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MoMA Asst. Director to MSLCE Students: ‘Be Ambitious, Be Eager’

By Jacob Nelson

Sheetal Prajapati began Northwestern as an engineering major. The pursuit was short-lived.

“That ended pretty quickly,” Prajapati said, “and I found liberal arts.”

Prajapati, who currently works as the assistant director of learning and artists initiatives at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, spoke at last week’s speaker series event for the Master of Science in Leadership and Creative Enterprises program. She described her career path from Northwestern to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), then to Northwestern’s Block Museum, and finally to MoMA.

While doing so, she was quick to point out that much of what she knows now she learned through along the way. “I was 22 and really had no idea what I was doing,” Prajapati said about beginning her job at the MCA. While working there, she took courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to learn more about the business of working in museums.

She said she knew she loved the educational aspect of the arts. “What I needed someone to teach me at 23 years old was how to manage.” A consistent trend throughout Prajapati’s career has been to shake things up by moving to jobs where she’s uncomfortable, so that she pushes herself to learn more. She said that method has provided her with the best education she could get. For example, even after working in art museums for a decade, she still found herself intimidated by the curators at MoMA. “It was kind of a big beast to slay,” she said.

Prajapati got her jobs at Block and then at MoMA because she had previously worked with the people who hired her. She encouraged attendees of the event to get internships in the field that interests them. “Find people in the field and start getting to know them, people whose jobs you’d love to have,” she said. “You need to be ambitious and you need to be eager. That goes a long way.” She also encouraged attendees to be actively learning outside of their jobs. “I’ve always found ways to learn to do the thing I needed to get me to the next job,” Prajapati said. As a result, she added, “Things I didn’t expect to happen have started to happen.”

Currently, Prajapati is working on a project with conceptual artist and Northwestern art professor Michael Rakowitz, who often focuses his work on his Iraqi-Jewish cultural background. “My job is not just to facilitate that research but collaborate,” Prajapati said. Another project Prajapati is working on involves looking into guerilla art installations in the MoMA, where artists come in and tack their work on the museum walls or place a sculpture in a corner.

Prajapati is working with museum security to look at incident reports so they can gather a whole series of attempts by others to get their work into the MoMA. It’s a new experience for Prajapati, who seems most excited by her work when it’s something she hasn’t done before. “Part of my job is always learning, and that’s probably why I do what I do.”

New York Trip Gives MSLCE Student ‘Clear Path and Laser Focus’

By Hannah Aubry

The following post focuses on a trip MSLCE students took together to New York during winter break.

I remember keenly the feeling that came over me when I walked into Mother New York, a global advertising agency that’s company ethos is “do work your mother would be proud of”. It felt like coming home, despite the fact that I had never been there before.

The converted warehouse space, the industrial décor, and the happy buzz of people enjoying their work felt familiar and, well, motherly. Through the rest of their presentation, the feeling only increased. Let me rewind a bit. I have always had a singular vision of where I want my career path to take me. I want to produce art installations and events dealing with socio-political and environmental issues. However, I’ve never been quite sure how I was going to get there.

During the first quarter of our program, I rode the career roller coaster; I researched careers in marketing, broadcasting, curating, and artistic entrepreneurship. During our New York Trek, especially our visit to Mother New York, these various threads fell away and my path now lies clear. I want to learn the experiential marketing trade and ultimately start a marketing firm of my own. Who knows where I will end up for my internship, or afterwards.

However, I will take what I learned from our time in New York with me. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Luck is important, but you have to put yourself in the way of luck in order for it to come. Love what you do and where you do it. I read an article recently titled “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying”. The first thing on the list was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”. I don’t think a single person we spoke in New York will ever have to experience that regret. From Lee Overtree, the artistic director at Story Pirates, to Doug Herzog, the president of the Viacom Entertainment Group, every single one of our contacts is doing what they love- and doing it well. Our trek taught me to pursue that same satisfaction doggedly.

There were many other things I learned from our time in New York: keep your LinkedIn profile updated, send thank you notes, be personable, join trade associations. Of course these tips are important and I will carry them with me. Even more so, my time in New York has given me a clear path and laser focus, not to mention the contacts and the skills necessary to help me get there.

