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Cultural Nonprofit Organizations Course: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Running a Nonprofit

When Kate Lorenz, Hyde Park Art Center executive director, joined Northwestern as an adjunct lecturer last year, she was excited to return to her roots and teach a subject she loves.

As an alum, she graduated from Northwestern with a BA in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences. Although her undergraduate studies led her down an analytical career path, her free time was spent in a completely different world: art.

“I had studied abroad in Italy and taken a number of art classes for the first time in my life,” says Lorenz. “I discovered a new side of myself.” After she graduated and landed a job at a Big Five consulting firm, she made it a priority to view as much art as possible—and even volunteered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

As she became more active in the arts community, she decided to return to school to refocus her career. While attending the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts in Humanities program, she secured an internship at Hyde Park Art Center (where she still works today): a small, vibrant, visual arts institution housed in the back ballroom of an old apartment building.

Lorenz could feel the impact she was making as an intern right away. “When I started, I was stuffing envelopes and updating databases, but I loved it!” says Lorenz. “I was learning so much by being in the office and seeing how the things I did helped move them forward. If you knew how to do something, your skills were put to use there.”

Gearing up for a transformation and a move to a new space, the institution wanted its physical presence to match its strong reputation. For the first time, the Hyde Park Art Center also had funding for a full-time development staff member at the same time Lorenz graduated.

Although she didn’t have specific fundraising skills or interests, Lorenz loved the idea of being part of an evolving institution. She joined the team in 2003, managing a capital campaign and the relocation to a space north of Hyde Park Boulevard.

Today, she serves as the institution’s executive director after building years of experience in the nonprofit world.

Last year, when Assistant Professor Larissa Buchholz took a sabbatical to pursue a fellowship at the Central European University’s Institute for Advanced Study, Lorenz seemed like a natural fit to lead Buchholz’s Cultural Nonprofit Organizations course.

“Teaching gives me a chance to step outside of my day-to-day routine, so I was happy to fill in,” says Lorenz. “The students in this program ask such good questions and bring so much of their own experience, perspective, and curiosity to the classroom that it really helps me, too. They make me think about things in different ways. It feels like I’m in a room of colleagues.”

In the course, she gives students an inside look at the challenges and opportunities faced by nonprofit institutions and leaders—discussing real-world experiences in everything from marketing and audience development to fundraising, financial management, and staffing.

Last year, students participated in a hands-on practicum at the Hyde Park Art Center. They conducted audience-experience evaluations and developed marketing plans for a new programming series.

“It’s one thing to read a case study or academic text about practices,” says Lorenz. “It’s another to apply them in real time. We still refer to what the students worked on and implemented. It was a really helpful process for our team and for the students.”

As she prepares to teach the course again this winter, COVID-19 will impact its delivery—but Lorenz sees some silver linings as well, including the ability to bring more professionals from across the country straight to her virtual classroom.

“You can’t replace in-person interaction, but there’s so much that can happen online,” she explains. “We can have really good discussions and still cover the same content. It may even open doors to new possibilities.”


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