Facilitating professional development for arts managers in Alberta: In conversation with Derek Stevenson, Arts Leadership Manager at The Rozsa Foundation

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Derek Stevenson graduated from the second cohort of the MMIAM program in 2015.  He entered the program with a B.A. in theatre and a B.Mgt. in finance from the University of Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada). He was the Artistic Director and General Manager of TheatreXtra, the university’s student-run theatre company. After graduation, he worked for the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator and later as the Assistant to the Executive Director. We caught up with him recently to find out why he decided to apply to the MMIAM program and what he is doing now.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?

My decision was two-fold: one was my search for something more than what Lethbridge had to offer, the other was my interest in traveling and exploring. I knew what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew my opportunities were limited where I was. I began to seek out professional development courses and further training in arts management and it eventually led me to the MMIAM program. The program itself seemed like a perfect fit for both my professional and personal growth, so I took the leap and applied!

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am working for two different organizations now. I am the General Manager of New West Theatre in Lethbridge, where I have been working to revitalize and establish the organization as a premier theatre in Canada. I also recently began working for the Rozsa (pronounced “rosé,” like the wine) Foundation in Calgary as the Arts Leadership Manager. This particular role is very connected to the work I did in the MMIAM program as I facilitate professional development programs for arts managers in Alberta. I have incorporated some of the material from my MMIAM studies into my own courses and continue to develop and tweak our offerings to help build capacity in the cultural sector in the province.

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Derek teaching a seminar at the Rozsa Foundation in Calgary, Alberta. (Photo: Rozsa Foundation.)

Which MMIAM courses were the most valuable to you for your career and why?

When I look back on the program I find I use skills from many courses in my daily work life. The courses which were most relevant to my interests were probably the cultural policy and economics courses at Southern Methodist University taught by Kathleen Gallagher. I have always been interested in public policy in the arts, particularly when it comes to government funding. My thesis was directly connected to these courses as I focused on municpal tax policies that fund arts and culture initiatives. I referenced quite a bit of information in my thesis from those two courses, and I am to this day still updating my research as I recently presented it to Creative Calgary, an organization advocating for increased funding to the arts and culture sector in Calgary.

What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in four different countries with students from around the world?

Growing up, going to school and working in the same city gave me a pretty closed off perspective of the world of arts and culture. Travelling and studying abroad gave me an opportunity to become more independent, gain confidence in my knowledge, and broaden my perspectives on what arts and culture management means in other countries.

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Derek with MMIAM classmates at Monserrate mountain in Bogotá, Colombia, 2015. (Photo: MMIAM.)

What is one of the greatest challenges facing arts managers in your home country today? How do you think these challenges need to be addressed and by whom?

I find this question particularly challenging to answer on a national level, as I think the struggles of arts managers differ from region to region in Canada. However, one thing that is being talked about a lot lately in Canada is how we are developing and growing Canadian arts leaders. Many of the large arts institutions in Canada have been hiring people from the United Kingdom and the United States to take on leadership roles. I think that Canada has many bright, innovative and talented leaders who need an opportunity to prove themselves on a larger scale, but they are not given the chance. The MMIAM program and the Rozsa Foundation are at the forefront of training the next generation of arts leaders, and I think this is an important part of addressing this issue.

During your study year, you produced a very interesting project to help promote the MMIAM program. Can you tell us about it?

My friend and colleague John Wells and I worked on developing a video marketing project for the program. We had so many fantastic opportunities while travelling the world to see incredible performances, attend festivals, see new cities, and take in unique cultural experiences that we wanted a way to capture all of that. John was integral to this project as he worked tirelessly on editing, directing and producing the video. I was an assistant at best, but I was thrilled to be a part of it and happy to get to share our year of adventures with future cohorts.

MMIAM cohorts are an interesting part of the program, since they are small groups of international students.  Are you still in contact with people from your cohort?

I am still in contact with many of my cohort friends. I have been lucky to have had opportunities to travel to Europe since the program ended, as well as across Canada to visit with a few of my colleagues, which has been extremely rewarding for me. I truly feel like we became a little family in that year and I am always looking for opportunities to travel and visit my MMIAM colleagues.

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