PamulaSteven Risko

Getting Down to Business
Students Focus on Career Success with
Performing Arts Management Minor

by Marilou Carlin


“Sparking imagination in students to broaden their concepts of what they can do.” 


Though this is a goal that might be associated with any school at the University of Michigan, the phrase was offered by musicology professor Mark Clague in talking about the new Performing Arts Management minor being offered by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. 


The program, which just concluded its first year, features a concentration in courses that teach organizational, promotional and fundraising techniques for the performing arts. Designed to add arts business training for students engaged in performance, the minor is also available to students in business, or other programs throughout the university, who want to add a performing arts dimension to their training.


While offering valuable skills and knowledge that can lead directly to careers in any of the arts management professions, the program serves the equally critical function of helping performing arts students obtain the entrepreneurial tools necessary to create a successful career, be it in performance, teaching, management … or all of the above.


“Students are impoverished in preparing for their career by focusing on one aspect of money-making,” said Clague, who sits on the committee that created and steers the minor. “We need to increase their chance of success by expanding their skillset.”


Performing Arts Management (PAM) minors need to earn 10 credit hours by completing nine core topics courses at SMTD. In addition, they must earn an additional five credit hours by taking electives offered by other U-M schools, including the Ross School of Business (which has approved the program for their students) and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. 


“We have so many resources at U-M, not just academically, but also in organizations like UMS, which has such an excellent group of professionals doing wonderful, nationally recognized work,” said Greg Poggi, professor of theatre and the advisor for the program. “What is expected of a school like SMTD is to be dimensional and have a larger presence in the field.”


Poggi, who has more than 20 years experience successfully leading resident professional theaters in the United States and Canada, heads the PAM committee, which developed the minor in 2010–11. The committee includes several SMTD staff, faculty members and a graduate music student, as well as Ken Fischer, president of UMS, and Jeffrey Kuras, director of University Productions (UProd), the producing arm of SMTD, which presents full-scale productions each year for the departments of drama, dance, opera and musical theatre. In addition to their committee work, both arts management practitioners contribute to the program as guest lecturers.


Although SMTD has offered various arts management courses over the years, instituting a formal minor in the field bolsters the school’s mission of not only providing the highest level of performance training and scholarly research, but also of helping students achieve career success.


For those whose specific goal is a career in arts management, the PAM minor provides an impressive foundation. With courses that range from Producing in the American Theatre to Designing Persuasive Communications and Fundamentals of Sales Management, students have a “smorgasbord of courses from across the university,” as Poggi puts it, from which to choose.


Joanna Miller, who is pursuing a bachelor of theatre arts, just completed her second year at SMTD and, after taking a variety of PAM courses, is now leaning towards fundraising as her ultimate career goal. She is the first to admit that she possesses “slightly uncommon clarity” in terms of what she hopes to do, and was, in fact, concentrating in performing arts management before it was officially made a minor. Now she is convinced that the minor program is providing the best possible preparation for her career.   


“You’ve got some instantly applicable skills that are really marketable,” said Miller. “Plus, the people with whom you come into contact, just by merit of being in the program and taking classes, are not only some of the most interesting, but also some of the most professionally useful people I think anybody of our age could ever get a chance to meet while in college.”


Steven Risko, who graduates in 2013, also with a BTA, agrees. “We've had many guest speakers come in who have been incredible sources for learning about the developmental side of the arts,” said Risko. In addition to Ken Fischer, recent lecturers have included Joanne Navarre, manager of annual giving at UMS, and Karen Wolff, former dean of SMTD, who recently served on the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Arts.


The guest speakers are not limited to fundraisers, of course. In Poggi’s Legal Issues in the Arts course, students attend a full-day session on collective bargaining with Harry Weintraub, a New York attorney specializing in labor and employment law. Weintraub, who is on the faculty of the Yale School of Drama, is counsel to the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), which represents about 75 professional theaters across the country. He walks the students through the complete LORT union contract, providing a comprehensive introduction to the complex maze of collective bargaining in the performing arts, while also examining critical issues and specific cases.