MSLCE Student Moves Between Science and Art

By Jacob Nelson

Danielle Pierre had a feeling she’d end up in graduate school, but even she was a bit surprised that the program she chose was the Masters in Science for Leadership in Creative Enterprises (MSLCE) program.

After graduating from Northwestern with a psychology and communications sciences and disorders double major, Pierre decided to take a break from pursuing science and research. She thought she would get a job at an art gallery or an ad agency for a period of time before resuming her research track.

“Then this program kind of stumbled into my lap,” Pierre said. She had worked at Northwestern’s radio station and worked as a visitation officer at the Block Museum, and those experiences motivated her to apply to this master’s program so she could pursue a creative career more seriously.

“If I was interested in pursuing what I was pursuing at the time, I could get a leg up from this program and maybe do the creative industries long term.”

Pierre said her friends and family were surprised by her decision to apply to MSLCE, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. However, she always thought of herself as someone interested in the arts — she just didn’t know how to get into it professionally.

It didn’t feel like I had the business know how,” Pierre said, “but then the program came along and it would give me the business skills to allow me to feel comfortable and confident entering an industry I didn’t feel comfortable entering before.”

Pierre is uncertain where she wants this program to ultimately take her, but she is hoping its somewhere in the realm of music or contemporary art. She’s looking forward to the internship that is built into the curriculum as an opportunity to see firsthand what that sort of career will look like.

She’s also hopeful that, whatever that job may be, it allows her to combine the skills she learned as an undergraduate with the new ones she’s learning now.

“I think that science is an art,” she said. “Just the connecting threads between what I studied and what I’m studying now is just curiosity and a desire to make these things accessible to other people.”

Chicago Theatre Week Returns Bigger and Better

By Amy Ross

The third edition of the Chicago Theatre Week will take the city’s art scene by storm next week in its biggest celebration of the local theatre scene yet. With over 100 participating shows, the event begins on Feb. 12 and continues for 10 days, almost doubling the duration of previous years and spanning two full weekends for the first time.

Throughout the event, Chicagoans will have access to a diverse roster of productions for $30 or less, including those of prestigious companies like the Chicago Children’s Theatre, the Court Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Theater Wit. Tickets went on sale at the beginning of January and will remain available throughout the event, although they are going fast. Over 4,500 tickets have already been sold this year according to Deb Clapp, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres.

She expects 2015 sales to exceed last years 8,000 tickets by at least 2,000. “Theatre Week is doing really well and everybody has embraced it: the theatre community, the press, our media partners and hotels, etc. The theatre-goers love it and it gives people a chance to celebrate what we have in Chicago theatre,” Clapp said.

Some of this year’s highlights include the Mercury Theatre’s production of The Adam’s Family; Broadway in Chicago’s premier of First Wive’s Club, and the Goodman Theatre’ Rapture, Blister, Burn. Steppenwolf’s Marie Antoinette has already sold out. “We created this event to celebrate Chicago theatre. Februrary is generally a time when there is not a whole lot going on, and we wanted to create something special and exciting for the city.

There are 100 theaters participating and 400 productions,” Clapp said. Chicago produces more world premieres each year than any other city in the United States. In the 2012-13 season alone, Chicago theatre companies produced more than 130 world premiere productions and adaptations. Clapp also encouraged people to use the event as an opportunity to explore their neighborhood theatres.

“Any night of the week you can go out and find a number of shows in Chicago and this is unlike any other city, except for New York, and they are different because they have the Broadway brand. What we have here is theatre doing all kinds of work from improv to sketch comedy, to musicals to dramas, to experimental; it really runs the gamut,” Clapp said.

The Chicago Theatre Week was initially proposed by Broadway in Chicago’s Vice-President, Eyleen LaCario, and adopted by the League of Chicago Theatres in partnership with Choose Chicago. The League of Chicago Theatres is an alliance of over 230 theatres interested in promoting the Chicago theatres scene nationally and internationally.

