SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Fall 2001)
SUU's new graduate program embraces all the arts
by Paul Husselbee
Arts organizations, large and small, all over the country, need administrators with training, not only in the arts themselves, but also in the management, marketing and promotion of the arts.
SUU is preparing to fill that need with future alumni via its newest graduate program: a master of fine arts in arts administration. The University welcomed the first class of eight MFA students in August.
The two-year program is one of the few arts administration MFA programs in the United States to combine academics with professional multidisciplinary arts training. Robert Fass, the newly hired director of the master's program, says, "Our students will be cross-trained, not only in theatre, but in dance, in music, and in visual art as well."
Most programs in the U.S. focus specifically on theatre management, visual arts management, etc.," he continues. "Our multidisciplinary approach will broaden the experiential knowledge of our students and open the job market upon graduation."
Helen Cruz joins Fass as associate professor of fine arts, and says the program will prepare students "to fulfill leadership roles in the arts. Out of this program, we will see people who are ready to enter into upper-level management positions. There is a need in the United States for formal education for arts administrators. We will prepare people to move into those positions with business and management sense."
Most people connected with SUU's new master's program in arts administration tend to credit its genesis to Christine Frezza, assistant professor of theatre arts, who also serves as music director for the Utah Shakespearean Festival. Frezza, however, gives the credit to Mac McIntyre, who retired as a professor of theatre arts after the 2000-2001 academic year. McIntyre was chair of the theatre department in 1996, and Frezza says it was he who saw the potential for such a program.
"Mac thought we should consider it and asked me to design the curriculum for a graduate program in arts administration for our department, " Frezza says.
Frezza contacted her friend and colleague, Marilyn Coleman, who had had a hand in helping small arts organizations and working in arts administration graduate programs.
An initial proposal was drafted in early '97 and when President Steven Bennion came on board later that year, he was in full support of the concept, recognizing a need to do a better job of highlighting the University's significant arts prog rams.
"We looked at our arts programs, and they were buried somewhere in a humanities discipline," Bennion says. "Because of their nature, we felt they needed a unique vehicle of administration so we created the College of Performing and Visual Arts."
Charles Metten was hired as the dean of the new college. "We realized that, with the opportunity students have to gain professional experience working with our arts professionals at the Festival, the (American) Folk Ballet and the (Braithwaite Fine Arts) Gallery, an MFA program in arts administration would be a natural for this campus," Metten says.
One representative from each of the four disciplines--art, dance, music and theatre--in the College of Performing and Visual Arts, as well as administrators from the Festival, Ballet and Gallery were appointed to serve on a committee charged to put together a proposal for a master of fine arts degree. Shauna Mendini, assistant professor of dance and associate chair of the department of theatre arts and dance, was appointed committee chair.
"The new program concept was much more exciting because it was not just theatre arts administration but arts administration across the disciplines," Frezza says. "We had one of those frustrating, exhilarating experiences of bringing all the arts together, working to design the curriculum. All the artists had to get to know each other and learn to speak a new language encompassing the whole idea of arts administration."
Mendini agrees that the work was very collaborative and credits former Provost Ray Reutzel and his staff for patience and guidance. Metten also cited tremendous interdisciplinary cooperation with the School of Business, particularly from Associate Dean John Groesbeck.
Finally, after a year's careful work, the day came to present the program proposal to the Board of Regents. Part of the presentation included an entertaining and comedic routine by Metten and USF founder Fred Adams as they answered the Regents' questions about the proposal. Eventually, the Regents voted overwhelmingly to approve the new MFA program. "The interdisciplinary focus and thrust made it quite easy to rally behind," Bennion says.
The next step? To interview candidates for the director of the program position. "We interviewed several good candidates, and we got a real good one," Mendini says.
That "real good one" was Fass. He came to SUU from The Shakespeare in the Park company in Ft. Worth, Texas. When Fass joined them in '96, the company was heavily in debt. Attendance was sagging, and community contributions were declining. Prospects for improvement seemed bleak. But, by three years later, Fass had raised enough money to eliminate the decade-old deficit. His marketing plans had increased ticket sales by five percent a year, contributions by 15 percent, and the operating budget eventually increased to $1 million annually. Now, as SUU's MFA point man, Fass will help students learn how to do what he did for the Texas arts company.
Fass first became acquainted with SUU while serving with Adams and USF Managing Director R. Scott Phillips ('75, Business Administration) in the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America. "I had attended numerous conferences and workshops with Fred and Scott, as well as various other members of the Festival staff," Fass says. "I knew the quality of the work they do here." Plus, Fass says, "The foundation is solid (for the SUU program). It's a very supportive foundation. The administration and the dean have been steadfast in their support." All things combined, the new director admits that is was a "fairly easy decision to want to come here and be a part of it."
In addition to his duties as director of the MFA program, Fass will serve as co-executive director of the American Folk Ballet. His administrative partner at the ballet will be Cruz, the other fulltime faculty member in the MFA program.
