One of the privileges that comes with going to a small university is that students have close relationships with their professors. Because this is the case, students have the opportunity to transform their own education. By being in dialogue with professors about how they can optimize learning and reach their full potential, students can change the way education operates for other students as well as themselves. They can create harmony between various disciplines and prevent the pigeon-holing of students who are interested in going far beyond their major's focus.
This idea of students creating their own paths of study is especially important in an age when the humanities and the arts are considered less productive than business studies or the sciences. If students can find a way to reconcile the soul-forming qualities of the humanities and the practicality of the sciences, they should feel the freedom to do so.
North Park's new Arts Administration major is the perfect example of the way that students can work with professors to close the divide between the arts and business. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of contacting Christina Sawyer, a senior at North Park, about how she and a few other fellow music students shaped their own educations and facilitated the creation of a new major.
MG: Tell me a little bit about your major and the direction you plan to take with it.
CS: Arts Administration is a fairly new major in the music department that, broadly explained, bridges the gap between the arts and business. Personally, I'm very drawn to grant writing and program development for nonprofits. My internship with Hope For The Day (a local organization focused on suicide prevention through education and the arts) has solidified these passions for me. We'll see what happens after graduation in May. The wonderful thing about this major is that you have plenty of room for electives that make it your own.
MG: So you sort of built your own major a couple years back. What sparked the desire to do this?
CS: Firstly, the only "credit" I can take is the fact that I asked for a new major that blended music and business. In the middle of my sophomore year, I was breezing through my B.A. Music degree and wasn't satisfied. I'd actually started off at NPU as a composition major, but I soon realized I didn't want to teach or perform for a living. Speaking with fellow music students, many of us realized we felt the same. We wanted to keep performing and growing as musicians, but we had other passions and gifts that were being neglected. There was no major that blended music and business, and I felt that there was a substantial demand for such a relevant pairing. As it turned out, I wasn't the only one.
MG: What were a couple of things you felt necessitated the creation of a new major?
CS: While I could've just started over as a business major with a minor in music, that didn't make sense to me. Why not create a major that allowed someone to firstly be a musician/artist and then translate that over into management or development? After all, no one understands other artists better than a fellow artist. Other local universities had degrees like "Music Business Management" or "Performing Arts Management", and it seemed only logical for North Park University to stay current and embrace that idea in a musical city like Chicago.
MG: Describe the creation process. Who did you work with? What did you have to do?
CS: This is the part where I give a HUGE shout-out and express my gratefulness to Dr. Helen Hudgens, my faculty advisor. She didn't just listen to our desires and dreams; she acted and met the need she saw. She was truly an advocate for all of us, and we wouldn't have the programs we have today without her. There was a lot of red tape to go through and approval that was necessary before our dreams could be realized. Working with Dean Johnson, three new B.A. programs were introduced my junior year: Composition, Jazz Studies, and Arts Administration. Previously, composition had only been a concentration.
MG: Was it just a matter of taking a certain combination of classes or did you do independent studies to shape your own education?
CS: Thankfully, because there is a lot of room for electives, I was able to take more nonprofit and business courses than are necessary for the major. THIS is the part where you are able to tailor the degree. Taking courses that weren't required such as Financial Accounting and Foundations of Marketing allowed me to explore areas of interest. My friend Bernadette Hagen is also on the Arts Administration track and is blending music and theater! David Ashley (the first person to graduate with the degree this past December! Woo!!!) dreams of opening up his own nonprofits and serving underprivileged communities. Independent studies are definitely a possibility. I feel like the fact that the three of us switched over to this program in the middle of our educations left us with less time to experiment and play with it. I hope those who come after us can take it to new levels!
MG: What were some of the complications you ran into, if any?
CS: As the first batch of students to attempt the major, we definitely had moments of confusion and figured things out as we went. I'll never forget Dr. Tom Bracy sitting down at Viking Cafe with Bernadette, David, and me at 8 AM for our Introduction to Arts Administration course. Because the class was so small and we were the only ones in the major, he'd just pour all of his wisdom and knowledge into us. We'd have amazing discussions, and he really encouraged all of us to search our hearts and figure out where God was leading us. Lesson planning for a group as diverse and tiny as ours must have been challenging, and he did a wonderful job.
MG: What are the prospects for a major like this?
CS: That's what's most exciting to me: There are so many options! Depending on their personal gifts and acquired skills, someone with a degree in Arts Administration could end up managing performers, developing nonprofit and/or community arts programs, owning/operating a record label, stage managing, and even becoming an executive director or industry attorney (with continued education). Those are just a FEW possibilities. Your imagination and work ethic are your only limits.
MG: What kind of doors have been opened now that you've sort of created your own program?
CS: I feel more freedom and self-assurance than I ever have. With so many options that allow me to use all of my gifts, I don't feel stifled or pigeon-holed. The ability to have a creative career that offers stability is very important to me as well. I have job offers and options coming from multiple sectors, which just proves how versatile the degree is. You'd be surprised at how many employers and companies that have nothing to do with the arts are interested in someone because they have a creative edge.
MG: Does this set a precedent for other students who wish to transform their own education?
CS: My dream for North Park is that the Arts Administration degree can become more accessible to visual artists and theater majors. For now, it is housed under the music department. This is a fantastic start, but Arts Administration is for ALL artists! Don't be afraid to speak frankly with your faculty advisors and personalize your major with the courses you choose to take. Select classes that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised at how many untapped talents are just waiting to be discovered! Don't constrain yourself. As Dr. Bracy often told us, the path your life will usually NEVER a clean, straight line. It's a series of zig-zags, curves, and detours. It will be okay! You're more than prepared, even when you don't feel ready.