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Robust Research in the Bolz Center for Arts Administration

by Sherry Wagner-Henry Thursday, October 3, 2013
Over the past year, as I settled into my role as director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, I noticed that when I would describe research projects the center is involved with, people tended to assume that this was a new direction for our center. In fact, our students have been conducting research for as long as the degree in arts administration has existed: completing a thesis is required as the capstone of their degree program. In just the last two years, our MBA students’ theses have explored performance metrics for nonprofit theaters, how state networks influence public policy in the arts, successful strategies for using social media in the arts, and integrating marketing and development departments within nonprofit performing arts organizations, among other topics. We are currently exploring digitizing our archive of student theses so that arts administrators across the country and around the world might benefit from the knowledge created here at our school.

In addition, we have two new initiatives to announce, both of which allow our students to deepen their knowledge of arts administration through research and, at the same time, have an impact on the world outside our school—an example of the Wisconsin Idea at work.

First, our students have begun participating in the Bill Dawson Research Initiative in a more robust way. This initiative was created eight years ago to honor this beloved University of Wisconsin-Madison instructor by allowing Bolz Center students to attend the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), which Dawson headed. Last year, we changed the format of the initiative, so that all first-year students from our center attend the conference, which is held in January in New York City. Instead of quickly developing projects to present at the conference, students immerse themselves in the conference without having to worry about presenting. Then, they work together to identify and carry out a research project, and I work with the APAP staff to select one student to deliver the final report as part of a 10-week summer fellowship at the APAP offices in Washington, D.C. This allows for thoughtful selection and deep exploration of a topic, and creates a meaningful research experience for one student. In 2013, Megan Krefting (now a second-year MBA student) was selected to deliver the first project, a market research study to prepare for the launch of an online discussion forum for APAP members.

Second, the Bolz Center received a request from the City of Waunakee to help the city explore how to better use the arts to spur economic development in their community. Our center is applying for a National Endowment for the Arts research grant to conduct this project, which would focus on interim metrics that allow assessing an arts initiative’s early success before the initiative begins, measurably driving job creation and consumer spending. If we are awarded this grant, it will provide an exciting opportunity for our students to put what they learn into practice, applying their core MBA coursework in finance, marketing, data-driven decisions, and economic development to the problem at hand.

Finally, I want to mention the Arts Business Initiative, which has already developed a course in business skills for arts practitioners that offers enrollment campus-wide. This course covers entrepreneurship finance; risk management; legal, copyright, and tax matters; securing grants; finding donors; negotiating contracts; and pricing one’s work, among other topics. We are also creating a board leadership development program, another campus-wide course in which participants would learn about governance and leadership issues in the classroom and through serving as nonvoting board members for Madison-area nonprofits. And we have launched the New Arts Venture Challenge, a contest that recognizes and supports arts-driven entrepreneurship. Knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination are equally important. Both are strong at the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, and we look forward to increasing our impact even further with these new initiatives.