“Chicago is a theatre town, it is in our DNA. The theatre scene is very well supported and we have an extremely collegial environment. We all know what is going on in each others theatres and we believe we have to work together to become stronger.”

Trey McIntyre Project co-founder says patronage is all about ‘that human touch’

By Kathryn Lawson

John Michael Schert, dancer, producer, and co-founder of the Trey McIntyre Project, and current Visting Artist and Social Entrepreneur at the University of Chicago Booth School, recently visited our Finance in the Creative Industries course taught by SoC alum Cory Sandrock.

He stayed after class last week for a special session with our students on patronage. His approach, he says, has in large part focused on one-on-one communication. For example, he prefers to send individual emails as opposed to group e-blasts, even if he’s sending out a couple hundred.

“It’s that human touch, it’s someone getting a direct email from me,” Schert said. He also discussed the importance of maintaining contact with your supporters once you’ve received a gift. His goal is to thank people at least seven times, in varying ways, whether through an email, in person, or as a shout-out during a speech. “We want that feeling of being part of something,” he said.

This level of attention makes the patron feel like a valued part of the family and can make it a little easier to return to the donor again the next year. Finally, you must be passionate about your project, but also be able to speak about it in terms that your audience will easily understand.

“You’re educating people all the time,” Schert told students. He emphasized that means not just about what your project is; you’re also educating them about why it should matter to them. Schert said that your message should communicate to your audience that “we believe in the creative process and the impact it can have on communities.”

MSLCE Students Get Business Advice from CBS, Comedy Central

By Zach Silva

The following post focuses on the trip to New York the MSLCE students took over winter break.

The students in the nascent Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program visited New York City for a week, meeting with Northwestern alumni and friends of the program in various media industries to explore professional opportunities related to our own interests.

Although the snow and sleet in the first days of our trip appeared to be a sign that we brought Chicago weather along with us, New York City’s palpable hustle and bustle provided an electricity that warmed us up for the presentations provided throughout the week. Or maybe it was just the heat from the numerous hot dog vendors and $0.99 pizza stores. Either way, my classmates and I were excited to take advantage of what will maybe be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to sit down face-to-face with some of the most influential and talented people in the creative industries today.

In my opinion, there was no better way to end our quarter – everything we had learned in our first set of courses was coming to life in these professional settings. From our dinner with David Lefkowitz the first night in town, to our discussion with Broadway’s Barbara Whitman and Scott Lazarus, to our meeting with senior staff at Comedy Central and CBS Marketing, and everything in between, we had the incredible opportunity to take a closer look at some of the media industry work we are all pursuing. We were able to see how these Northwestern alumni made their way from school to their current positions and even how to build up our own experience and professional networking to hopefully follow the same path of success.

The reason why this trip was so important lay in a comment Jane Gottlieb of CBS Marketing made, calling her own time at Northwestern “an experience of intellectual exploration and freedom.” This networking trip showed how Northwestern still values that exploration, embodied in this creative industries program and this professional development trip. The knowledge and experience we gained this week is priceless. Among the sage business advice and marketing research statistics, there was one simple, yet poignant theme that was addressed throughout the week that will stick with me most: “Be remarkable,” Lee Overtree (SoC ‘03), Artistic Director of Story Pirates, shared with us the first morning of our trek. “Do great work” and “Make your mother proud,” stated the mantra of Mother New York’s culture, as evidenced by the portraits of all the workers’ mothers on the main wall of the office. “Always challenge the status quo,” which was #6 on DirecTV Executive Vice President Paul Guyardo’s list of “Ten Lessons I Learned The Hard Way.”

All of these preach the importance of trailblazing and humility in the arts. In the arts world, it can be easy to get caught up in profit-driven work or audience analytics, but in the end, the work we do should be meaningful. My classmates and I will hopefully take our passion for our respective arts fields and use it to create the most unique experiences we can imagine. Everyone we met this week got to where they were with hard work and a vision of a new, exciting creative industry.

NU Alum Describes Career Path from Block Museum to MoMA

By Jacob Nelson

Before she worked at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Sheetal Prajapati worked as a Northwestern undergraduate at the Block Museum.

