For Eric Yang, the MMIAM program combined his love of the arts and interest in business. In the almost three years since, he has lived in Amsterdam and worked as a consultant for Deloitte, bridging artistic practice and corporate environments. Eric is a musician, who has put out three albums and several commercials and film scores. He is also a private pilot and master scuba diver! I recently met Eric to chat about his background, experience in the program, and what he’s been up to since graduating.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your interest in the arts?
My name is Eric. I’m originally from China but had been living in Canada since high school. My bachelor’s degree was in a completely different field: I studied geology, basically, the study of rocks and the earth. But I did a lot of cultural activities, as well. I organized concerts with friends and I am also a musician. Even though I studied geology, after I graduated, I went through a process of trying to begin a career in something I was really passionate about. I didn’t think I wanted to commit to being a “real” artist, so I chose the middle ground: art management. This worked because I was also interested in business.
This program came to my attention and I sent a couple emails to François and Anne-Marie [the MMIAM co-director and coordinator at HEC Montréal] and some alumni to ask about their experience, all of which were quite positive and it got me thinking I should go for it. I also loved the idea of traveling while studying, it was a major factor and an amazing opportunity to experience the arts and culture.
During the program, initially, I wasn’t sure what to do after graduation. I am passionate about music, but also really love visual arts, I felt I was a bit all over the place. I discovered a passion for management consulting for arts and cultural organizations, since I have a huge interest in different forms of art. I would love to help organizations deliver high quality arts and arts programs with the skills I learned from the MMIAM program.
The firms specifically doing projects with arts and culture are quite limited and on top of that, I wasn’t sure if they would hire someone who was relatively junior. So, I decided to start somewhere more general, just to get my foot in the door. I wanted to spend time learning how consultation projects work, how to handle clients, the whole scope of work. So I was lucky enough to land a job at Deloitte in the Netherlands. In working there, well I’m still here, it’s been two and a half years, and I’m still looking at sometime in the future, transferring back into the arts, hopefully once I have more experience.
That’s great. So, had you ever been to the Netherlands? Or was that just where the job was?
I tried to do my best to find a job in Europe after being in Italy—I really like the European lifestyle and there’s so much culture—I wasn’t ready to go back to Canada yet. But in Italy, the language part was a barrier for me. So I did a Google search: “what countries can you live and work with a visa” and as a SDA Bocconi graduate, the Netherlands provided the option for a yearlong visa. They also helped with employer sponsorships. It was a bit of an accident. But it worked out.
So tell me about your work. How do you use the skills you’ve acquired in the program?
It was a bit difficult to find a common ground between the program and my day-to-day job. But I have. My thesis focused on artistic intervention, meaning using artistic practices as a part of organizational transformation. It could be that an organization is setting a new target or working in a different way—new team structure, software, technology, and so on—but the core of that change is people’s behavior and behind that behavior is their belief system.
This got me thinking, when you break it down to that level, and you talk about belief systems, an organization can’t just say ‘hey, we’re going to make some changes tomorrow,’ no, it doesn’t work like that. People are afraid of change. So, in order for people to believe that the change is of benefit to them, you must lead them to believe that this is something visionary and everyone has to see and believe in that vision if people are going to move forward together in a beneficial way. To do this, you need media, and arts are a great media. When we experience the arts together, we’re more open to each other, we want to share our perspectives and our stories. That is something that large organizations can use to effectively implement change programs.
It’s also beneficial to the arts organization, to be able to offer such a service. There are music festivals and other experiences open to the public, but there are only so many experiences that are B2B or business to business. Perhaps one of the most old school ones is the corporate collection.
So, bringing arts into cultural transformation is something new in the area and it can be quite cross disciplinary. I’ve brought this idea to my bosses and they really like it. Some of the partners are interested in adding ‘artistic intervention’ as a service we offer to clients. I have been placed on a team called Human Capital Consulting. We offer services to all human capital related issues. Basically, helping people to do the right job at the right time. There is a lot of work to be done. Apart from my daily client project, I delegate much of my spare time at work to pushing this idea forward and I’m excited to see it come alive with the right opportunity.
Let’s go back to the program itself. What was your favorite experience?
Definitely Bogota. It was too short but such an amazing experience. It was great to see the fusion of arts and culture but also history and struggle. We had a very small cohort, in the beginning we were all trying to merge and figure it out, but over the course of the year you’re developing this shared experience. I also enjoyed Montréal.
Also, I’d like to shout out to François Colbert. It’s amazing how he has brought this program and each of the students who complete it together. It’s an incredible experience.
Since we’re talking about travel, let’s end on a fun question: where will you travel next?
For personal travel, I would love to go back to Canada to visit family and friends. It’s been too long!