David Howson, the inaugural Arthur Zankel Director of Arts Administration, arrived at Skidmore last January to begin building a new new interdisciplinary program to prepare students for creative lives and management positions in the visual arts, music, dance, and theater.
We asked him five questions in our Management and Business Department sub-group in LinkedIn, but you’re welcome to ask him more. Just join the Skidmore Connections group and look for the MB sub-group.
Thanks for joining us, David. Here’s our first question: How should we think of the College’s new program in Arts Administration? Is it a kind of joint venture between the Department of Management and Business and the departments of Art, Art History, Music, Dance and Theater?
HOWSON: To me, the program is a natural outgrowth of Skidmore’s strong visual and performing arts departments and its popular management and business curriculum. It’s really the perfect complement for our existing programs but will offer students the opportunity to learn about arts organizations as institutions as well as look at the impact of philanthropy on the arts in the United States.
What’s the essence of what you aim to achieve with this new program?
HOWSON: Artists and arts organizations need smart people with artistic sensibilities and business savvy to help them navigate the world outside of the studio or the rehearsal hall. My hope is that we are preparing students with the knowledge and tools to make a difference and support the artistic enterprise. Within the last decade alone, the arts in the United States have faced enormous challenges that have fundamentally altered the way we produce and see art. (And by art I am including both visual arts and the performing arts.) And while technology has provided exciting new advances in art production, it has forever changed the distribution and dissemination of the artistic voice. What once took weeks or months to produce can now be uploaded and distributed world-wide by anyone almost instantaneously…and then copied a million times over. We need to prepare students to analyze and creatively solve problems that we can’t yet imagine.
How has the response been so far?
HOWSON: Thirty-five students are enrolled in Foundations of Arts Administration with interests varying widely. But, I think the most important thing for me has been having the support of the faculty and administration to really leverage our existing resources in ways that are collaborative and rewarding for our students. Students are attracted to great programs and that’s why they come to Skidmore. Arts administration gives them an opportunity to explore the intersection of two disciplines.
I must also add that the support from alumni has been amazing. Each week I get an e-mail or phone call from one or two alumni offering to be a resource for our students. The Skidmore connection is very real and the generosity of our alumni is sincere and heartfelt. We have alumni from almost every major working in arts organizations across the country. Engaging the power of that network is one of my priorities for the coming years.
In what ways does Skidmore’s offering in arts administration differ from approaches at other colleges?
HOWSON: Great question. Arts administration and arts management programs started out at the graduate level and I think you will see that several large public universities have strong undergraduate programs. Skidmore is uniquely positioned to be one of the few small liberal arts colleges to offer such a program. With on-campus resources like The Tang Teaching Museum, the new Zankel Music Center and our current academic programs in the arts, not to mention all of the arts organizations in Saratoga County and beyond, we have the opportunity to create something where students can put to practice what they are learning in the classroom.
What’s the first step for a student who’s interested?
HOWSON: First and foremost, students interested arts administration must have a passion for the arts and I encourage first-year students to get involved by attending exhibitions and performances. Discover the kind of art that moves you and then take the foundations course, AA 201.