University and Professional Arts Collaborations: Mind the Gap! by Kathryn Boland






As a George Washington University Dance major, I am heavily involved with the arts within my university. I have also been involved with artistic communities outside of the university, and I have witnessed the divide between these two worlds. I rarely see university students at community shows – even the free and easily accessible performances at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage two blocks from our campus. Similarly, many university performance events are free, open to the public, and promoted in local publications, yet most (if not all) audience members are George Washington University students or faculty members. Increased partnerships between the commercial and academic worlds could strengthen the local arts sector, and contribute to the development of an arts workforce that is creative, innovative, and adaptable.

This past semester I took Dance in Community Settings, a course within the George Washington University Dance Department. Class participant Lydia Mokdessi interned in marketing for the Transformer Gallery as part of her academic experience. Mokdessi said, “My education has been broadened by the opportunity to see firsthand how an artistic non-profit operates, and what the day-to-day life is like for people in the field.” More academic departments should include courses that engage students productively with the local community. As departments insist on history and theory classes, why not also include classes that provide students with real world experience? Too often the arts are separated from the rest of the economy – a fact mirrored within the existing community/academy divide. Dana Tai-Soon Burgess, professor of the Dance in Community Settings class and Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance stated, “Students and the DC community’s arts organizations have so much to give and I deeply believe they can grow together. I think it all comes down to well planned structures in the university and conversely in the community which will allow win-win situations.”

For non-profits, such programs can increase impact in local communities, giving those businesses a better shot at getting the funding they need for core programming. The Washington Performing Arts Society’s Campus Ambassador program is an example of the opportunities and challenges faced by student-focused non-profit programs. In 2007 and 2008 The Campus Ambassador program encouraged students to sell group tickets on their campuses in exchange for points towards free tickets in return. The program was designed to engage students to be more aware of the artistic activity happening off campus, to increase sales, and to facilitate student access to world-class arts programming. The program ceased operating having never achieved a tipping point of self-sustaining revenue generation. For arts organizations and arts professionals, increased collaboration with the Academy can help with space, resources, personnel, and other practical considerations, as well as spurring ideas, and enhancing art projects, but to do so they must be appropriately resourced.

As community arts entities refine agendas for funding and programming, they should seek to increase partnerships in the academy, and university departments should hew to a similar mandate. Efficiently operated community arts organizations can offer stable jobs, as well as educational opportunities, and as professor Burgess noted, increased academy/industry interaction can benefit academic and non-profit outcomes. Well-designed programming from both sides would significantly benefit the local community.

Kathryn Boland is a rising Senior at the George Washington University, majoring in Dance. She is also minoring in Art History, Theater, and English. Originally from Newport, Rhode Island, she is fascinated with anything and everything artistic. A former intern, she is currently an editorial assistant for Bourgeon.

Bourgeon’s mission, through our online publication and community initiatives, is twofold: to increase participation in the arts and to improve access to the arts. Bourgeon is a project of the not-for-profit Day Eight.
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