Cruz was teaching at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., and was intrigued when she learned that SUU sought an associate professor for a new MFA program. "I want our students to succeed; I want to work with them and see them do well," she says.
In addition to Fass and Cruz, the program will benefit from the experience and instruction of three Professional Guest Faculty members: Adams, Phillips and Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery Director Lydia Johnson.
Adams will teach one master course to each new incoming class. "I will concentrate primarily on the organization of a dream," Adams says, "and Scott and I will probably be team-teaching. Right now, we are planning for a class called, 'How Artistic and Managerial Forces Work Together.' It will be a good course with fun readings and a lot of good discussion."
Adams says the MFA program will also be able to take advantage of the many "top-shelf" people who come from all over the country to work at the Utah Shakespearean Festival each summer. "That's the strength of a graduate program - good people you can draw on," he says. "We have some wonderful people we bring in for the Festival every year-directors, designers, key administrators, casting directors. These are people from respected university and professional programs all over the country who are already working with us during Festival season and could serve as adjunct instructors while they are here."
In addition to being one of the few arts administration MFA programs in the country to stress multidisciplinary training in theatre, dance, music and visual art, SUU's new program will also be one of the only programs that combines academics with assistantships in strong professional arts organizations.
The curriculum and program design were based on similar programs at Yale University and the University Alabama. But Fass says, "Our training reaches a wider range of arts disciplines. We believe we are the only such program in the Southwest."
Students in the SUU program will complete courses in arts administration, written communication, social and government relations, marketing, fundraising and development, leadership training and development, artistic development, accounting, human resource management, and legal aspects of working with non-profit organizations. Students will spend six consecutive semesters- including both summer terms- in the two-year program.
One of the program's greatest draws, Fass says, will be the quality of its assistantships. "I think the heart and soul of the program will be its combination of professional and practical experience combined with academic coursework.
"Our students will study marketing in a classroom in the morning, and by that afternoon, they will be practicing what they have just learned in one of the organizations."
Cruz adds that the students' experiences in the professional programs will back up what they learn in the classroom and will become a common experience as they rotate through the various professional assignments. "It will create a dialogue in the classroom that is unique to their education," she says.
"The application is extremely important," Fass states. "What's so magical is that the student is not the only beneficiary; the organization will receive tremendous benefits from the service the students will provide."
Each student will complete a rotated practicum at each of the professional affiliates, and each will serve an internship. A professional capstone project will take the place of the traditional master's thesis.
"We have the best of both worlds in Cedar City because we straddle two totally opposite cultures," Adams says. "In Salt Lake City, we have the arts culture. In Las Vegas, we have the entertainment culture. I think there are many, many more possibilities for internships than we will ever have interns."
To attract the best-qualified students available, Fass recruited nationally before selecting the MFA program's first incoming class. Announcements were made to every undergraduate program in art, dance, theatre and music in the country as to the days and times of interviews.
"Aside from several regional sites, we went to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York to interview applicants," Fass says. "Through that campaign, we put together a class of students that we are already proud of; a class that we think will do the University proud as our first graduating class."
Four of the eight MFA students are from Utah, and recent SUU alumni. The other four are from California, Missouri, New York and Taiwan.
"It's a diverse class," Fass says. "The students represent all four disciplines and their initial areas of administration vary."
Although a class of eight students may sound small, Metten says it is actually just right. "If they're going to get the kinds of experiences they need, there has to be a lot of one-on-one instruction, a lot of personal attention," he says. " In particular, the final project will be such an under taking that a professor will have to work closely with each student."
Students who complete the program successfully will be qualified for a variety of professional positions in arts administration, Cruz notes. "In smaller organizations, I think we will see people become marketing directors, business managers, some will even be ready to be general managers. In larger organizations, certainly we will see some of our graduates become assistants to a general manager, a development director or a marketing director."
Yet another group, maybe not-so-readily thought of as beneficiary to the SUU MFA program, is that of undergraduate students. Although the MFA students will not present in instructional capacities, they will undoubtedly serve as mentors. "They will work with the undergraduates in critical areas and provide a professional focus," Adams predicts. "This will provide a mentoring element to the undergraduate students. I don't think you could put a cost analysis on that."
This type of program, too, is a draw for art grants. In fact, Fass was key in garnering a $10,000 grant from the National College Choreographers Initiative, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will provide funds for a three-week residency at the University by national artists who will work with students on the choreography of "There Is A Time," one of the all-time masterpieces of José Limón, a pioneer and master in the field of modern dance.
The MFA program can only enhance the University's development and reputation, Bennion states. "We hope to have on this campus a wide range of master's programs that will provide an array of skills--at least one in each college, " he says. "This MFA applies to all arts disciplines and therefore will have a unifying influence on our programs."
He concludes, "As a niche program unmatched by any other university in the state or region, the MFA in arts administration will give identity to the arts not only on campus, but beyond."
Paul Husselbee is an assistant professor of communication at SUU.