Transitioning from centre stage to behind the scenes: An interview with Shayna Schlosberg, Managing Director of The Catastrophic Theatre in Houston, Texas

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Shayna ShlosbergShayna Schlosberg was a professional actor in the United States before deciding to pursue graduate studies in international arts management. She graduated from the MMIAM program in 2014 and is now the Managing Director of The Catastrophic Theatre in Houston, Texas. What made her decide to make this career change and how did her studies help her in her current position?

What made you decide to make the career change from artist to arts manager?

Admittedly I had very little experience in arts management before applying to the program. I had a BFA in Drama but decided not to pursue performing as a career. After taking a break from acting, I realized I wanted to work in the arts, but as an administrator rather than as an artist. I believe cross-cultural exchange is very powerful and I wanted to learn how to create more opportunities for artistic and creative exchange between different cultures.

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

I am the Managing Director for The Catastrophic Theatre in Houston. We are a small staff, so I wear many hats, but my primary responsibilities include strategic planning, fundraising, board governance, and financial management.

Photo credit: Pin Lim.

Tamarie’s Merry Evening of Mistakes and Regrets by Tamarie Cooper and Friends. Photo: Pin Lim.

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

Our courses in financial management, fundraising and leadership have been the most valuable to my career so far. We received very practical tools and skills in these classes which I put into practice as soon as I started working. I still use a lot of the materials shared in our fundraising course at Southern Methodist University. The courses in comparative international cultural policy and cultural economics with Kathleen Gallagher provided a strong theoretical foundation. In these courses, we learned about the history of funding for the arts in the United States and the particular economic challenges that the cultural sector faces.

Which campus was the most memorable for you and why?

This is difficult to decide, because each campus was memorable in its own way. I’d have to say the semester in Montreal was the most memorable, because we were there in the dead of winter. I’m from Texas, so I had never experienced that kind of winter before! Living through winter in Montreal is an educational experience unto itself. It was also my favorite city of the three.

How did your studies change your perspective of arts management practices in your home country?

I gained an appreciation for the singular approach to funding the arts in the United States. We often lament how little federal funding is given to the arts here compared to Europe, for example, which I agree is problematic. However, as a result, there is a vibrant and democratic culture of philanthopy in the U.S. that has produced a very healthy and diverse arts and cultural sector.

What are the current trends in the cultural sector in your home country and what new opportunities are emerging for arts managers as a result?

I’ve noticed that funders, particularly foundations, are now investing more in organizations that provide services to multiple not-for-profits rather than to individual not-for-profits. Funders are looking to support projects with the broadest impact. This trend offers both opportunities and threats to arts managers. For someone like me in a leadership position at a mid-sized organization,  this could allow my organization to continue growing administratively without having to assume the costs of hiring new full-time staff members. However, this trend reduces mid-level management opportunities in the sector and is also taking away from very crucial general operating support grants to individual organizations.

What is one of the greatest challenges facing arts managers in your home country today?

Oh boy! Where to begin! I would say a stagnant economy is our greatest challenge today. Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living in the U.S. and this greatly impacts both artists and patrons.

An international approach to training the next generation of arts managers – In conversation with Alex Turrini, SDA Bocconi

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Alex TurriniAlex Turrini is a member of the MMIAM Program Committee, in addition to being former Director of the Master in Arts Management and Administration (MAMA) at SDA Bocconi in Milan. Alex has been instrumental in developing the academic program for the MMIAM program in Milan.  We asked him to talk a bit about the focus of study at SDA Bocconi, the final phase of the MMIAM year.

SDA Bocconi in Milan is the third and final phase of the MMIAM program, from the end of April until the end of July.  What is the focus of study in Milan?

When in Milan, MMIAM students explore the arts world in Europe from an artistic and managerial/policy perspective. They are engaged in field projects, off-campus visits and guest lectures with practitioners within the three workshops SDA Bocconi develops for MMIAM: the performing arts workshop, the heritage management workshop and the consulting management workshop. The latter brings students to work for an Italian institution which engages them as consultants. Last year, we worked in Chiusi (close to Siena, Tuscany), investigating the rebranding of this little city that is one of the most important Etruscan cities in Italy. This year we will partner with the City of Cremona, the birthplace of Stradivari.

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Teamwork project for the city of Chiusi. Photo credit: Alex Turrini.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

The globalization of the cultural sector is happening at a very fast pace. Even careers in the arts are more and more international. Let’s take Italy as an example. Ten years ago, no one could have ever imagined that the director of the Uffizi Gallery would be German! In this context, an arts manager needs to understand quickly the different cultural mindset, institutional arrangements, backgrounds. Being an international arts manager is a necessity nowadays.

What innovative ideas have you observed in the cultural sector in Italy which are leading the new wave in cultural management?

I see cultural innovation and entrepreneurship emerging as a new wave in the Italian cultural arena. Thanks to new technologies and innovative ideas, startups are flourishing in the field. It’s normal. If the cultural sector or the arts do not welcome and foster innovation, what is their true value?

The MMIAM program is unique in that it is the only international arts management program which is taught on three campuses of internationallyrecognized universities.  Why do you think this model is so important for the students?

I think that field experiences in different settings accelerate the capacity of learning. Many top universities explore double and triple degrees for this reason. In the arts, MMIAM stands alone as the only program giving students this opportunity in outstanding universities in the field of arts management and entrepreneurship.

MMIAM students from the 4th cohort visiting Teatro Franco Parenti in Milan

MMIAM students from the 4th cohort visiting Teatro Franco Parenti in Milan. Photo credit: Alex Turrini.

At Bocconi, the MMIAM students are in classes together with students from the MAMA program.  How does this model benefit the students in both programs?

The Masters in Arts Management and Administration (MAMA) is a resident Masters program at Bocconi designed to strengthen management competencies for students passionate about the arts. Thanks to this ‘injection’, the MMIAM students have the opportunity to grow their professional networks. We believe that nurturing an exclusive international network of arts professionals and managers will benefit the arts organizations who choose this talent for their management teams. They may be assured of the management focus and skills of MAMA-MMIAM graduates. It will also help the MAMA-MMIAM alumni to share information and professional advice from their peers. I believe that often managers find solutions to their workplace problems outside their organizations and the MAMA-MMIAM network might be the place to find those solutions.

A visit of the France pavillion at the Milan World Expo 2015

A visit of the France pavillion at the Milan World Expo 2015. Photo credit: Laura Adlers.