Nov. 16. 2015

Artistic Understanding: New Course Seeks to Bridge Divide Between Artists and Those Who Manage Them

Courtney Rowan sat behind the strings section, stage right. Bows bobbed. Music swelled. The sounds of Shostakovich’s Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra filled the music hall.

Then it stopped. Bows dropped. The conductor looked down.

“Jim, I need more room on 65—not so loud,” said Carlos Miguel Prieto to the timpani player before instructing the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to pick it up again. Strong percussion, he urged. Strong strings. All together.

Rowan, a second-year student in UNO’s arts administration master’s degree program, took it all in, listened again, then watched as 70 musicians worked in concert to perfect a piece of music by listening, not discussing.

This freshly remodeled Orpheum Theater was one of several stops for a class on a mission to experience art from the shoes of the artist—the feel of the stage, the criticism of the manager, the dedication to the art.

“I thought they sounded great the first time,” Rowan marveled after the musicians took a break in their practice. “And they sounded better the second time.”

“Art, Artists and Administrators,” taught by Tony Micocci, was designed for the first time this year to solve a problem and potential gap in a program that seeks to prepare students to be managers in the art world, to work with artists full-time in a capacity that enhances the artists’ work and connects them to the world around them.

“What does it mean to be creative?” asks Micocci, assistant director of the arts administration program. “Who are creative people? What are their lives about? Why are dancers so obsessed with the condition of the stage floor and the temperature of the room?”

Not long ago, students needed three undergraduate courses in the arts in order to eventually graduate with a master’s degree in arts administration. But that requirement was recently eliminated in favor of having all the required courses at the graduate level. Many of the other courses that make up the Arts administration degree are heavily weighted toward the business side. The requirement change set Micocci and Harmon Greenblatt, director of the Arts Administration program, on a course to, as Micocci says, “determine what we feel is most essential for an arts administrator to know and be sensitized to related creativity, creators and the art they produce, across a full genre spectrum.”

The resulting course brings students into the artist’s world in a diversity of settings.

Over 17 weeks and 15 classes, the students have gone from spending three hours with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in its new majestic space to three hours in a dark cave of a performance space at The New Movement improv theater in Bywater. They stood on stage at the Nims Theatre in UNO’s Performing Arts Center and read from scripts. They took a tour of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience music festival in prep mode and heard from the people who manage and direct the artists as they quickly move on and off stage. They’ve walked from the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, a nonprofit art space, down the street to the private Martine Chaisson Gallery and observed the differences between the two.

In total, eight of the classes were held outside the classroom.

The lessons from artists—and people who manage artists—have often included a respect for the art tempered by the practicality of making that art work for an audience.

At the orchestra: “The less speaking, the better,” Prieto said. “If a bar that takes about five seconds is followed by a speech that takes about five minutes, it’s probably not a good idea.”

At the improv studio: “If it is absurd that there is a business based on making things up and having no game plan and people pay to watch that, then we have to be straight everywhere else,” said Chris Trew, The New Movement founder, director and instructor. “We have to be tight and smart with our administration. Because everything can’t be as absurd as what we do on stage.”

Rowan, who started with an undergraduate degree in art history, says the experience has forced her to reflect on the profound challenges artists face as they seek to do their craft. “You learn a lot about the artists,” she says, “how underpaid they are and how hard it is.”

Rowan hopes to carry that understanding into a future working in fundraising for the arts.

Micocci says that is the idea: “No matter where you end up, you have to be the translator between the art and the artist and the world.”

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University of New Orleans Arts Arts Administration Program

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

The New Movement Theater