Michelle Dalma graduated in 2017 with MMIAM 4. She has a background in Cultural Management after studying it at university and working for a few semesters in the cultural industry before beginning the MMIAM program. After MMIAM, she felt more prepared to tackle the challenges of an international arts manager. She is currently the Sponsorship Coordinator and Content Creator at La Ciudad de las Ideas in Mexico City, Mexico.
Could you talk about what Arts Management is and what it means to you? Did you know what it was before you started the program?
To me arts management is what enables us to have art as part of our lives. We help expand the arts and make them more accessible for everyone which helps bring people together. Although the arts will always be there, arts managers help make it run more smoothly and sustainably. Before MMIAM I studied a BA in modern languages and cultural management, so I had some background, but I still didn’t feel like I was prepared to go manage an arts or cultural organization. I didn’t really even know what the possibilities were. I thought that with my undergraduate degree I would either have to be a teacher or work on some government cultural project, but during MMIAM I learned there are many other opportunities and ways arts managers can contribute to the arts and culture.
Could you talk more about your work at La Ciudad de las Ideas?
La Ciudad de las Ideas is a three-day intensive festival that takes place in Puebla, Mexico every November. It brings together 60 international speakers to come and give talks, workshops or lectures about everything from technology, science, and AI, to culture, arts, politics, and activism. It’s a meeting place of ideas and networking for all kinds of people.
After the MMIAM I knew I wanted a project-based job so I was glad I found this job at the festival. When I started working at La Ciudad de las Ideas it was like I had two part time jobs. I helped the Director of Communications do the media and marketing for the festival and I helped the Director of Sponsorships organize and coordinate the sponsorships. It was especially difficult because I started in April 2018 which is only six months before the festival and I didn’t know how anything worked there. So I had to learn quickly and adjust to their work patterns. Now it’s my second year and I have a much better idea of what I’m doing. The Director of Sponsorships left for another job and the communication is now done by a coworker and myself, so I’m now basically doing both jobs. However, now I have a much better understanding of what I need to do and how best to do it, so even if it’s a lot more work it’s manageable and I enjoy it a lot!
The festival costs between USD $100 – $700, but half of the tickets are given away to students, organizations, or for individual scholarships. Doing ticketing like this is very important in Mexico because it allows people who normally couldn’t afford it, to go and enjoy the event. Of course, this is also difficult because ticket sales don’t get to cover even 5% of our budget, so it’s not exactly a sustainable approach and we have to get most of the money from sponsors to cover the costs.
What aspect(s) of the MMIAM program are the most valuable to your day-to-day functioning at La Ciudad de las Ideas?
The variety of classes and having an international group of students prepared me for just about everything that an arts manager could need. Actually, when I first entered the fundraising class in Dallas I thought to myself “This is the one class I’m sure I will never put to use”, and now I’m doing the sponsorships for the festival, so I guess it’s good that I took that class and learned from it! But besides fundraising, cultural policy, and cultural economics, just being in a classroom with arts managers with so many different backgrounds helped me develop knowledge on best practices, and new perspectives on problem-solving.
From the moment I entered the MMIAM classroom, I realized that arts management was all about connections. It’s about bringing people together in order to have arts and culture as part of our lives. During this year’s edition of La Ciudad de las Ideas, I felt like I got the perfect example of what can be accomplished through this network. I had the chance to invite two of my friends and colleagues. I met James while studying in Dallas, an amazing friend and photographer whom I could bring to Mexico to photograph the event and get amazing behind the scenes images. I also met Anna, one of my MMIAM classmates, who is now working at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montréal. She was able to put together a group of dancers that choreographed a piece especially for the event and we were able to fly them all here, Anna included, to perform two pieces during the event. It was great bringing these friends and arts managers together and include them during the event production.
What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in four different countries with students from around the world?
I’m a person who is good with change, but MMIAM helped me with that even more. We lived in four different countries, each with a different culture, people, and climate. So we had to constantly adjust to new things and learn how to deal with them. We learned how to live all over the world and that’s a pretty unique experience.
Being on the MMIAM helped me look at the arts from so many different points of view. You’re sharing a class with people from all different countries and they all have different perspectives on everything. You could be discussing something and know that you have the right answer, but then when someone says that in their country it’s different, you realize that there are a lot of different answers to the same question.
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?
Individual philanthropy doesn’t really exist in Mexico. It’s not really part of the Mexican culture. Instead, we get sponsorships from companies that are interested in advertising themselves for our audience. So they make donations to the festival and they get a tax write-off from the state for their contribution. Although this isn’t exactly fundraising like in the US, it’s very similar and requires the same skills.
I think Mexico is going through a curious process in the arts and culture sector. Most museums are free on Sundays and it’s been like that forever, which is great for making the arts more accessible for all, but it also contributes to this problem that people expect to not pay for art and culture experiences. If they can just go to the museum for free on Sundays and listen to some public concerts for free, why would they want to pay for other cultural events? So on the one hand people generally don’t think that the arts are the most important public good to support, but on the other, people are starting to realize how valuable art is. You see all these new approaches through schools and community centers that are changing the traditional perspective on who participates in culture.
What is one of the greatest challenges facing arts managers in your home country today?
For years we received money from the state and federal government to produce La Festival de Las Ideas. However, when our last president was elected, 80% of the funds that the festival had were canceled. So now we need to find a way to make that money up through sponsorships to produce a good festival. Like I said, culture funding is often the first one to get cut from government spending, but that just means that we need to adjust with new strategies.
What are you looking forward to in the arts or arts management?
In general I think it’s interesting how the arts must adapt to changes in entertainment and communication in the digital era. There are so many new technologies all the time that we need to constantly adjust to new challenges and opportunities.
On a personal level, I’m very interested in bringing arts into the classroom in Mexico. I was inspired after seeing how a high school in Dallas integrated the arts into its curriculum and I ended up writing my thesis on this topic. People are noticing how valuable art is, but it’s not good enough to just have music or theatre class. We should of course have these types of classes, but they could be integrated into the other classes to assist learning different subjects. Although I haven’t been able to start this project yet, it will definitely be something that I work on in the future!
Do you have any advice for current or future arts managers?
My advice would be to connect with every single person you meet, regardless of fields, interests and backgrounds. I’ve found that the best projects and improvements in the arts and culture sector come from connecting with others, using our networks and telling our story.