Emerging Arts Leader Spotlight: Catherine Starek

Each month, #artsmgtchat will feature an outstanding emerging arts leader and learn about their background, career, interests, and arts management aspirations. If you are interested in being featured or have someone in mind, email us.

This month’s emerging arts leader spotlight is with Catherine Starek. Catherine is a second year graduate student in arts management at American University in Washington, D.C. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from University of North Carolina at Wilmington and was a flute/piccolo player in the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra for five years. She was the featured soloist in 2008 after winning the University’s student concerto competition. Catherine became the Artistic Operations Intern for the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra during the summer of 2010, which led to her participation in the League of American Orchestra’s 2011 Essentials of Orchestra Management seminar in NYC and her enrollment in American University’s graduate program in arts management.

Follow Catherine on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn and check out her blog, Mezzaphonically Speaking.

Talk to us about your journey in arts management. Why did you enter the field?

During my undergraduate studies and through my participation in the Wilmington Symphony, I became increasingly curious about how the symphony experience all came together. Music business and arts management courses were not offered at my undergraduate university, however, so I decided to pursue my evolving interests independently. The conductor of the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra agreed to meet with me to discuss his role in concert planning, programming, and directing. I couldn’t believe that he was already planning two concert seasons ahead of time! Leaving his office with even more questions than I had to begin with, I pursued an internship with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC.

My passion for arts management was first realized as the Artistic Operations Intern for the North Carolina Symphony. I had always admired the NCS for their attention and contribution to arts education and their willingness to bring music to people around the state (they have earned the nickname, “the traveling orchestra”). Working primarily as the assistant to the Education Manager, I got to visit NC schools and teach the children about orchestra instruments, interact with performing artists, assist with “instrument zoos,” and become the co-editor of the 2010-2011 Teacher/Student workbooks. These workbooks coincided with the NCS education concert series and were used in schools around the state throughout the 2010-2011 school year. I witnessed and felt the impact that I was having on the community with the North Carolina Symphony. It was a truly amazing experience.

My supervisor at the NCS encouraged me to apply to the League of American Orchestras’ annual seminar. I applied and was eventually selected to participate in the Essentials of Orchestra Management seminar held in New York City, becoming a part of the Orchestra Leadership Academy Class of 2011. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic, engaging, and creative thinkers, speakers, and musicians. After a mentoring session with the CEO and President, Jesse Rosen, I ultimately decided to pursue arts management for a career and enrolled in American University’s arts management graduate program in the fall 2011.

Since moving to Washington, D.C. to begin my masters, I have joined the Emerging Arts Leaders DC and the College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Leadership Council at AU. I became the intern for Association for Performing Arts Presenters, Inc. as well and attended their annual conference in NYC, all of which exposed me to arts presenting and conference planning at the national level.

As I have progressed in my course work at American University, developed relationships with fellow emerging arts leaders, and gained experience in arts management, I have become increasingly interested in marketing and philanthropy in the arts. It will be exciting to see how my interests and career in the arts will unfold and where it will take me!

What do you find most rewarding about working in the arts?

Every day is different and there are so many ways to get involved! There is also an amazing sense of accomplishment that I think is inherent to working in the arts. Seeing people get excited about music, whether it is their first performance or one of many, is such a great feeling. It is so rewarding to know that your work truly matters to people and that it makes a positive impact in the community.

As an emerging leader completing a graduate degree, would you encourage other arts managers to apply for a Masters degree? What should they expect?

This is a controversial topic, especially when it comes to expense, but I have found the arts management program at American University to be invaluable and would definitely encourage any aspiring arts manager to get a master’s degree related to arts business/administration. Getting a master’s degree is important because it helps you build a strong foundational knowledge, explore and develop your interests, expose you to multiple perspectives, and provides an immediate network of peers. You also inherit, in a sense, the connections and wisdom of your professors, typically seasoned arts managers representing a variety of disciplines. That being said, however, it is important to gain experience in the field as well. The program at AU has two internships built into the course requirements and ample opportunities to get involved in academic and local events. Students are not only armed with knowledge, connections, and personal references, but also first-hand experience with multiple organizations as they enter the workforce. For many of the employers, they look to university programs to supply potential candidates for internships and jobs in the arts.

As with any master’s degree though, expect to work hard and learn a lot! It is to your advantage to get involved in events through your program at school and around the community, gaining experience and growing your professional network. Expect to work on individual assignment and group projects in your courses, fostering communication skills, leadership, creative thinking, and teamwork. You will be amazed at how quickly you become friends with your peers and begin to feel like a community or even family.

You mention in your blog that you are writing your thesis, particularly focusing on audience development and symphony orchestras. Talk to us about the topic and highlights from your research so far.

My master’s capstone project centers on identifying and describing successful strategies for engaging Millennial audiences and donors within the classical music performance and symphony orchestra experience.

I will use my research to compile these modern strategies relevant to the younger population. This is becoming an increasingly important issue as attendance and support continues to decline and audiences continue to age. Studies conducted by the NEA have shown that the proportion of younger people attending classical music concerts declined dramatically beginning in the early 1980’s and has continued to drop steadily into the 21st century. Alan Brown, President of Audience Insight, LLC, determined in a study of classical music audiences and fifteen symphony orchestras in America that the median age of individuals attending classical orchestra concerts was sixty years and older as of 2002. That was a decade ago. The issue of aging audiences seems even more pervasive in the concert experience today and the distance between orchestras and younger people seems to only be growing. As audiences continue to age (without the younger population to eventually replace them), coupled with declining attendance and increasing financial struggles, the future of classical music and symphony orchestras is brought into question.

Despite the widespread struggles in the classical symphony world, some orchestras continue to shine and are engaging future audiences and support. As one might expect, technology has been identified as playing a key role in the everyday lives of Millennials (young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 – Pew Research Center). As suggested by the Millennial Impact Report 2012, social media is a key outlet for Millennials to connect and share their thoughts and opinions about nonprofit organizations. Millennial-friendly orchestras appear to be those that have integrated technology into their outreach and promotional efforts, interacting with young people through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has more than 7,000 Twitter followers, over 6,800 Facebook fans, and nearly 140,000 views on their YouTube channel, BSOmusic. Mobile Internet use has increased dramatically as well and some orchestras – the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for example – have paid attention to this trend and created a mobile app for Android and iPhone. It will be interesting to learn how this has affected their constituency base! Knowing how Millennials behave, how they prefer and expect to interact, and what is relevant to them is important for shaping our strategies for greater engagement with symphony orchestras.

Some major themes have appeared in my preliminary research. Millennials crave social interaction, connection through technology, and a sense of leadership and involvement within community events. They prefer to learn about nonprofit organizations predominantly through their websites and social media. Decisions to give are influenced by peers and often made impulsively. If orchestras want to be successful in the future, the must engage the future generation of audiences and donors in ways that are meaningful, interactive, engaging, and relevant to the 21st century.

I look forward to discussing my research further in the #ArtsMgtChat session – The Millennials’ Orchestra: Engaging Younger People in the Classical Music Experience – on August 24, 2012, at 2 PM.

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in five years?

I would love to work for a symphony orchestra as a consultant, new media marketer, or in development. It would be amazing to work for some of these “progressive” orchestras that I am studying, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, or San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps I will start my own organization? We’ll have to wait and see!

Any advice to share with emerging leaders in the nonprofit arts field?

  • Listen to your community
  • Read often and stay current
  • Pursue opportunities for leadership
  • Explore your interests
  • Be willing to shape your own path

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