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Amber Porter

An MBA for the Community

by Amber Porter Wednesday, June 5, 2019

If you aren’t in the arts and you ask me about the Wisconsin MBA in Arts Administration, I would tell you that leaders of arts organizations need to be able to “hold their own” in conversations with their accountant and financial advisors.

It is a graspable concept - but that wasn’t the point of my MBA.

I applied to the Bolz Center in the fall of 2016. In my admissions essay, I wrote:

“Now more than ever, I feel the importance of drawing communities into a theater, filling up the house on both sides of the aisle, and sharing an experience that is a revelation of the best of humanity, the beauty of art sparking conversation.”

Over the last two years, my understanding of what I can do with my degree has expanded – I’ve learned that sometimes the art is in sparking the conversations themselves.

In October 2018, my classmate Nick Pjevach and I joined UW-Extension’s Todd Johnson and his Design Wisconsin team for a “design charrette” with the community of Ellsworth, WI. I had spent the first year of this program studying creative placemaking, but this was my first experience “in the field,” engaging with stakeholders to help them realize their dreams for their communities. Posing and shaping questions to guide community conversation – and then facilitating the discussion at one of the tables – was a lightbulb moment for me.

I came back to Madison energized, with an idea of how to apply the same concepts for the improvement of our Full-Time MBA Program. With the FTMBA Inclusion Committee, I had the opportunity to empower my classmates to share and realize their ideas for a brighter future within the four walls of Grainger Hall. Within a month of returning from Ellsworth, I adapted the process utilized by Design Wisconsin to introduce a new format of “listening sessions” and spark conversation among my classmates in a more dynamic way.

The art of these conversations is in the shift of the power dynamic. For workshop attendees, it appears that the facilitator has the power. But the core lesson from creative placemaking is that to be successful, you must give the community the power to shape their own future. It’s the core lesson of DEI work as well: the change comes when you share your power and privilege.

The Bolz Center Class of 2020 will be carrying on this legacy as they work with Todd Johnson and Design Wisconsin on their Capstone Consulting project next year. Meanwhile, I take my next step with the American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, taking the power and privilege of a Fortune 500 company and sharing it through investment in social impact startups. Their mission is to close equity gaps, and I’m thrilled to use everything I’ve learned to help them on their journey.

Thank you all for your support these last two years. I hope to see you soon. On, Wisconsin!