Kathryn Pamula, a senior studying for a dual BA-BTA degree, felt that Weintraub’s symposium was invaluable preparation for her internship at 321 Theatrical Management in New York. “Thanks to this class, and Harry, I was extremely well-prepared and well-versed in the language of a general management office,” she said.


PAM internships and practicums are encouraged and developed with Poggi’s guidance. Pamula is currently doing a practicum at UProd, where she works for production manager Amanda Mengden. “The job provides another opportunity to practice clear, effective and professional communication skills, which is important in any field,” said Pamula. “Also, I talk a lot with Amanda about her many years of experience, and our chats provide great insight into the industry and how to succeed in it.”


While the majority of the students enrolled in the minor during its first year were BTA candidates (the theatre program is currently the most pro-active division for the minor), the PAM committee hopes that students from across SMTD degree programs will take part in the program going forward, especially as the minor develops within the other divisions.


“These students are usually not walking into a set degree path,” said Mark Clague, acknowledging the indistinct futures often faced by artists. “They need to create their own ladders, to think of themselves as entities with capital to be invested and talent to be fostered.”


Clague’s position on the PAM committee was a natural extension of his role as advisor for the Arts Enterprise Initiative, the student-led U-M organization that blends arts and business to encourage entrepreneurship and cultural and community engagement.  


Entrepreneurship, says Clague, is at the heart of being a successful artist. He espouses the idea of “Me, Inc.,” in which the artist thinks of himself as a business and explores all avenues for making that business flourish. The concept stresses the importance of marketing yourself like a product and thinking like a corporation.  Learning about and gaining skills in marketing, sales, communications, media, economics, legal issues—all of which are covered in the PAM courses—is critical to enduring career success.  


“PAM is not a back-up plan,” Clague states emphatically, dismissing any notion that it is a program only meant for those who can’t make it as performers. “It is intended to increase the range and impact of your artistic voice.  If you want someone to hear your voice, you need to master the means.”


So, for example, instead of classically trained musicians focusing solely on landing that increasingly rare position in a symphony orchestra, they instead develop a range of ways to market their talents. Clague lists multiple possibilities that include performing, composing, teaching, writing, distributing (selling anything music-related), manufacturing (creating anything music-related that can realize income, from CDs to books to a recording studio), repairing (maintaining musical instruments) and administering (performing the full range of behind-the-scenes roles that the PAM minor explores, as well as school administration). 


Far from being limited to music, this concept covers all of the performing arts.  Clague cites dance as an area in which artists are increasingly entrepreneurial, starting their own small dance companies, teaching, working in therapeutic settings, collaborating on multi-media projects, and so forth. 


Anna Piotrowski, a sophomore studying for a BM in violin performance, is not unlike many performance majors in that she had never considered arts management courses before being introduced to the PAM minor. Now, in her first year in PAM, she has tackled the marketing of her own (fictional) recital, created a strategic plan for a non-profit, and conducted a case study of a symphony orchestra, which included balancing its budget. The projects have opened her eyes to the business side of the performing arts and she is confident they will benefit her as she develops her performance career.


Piotrowski made another discovery as well: “Although they don’t realize income, the PAM minor has also sparked my interest in being on a board of directors for a non-profit, and in putting on fundraising events.” Perhaps, then, the PAM minor will have the added benefit of cultivating the next generation of performing arts supporters, as well.


Robert Swedberg, associate professor of music and director of the SMTD opera studio program, is intimately acquainted with forging a multi-faceted career, juggling performance with academics and a variety of arts management positions, most recently as general director of the Orlando Opera. Looking back on his career path, he believes that it would have been very useful if he’d had a PAM program as a student.


“I lucked out with mentors and being at the right place at the right time, as there was not much else I could do at the time,” he said. His role on the PAM committee provided the broad perspective of an artist whose career has developed on multiple fronts. Rather than leaving success to luck and chance, he believes students today can have greater control of their destiny. 


“Those of us engaged in any aspect of performing arts,” he adds, “need to have a tool kit that will help support us in finding a better balance of art creation coupled with business understanding to support that creation.”