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UWW’s Arts Administration Program Represents a Degree of Progress

What do a mural and a balance sheet have in common?

Ask an artist, and he may scratch his head. Ask an accountant, and he’ll probably compare costs of supplies versus profit from the sale of the piece.

For some artists, it’s all about their passion for a chosen medium, whether it be theater, paint, glass, or design. But what happens when their creativity becomes something more than just a whim, perhaps even a moneymaker? For some, the idea of balancing the accounting books and figuring out grant applications can be a daunting task, but that’s where the UMass Amherst University Without Walls program comes into play.

With a new Arts Administration focus area, artists and those interested in working for organizations, ranging from museums and nonprofits to personal businesses, can learn how to turn their creativity into a viable, sustainable company and earn a degree they’ve always coveted.

“A lot of people start working in an artistic field because they have a passion for something,” said Maren Brown, Director of UMass Amherst’s Arts Extension Service, which is collaborating with UWW on the program. “But then they move up the ladder and have to start figuring things out by the seat of their pants. This program is here to help them.”

For more than 37 years the University Without Walls program has been helping working adults achieve undergraduate degrees through online, weekend, and evening classes. The program allows individuals to not only take classes that fit their schedule and lifestyle, but also tailor their degree concentrations to their interests and goals. Recently, the program adopted a new Arts Administration focus through which students can learn about fundraising, marketing, financial management, and broad planning, among other topics pertaining to the administrative and financial aspects of a business.

The UWW Arts Administration focus area is the first of its kind for undergraduate arts degrees and is completely conducted online, which makes it even easier for those with busy schedules and family commitments to participate.

“It’s a unique opportunity for people who find themselves managing a variety of businesses in the creative economy,” said Cynthia Suopis, director of UWW.

She told BusinessWest that the idea for the degree program came from an Arts Management certificate program that the Arts Extension Service has offered for some time. “It was more like a marriage of convenience between the two entities [UWW and AES],” said Suopis. Since an increasing number of students from UWW were taking Arts Administration courses at AES, the two departments decided to allow students to actually pursue a degree focused on it. Cost per credit for the course ranges from $290 to $350.

The program also offers a certificate for those who already have a degree but still want the know-how.

Thus far, the program has seen more than 44 UWW students participate in the three semesters it has been in place.

But simply teaching individuals how to run a business isn’t the only thing that’s beneficial about the program. Students are also required to have hands-on experience either through an internship or from their own personal experience in a creative field. In addition, the program attracts people from all walks of life, and classes are taught by people working in the industry, making for helpful networking opportunities.

“We have students who are artists who want to open a business, those who already have one, others who work in nonprofits like museums or galleries, and some who simply want to make a career change to something that identifies better with their personal passions,” said Brown.

The Arts Administration focus is especially beneficial to those working in a nonprofit organization, maintains Marie Waechter, associate director of Corporate Support for WGBY.

“Nonprofits have to be more competitive and are often working with fewer resources than a for-profit company, thus nonprofit employees are often doing four jobs instead of one or two,” she said, adding that the program’s fundraising and finance classes can help nonprofit employees learn how to leverage their business enough to accumulate the funds they need to keep it moving forward.

And that’s not all. With the U.S. Department of Labor estimating a 30% growth in the arts and entertainment industries over the next eight years, more artists and professionals in the creative economy will be seeking business advice. Waechter says that’s especially true for Western Mass., where a number of thriving businesses are centered on the arts.

“This area is dependent on the arts and has become a cultural corridor that attracts many visitors,” she explained. Travelers are destination-driven, she pointed out, but the area’s cultural atmosphere and artistic feel often inspire visitors to stay longer, and take in more than just Six Flags or the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“They come for an event,” said Waechter, “but stay two or three more days for the atmosphere.”

Suopis said she hopes the program will benefit not only the creative community, but the regional economy as a whole, since it will be sending more-educated and newly transformed, business-minded individuals into the workforce.

“We’re training these students to be very informed, well-rounded, ethical, and critical decision-makers,” she said, adding that another benefit to be gained from the program is that it allows people who may have otherwise thought it unfeasible to pursue a career in the arts by arming them with the right skill sets to be successful. “Finally, people can follow their passion.”

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