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Learning By Doing: Cultural Non-Profit Organizations with Larissa Buchholz

By Brenna C. Cronin

With an emphasis on strategic planning, understanding boards and governance, and the role of executive leadership in nonprofit organizations, Professor Larissa Buchholz led our cohort through an intensive nonprofit leadership training course this winter quarter. Deep dives into volunteer management, the role of social media, audience development, fundraising, and corporate partnerships, paired with dynamic case studies, rounded out our 10-week series.

Unique to this course was the opportunity to consult with a real performing arts organization in Chicago, Eighth BlackBird. We viewed our coursework and lectures through the lens of consulting for the Eighth BlackBird Creative Lab project, the educational arm of the nonprofit who engages professional musicians as “fellows” at their two-week educational program in Ojai, California.

Alex Olsen, Project Leader, helped orchestrate the administrative and communicative piece of the project and served as a liaison between the Eighth BlackBird staff, Professor Buchholz, and our cohort. She reflected: “Being the team leader has been a unique opportunity for hands-on experience in a consulting position. It has been a meaningful addition to my education, and I am very thankful for the opportunity!” Alex was also a member of the “Impact” team with myself, Amber Robertson, and Mattie Voorheis. The Impact team’s recommendations included measuring success data, tracking collaborations and works, and fostering educational outreach as forms of data mapping for key stakeholders, such as Board members, donors, grant makers, and prospective fellows.

A number of our cohort commented on the practicality of the class, immediately taking their reading and applying it to this hands-on consulting experience. “Through this class and especially the project done with Eighth BlackBird, I was able to see real-world examples of how the perceptions within a organization can be different than how outsiders perceive it. This course has given me the tools to shape whatever company I will be working with in the future so that their missions are accurately received by those who are participating,” said Amanda Wilson, a member of the “Perceptions” team, who, with Matt Meade and Hannah Arata; focused on assessing stakeholder perspectives, gauging Lab connection, and establishing their link to the “New Music” Industry.

The final piece of the project was researching and assessing the diversity component for the Eighth BlackBird Creative Lab. Increasing diversity in the fellows, collecting interview data, and connecting with corporate partnerships, was key to this group. Tiffany Tuck, Naichuan Tan, Yi Fei, Huiyuan Xu, and Bai Wei Xu collaborated on this data. Collectively, our presentation and recommendations were shared with the Eighth BlackBird Board and ensemble members during our last class. In addition to creating a robust report, this was a great way to close our final class together.

Northwestern continues to provide the MSLCE cohort with absolutely fantastic opportunities to grow professionally and apply our learnings practically. This is an experience our group of 12 will not soon forget!

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