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Jaron Bernstein

Back to School?

by Jaron Bernstein Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The past six weeks have been quite the whirlwind! In that time, I quit my job of seven years, packed all my belongings in a U-Haul, left my home city of eleven years, and arrived in the new town where I’ll spend the next two years pursuing my MBA. Upon arriving, I unpacked and set up my apartment, found essentials like a grocery store and a dry cleaner, and explored my new neighborhood for the best restaurants and running routes. Before I knew it, it was time for Orientation: two weeks of sessions and meeting my new classmates, familiarizing myself with Grainger Hall and (some of) the rest of campus, and discussing hopes and expectations for my two years here. And after all that change, adjustment and preparation for my new life here in Madison, this week I finally found myself in a classroom - with reading and homework assignments - and I had to ask myself: Wow, am I really doing this?

I should clarify: my astonishment was not out of displeasure. On the contrary, I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the Class of 2018! Rather, I didn’t know until recently that grad school was my path. After graduating from undergrad with a BA in Theatre, I was fortunate enough to land a position in the Development Department at Writers Theatre outside of Chicago, where I had interned during the spring of my senior year. Though my initial career goal was to be an actor, I quickly learned that sharing my passion for theatre with donors and patrons, bringing them closer to the art and giving them ownership over what they saw on stage, was just as fulfilling as actually being on stage, and I decided arts administration was the career path for me.

However, grad school was still not a part of the plan. It wasn’t until WT undertook a $34 million capital campaign to build a new theatre facility that my perspective on the impact of the arts grew beyond individual patrons and funders to encompass entire communities. More precisely, through a grant we received (that I helped submit) from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program, my eyes were opened to the world of Creative Placemaking. It was then that I began researching how to build a career in this newly defined field, and it became clear that grad school - specifically an MBA - would be the logical next step. Immediately, the Bolz Center stood out as the best fit - a place that offered the opportunity to gain the leadership, analytical and decision-making skills of a traditional MBA in an environment of experienced arts leaders who understood my background, my career goals, and why an MBA made sense for me, all while providing a deep dive into the relevant topics and idiosyncrasies of management in the creative industries. WT opened its new facility in February 2016, and five months later, I left to start my new adventure at the Bolz Center and the Wisconsin School of Business.

Following the Bolz Center, I hope to help create cross-sector partnerships to use the arts as a tool to stimulate cultural and economic development in communities, either as a manger of a performing arts organization or through work in the philanthropic sector. I know I will be well-positioned to embark on these goals after my time here. Still, after seven years in the workforce, I’m finding myself doing a little pinching that I’m back in school. I know I’ll get used to the homework, and eventually make the full adjustment back to student life. For now, I’m focused on enjoying every moment. I know these two years will be a whirlwind; at least that’s what everyone tells me.