Emily Caigan graduated from Skidmore in 1989 with a major in Theater and a minor in English Literature, but her career has gone in a very business-oriented direction. With a master’s degree from Goddard College in interdisciplinary arts and a professional certificate in arts administration from New York University, she has launched her own enterprise, Legacy Arts Management, LLC, focused on advising artists on managing their assets.
“One of the most interesting aspects is what one calls an ‘asset” in the arts,” she writes. “There are ‘products’, but also collected letters, old 8mm film, 1/2 inch tape and the stories that are still untold that can be turned into different narrative media. This is succession planning, project design & management, and product development. I work with artists and arts organizations and the lawyers, accountants and Boards of Directors who work with my clients in order to concretize and distribute products called art, theater, books, and intellectual property.”
Thanks for joining us, Emily. How did you find your way to this line of work? And how, exactly, would you describe it?
Caigan: This is a relatively new field. I have heard people say that the US is no longer a leading producer of “products”, but I find that to be a limited view. We produce a tremendous amount of cultural capital. That is the focus of my work, harnessing this capital in the present, so that it is not lost when an artist dies or an organization closes.
I came to this work after working in many different areas of arts management and education.
Skidmore taught me to think from multiple perspectives while focused on a single story. I do this every day in my work. I am committed to cultural history as an important legacy. This means how we as a society tell stories. What we value is dictated by what we see, hear and read. I work with artists and arts organizations to best tell their stories.
At Skidmore I also learned to be “hands-on”, and that is vital in how I approach my work. I have literally removed paintings from a mouse- infested shed because I believed that they might be an important piece of an artist’s career. They were later shown at PPOW Gallery in New York City and at museums. It was an incredibly exciting and challenging project.
In short, I am the person who takes a “needs assessment” to the next step.
Can you elaborate on that? For an artist or an arts organization, what elements does a “needs assessment” generally encompass?
Caigan: Each working artist is a sole- proprietor business. I work with artists and their staff (if they have one) to assess how each area of the business works. New York Foundation for the Arts is a good resource for learning about best business practices in the arts. Their resource list is quite useful.
For non-profit and commercial arts businesses, a needs assessment is a review of a business plan.
Partnering with other organizations is a current trend in arts management. Cultural Blueprints is a new program from the NY State Council for the Arts. It is focused on economic development, using arts organizations as a driving element for tourism and real estate development. Its goal is to improve communities and build partnerships between organizations, which will ultimately save money and make money.
After a needs assessment I am available for project management, program design, and educational outreach. I also refer clients to services and other consultants when there is an issue outside my scope of work. There are no kickbacks, just good will and community building.
In what ways has your study of theater at Skidmore been helpful to you in your career?
Caigan: First and foremost, the professors supported my ideas and challenged me to make them a reality.
Here is an example, Jeff Sichel ’89 and I wanted more opportunities for student productions each semester. Dave Yergan said, “Produce them yourselves!”
We spoke with Carolyn Anderson, Alma Becker and Larry Opitz — all of whom are still at Skidmore. They told us what was required in order to make our idea of a five- production semester a reality. Jeff and I wrote a proposal, it was accepted and the Theater Committee was formed. We asked for 2 students from each year to volunteer as producers and we were off and running. The next year the same proposal was accepted. A freshman on the committee came to a meeting and gave us our notes typed and laminated. Jeff and I had a good laugh. It looked so official. We had written a business plan and project management guidelines without fully realizing what it would mean for the students who followed us. This program was in place for many years after Jeff and I had graduated.
I have studied production models since that experience, but the skill building that I learned at Skidmore is a cornerstone for how I work today. I was mentored in the theater department. I encourage business students to get involved with the theater, dance, music, and visual arts programs and offer your management services. It is a great way to gain experience.
Do you have any suggestions for Skidmore as we develop our program in arts administration?
Caigan: I think that students interested in the arts would benefit from studying the constitution of the United States. It is regularly used to support and challenge artistic freedom. Our non-profit institutions are funded in part by tax dollars and this structure presents unique problems.
In the 1990’s there was the controversy with the NEA4.
Today the controversy is at the the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. They have been told to remove a video by David Wojnarowicz due to its content. The US government has threatened to pull the museums funding if it does not comply.
Below is a brief description from the NY Times:
“The video, called ‘A Fire in My Belly,’ was created by David Wojnarowicz and was being shown as part of an exhibition called ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.’ The exhibition, which opened on Oct. 30, addresses issues of sexual and gender identity and bills itself as ‘the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture.’”
For more information see the full article.
What happens to arts administration (and in this case curators) when the division of church and state is compromised by political leaders who can pull funding from a major institution?
If I was at Skidmore and had the opportunity to study arts administration this would be my topic of choice!
Knowing now how your careeer has gone, is there anything you would have done differently during your student days at Skidmore? If so, what?
Caigan: I had many wonderful opportunities at Skidmore. I do wish that I had studied Spanish rather than French, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.