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Seminars, conferences, networks, oh my!

by Marcella Dover Friday, March 29, 2013

This last semester of my second year is rushing by, and I “blame” the busy travel schedule on the Bolz Center's new director, Sherry! It’s thanks to her influence that I applied for—and was accepted into—an exclusive 10-day management seminar run by the League of American Orchestras called the Essentials of Orchestra Management. That was in early February, and then this month I found myself traveling to Milwaukee as a student board mentee for the conference and stage expo of the U.S. Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT), along with my classmate Laura Blegen, as part of Sherry’s initiative to bring more nonprofit board exposure to Bolz students. Both of these experiences have been excellent ways to connect with the performing arts industries in very meaningful ways. They’ve also made it hard to believe that April is already here!

The Essentials seminar was a deep dive into both practical and conceptual issues of symphony orchestras, which resonates directly with my career interests. My fellow participants came from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from grad students like myself and other mid-level administrators with some years of experience to senior-level managers running smaller organizations and back to career transitioners and others who are newer to the industry. There were four broad sections of subject matter—artistic programming, business models, community engagement, and leadership—thus creating touch points across all administrative departments in any given organization. 

I especially enjoyed the amazing lineup of guest speakers, each one sparking candid discussion on their topic. We spoke with several orchestra executive and department directors; freelance and full-time orchestra musicians; experts on nonprofit finances, labor negotiations, and musician unions; plus many more. Included in the program were several simulated exercises. For example, there was an ongoing project for a fictitious orchestra where we were divided into groups and assigned roles to contribute to the hiring of a new music director and the budgetary adjustments required to help alleviate our deficit. My role was the director of finance (no pressure there!). 

The USITT conference and stage expo was almost a flipside experience from the League’s Essentials program, in that USITT put the spotlight (literally) on the more technical side of performing arts. Laura and I had a wonderful time meeting the USITT board in person, through both sitting in on the annual conference meeting and engaging with members during various receptions and conference seminars. The event brought together thousands of participants to recognize achievement in the industry and share advancements in both technology and career management. The show floor at Milwaukee’s Delta Center was a spectacular sight, with impressive display booths and friendly interactions between vendors, students, educators, and industry experts. I really appreciated this exposure into the world of stage management, lighting, costume design, and production. Of the experience, Laura shared: “For me, going to the USITT conference was a great way to reconnect in an intense way with an industry that I love and hope to return to after graduation. We met a lot of really interesting people and heard some great stories about how those people have developed their careers."

As so-called “guinea pigs” of USITT’s new initiative to bring in annual student board mentees, I know that Laura and I experienced the great potential of the program to create a close relationship between arts management, nonprofit board involvement, and the amazing USITT network. I can’t wait to see how it evolves!