She had been unsure what to study at school, coming in as an engineering major, then shifting to history until finally settling on gender studies. It wasn’t until she did a senior year internship at Block Museum, however, that she realized she could have a career in museum education. Now, as the assistant director of learning and artists initiatives at MoMA, Prajapati spearheads a long-term collaborative project to develop open and experimental experiences for museum visitors. She also oversees MoMA’s adult learning program.

“A lot of my work is focused on working with artists on a short term and long term basis,” Prajapati said in an interview last week. “The approach we’re taking at MoMA is unique nationally, there’s not another example of artists working with education departments long-term to do residency things for programming as opposed to art making or exhibiting.”

Prajapati will be discussing her museum career at the next Masters of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises speaker series event, which will be held Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 5 p.m. In addition to describing her current focus, she said she’d likely focus on how the current path to a museum job differs from the path she took. Prajapati worked at MCA for three years after she graduated, then returned to Block to become its head of education. In 2010, her boss at MCA took a job at MoMA and asked Prajapati to join her.

“I decided the right thing for me was to move to NY and work for her again,” Prajapati said. Her career arc was unusual because it involved working at different places but always because of invitations from the same few people she worked with early on.

“I found really good leaders and mentors in my bosses, so at certain points in my career it made sense to go back and work with them because I had more to learn from them,” she said.

Her path also took place before masters programs like MSLCE and others more focused on museums existed. This made things less obvious, but it also made the field less competitive.

“It just wasn’t as competitive,” Prajapati said. “There weren’t thousands and thousands of students coming out of MA programs.”

As a result, Prajapati says it’s more important now for applicants to museums jobs to stand out.

“You have to think about how you specialize and how you stand out in a pool of applicants,” she said.

Though it’s a tougher time to find a job, it’s an exciting time to be in the field. Prajapati pointed to Queens Museum in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the SFMOMA’s On the Go exhibit as examples of innovation that made her excited about what museums could do. SFMOMA closed for construction, but used social media to organize and promote shows in different places around San Francisco so it could keep people engaged without a central location.

“Those are kind of exciting and different,” Prajapati said.

MSLCE Professor Teaches Aspiring Creatives How to Raise Money

By Jacob Nelson

Cory Sandrock wants to teach his students the stuff he wished he’d learned when he was an undergraduate studying theatre: how to raise money.

A Northwestern alum who majored in theatre, Sandrock has always been interested in live performance. He recently directed a production of Frankenstein at a community theater in Elmhurst, and spent a few years working in the New York theatre scene after he graduated. His struggles to raise money for the productions he was working on pushed him to get his MBA. Now, he works as a vice president at Northern Trust.

When you have a really good arts education you don’t necessarily learn that,” Sandrock said about basic accounting and finance skills. “It wasn’t recognized as being important.”

Sandrock, who now works as a vice president at Northern Trust, is teaching an Masters in Science for Leadership in Creative Enterprises course this winter about finances in the creative industries. He wants his students to know where to look for capital, how to ask for capital, and how to create and manage a budget for a company or production.

He knows those skills don’t sound immediately engaging, but hopes they will jump out at some like they did with him.

I went to business school not thinking I would like a lot of the classes,” he said, “but I really liked economics, so that for me was like how do I bridge the worlds and still be creative.”

Sandrock is happy to see that, as the theatre scene becomes more competitive, the division is coming down between the art and business side of things. He remembers working for a Broadway company and getting blank looks when he asked if the production had enough budgeted for him to print copies of flyers.

“Everyone looked at me like I had four heads and someone said, ‘You’re not supposed to worry about that,” Sandrock said. He remembered thinking, “Well, do I have the money to go make copies?”

He’s also hopeful his students will see, as he did, the similarities between business and performance.

“The minute you give a monologue for an audition you are selling yourself,” Sandrock said. “Art and business are basically after the same thing, they just speak two different languages.”

Ideally, the class will equip students with the skills they need to understand the basics: what a spreadsheet means, for example, and how to navigate a financial conversation. In short, the skills that, if Sandrock had learned them as an undergraduate, may have made a big difference when he was working in New York.

“I would have totally applied for this program,” Sandrock said. “I think it’s important for (students) to have both skills, add enough skills so that you can take it to the next level and not always be just trying to make it.”

Steppenwolf Artistic Director Talks About ‘Institution Building’ at Northwestern

By Jacob Nelson

“Before artistic director, I was a babysitter, a waitress, a receptionist, a teacher… a waitress.”

So began Martha Lavey’s explanation as to how she got to be Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Artistic Director during the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprise’s January speaker series event. Lavey, who has been Artistic Director for about twenty years, revealed at the event that there is no paved path to a successful career in theatre. Hers began after graduating from Northwestern, when she saw a production of “Say Goodnight Gracie” at Steppenwolf and found her calling.

“I thought, ‘By golly, if I could ever act with people that good I’d be happy'” Lavey said, “and by golly, I was right.”

Under Lavey’s leadership, Steppenwolf has been awarded the National Medal of the Arts, the Illinois Arts Legend Award, and nine of the company’s 12 Tony Awards. Lavey said the learning curve for the culture of Steppenwolf was steeper than the learning curve as the artistic director of the theater. She learned as artistic director that being collaborative helped.

“One important part of the learning curve is I don’t have to do it alone,” she said.

During the question and answer portion of the event, Lavey was asked for advice about pursuing a creative career. She told them to work with people they like.

“Work around people you really like,” Lavey said, “and then your path just starts to find you.”

Lavey was careful, however, to acknowledge the risk inherent in pursuing a career in theatre acting or directing.

“There’s the plan, and then there’s what happens,” Lavey said. “Most careers… you could basically count on the fact that at the end of it you’d probably be better off than when you started. Independent actors and directors can’t count on that. They deserve some latitude.”

When asked about whether or not her gender had affected the way people treated her when she took over as Steppenwolf’s artistic director, Lavey replied, “First of all, I have five brothers.” However, she did offer advice to the women in the audience about navigating the professional arts world. She told them to “quit apologizing. Not everything needs to be in the form of a question.”

“That’s not a closed chapter, that’s an ongoing assertion of your place in the world,” she said.

Over the years, Lavey, who began at Steppenwolf as an actor, took fewer acting opportunities to focus more on direction and other administrative duties. She said she learned that she gets a lot of satisfaction out of institution building.

“I’ve always sort of followed my nose,” Lavey said. “I’m hopeful that’ll be helpful for the next chapter.”

The next Speaker Series event will be with Sheetal Prajapati, the Assistant Director of Learning and Artists Initiatives at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, in the Frances Searle building (room 1-421). The event is free. Click here to RSVP.

NU Professor Teaches Course on Digital Television

By Jacob Nelson

Aymar Jean Christian is trying to change the way his students think about television.

“When we think of TV we think of corporate produced products,” he said, “but that’s only a result of a very specific developing process so TV distributors can make money.”

Watch the faculty profile of Aymar Jean Christian here.

Christian, a Northwestern assistant professor, is currently teaching a winter quarter course for the Master of Science for Leadership in Creative Enterprises. Titled “Digital Television: Developing Television for New Media,” the course is designed to teach students how to make media products outside of the corporate system. Readings will include theoretical and empirical studies on development and distribution and independent television development, as well as internet distribution.

The assignments, on the other hand, will be a little more creative. “Students will be tasked with coming up with a proposal for integrating video into project they could operationalize in Chicago.”

Students, in short, are going to come up with a digital media project. If students are interested, they may end up getting some pretty hands on experience. Christian is currently working on an independent television project, and he will offer students the chance to help him with it. The idea is to get students thinking about the nitty gritty process of making media.

“How do you decide who to collaborate with?” Christian asked. “What are the basics needed for various resources?”

The driving question Christian hopes to answer with his class is what it means to work outside the status quo as it relates to television.

“Working outside the corporate structure has always been an option,” Christian said, “The difference has been how many people can you get to see what you produce and what are the resources you have to develop them?”