By NCA’s Arts & Media Industry Team with the help of LaWanda May from the Chicago Children’s Museum and Darius Epps from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts
Have you been thinking about pursuing a career path in arts administration? Perhaps you aren’t completely sure what working for an arts organization entails and want to learn more. We’ve got you covered with expert advice from two professionals in the field: LaWanda May is the Human Resources Manager at Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) and Darius Epps is the Internships and Community Programs Manager at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts (WT). We interviewed them to give you this insider’s perspective.
What exactly is arts administration anyway?
Also known as arts management, professionals in this industry work behind the scenes to operate the business side of an arts or cultural organization. Arts administrators are the bridge between art, artists, and audiences. Arts administration roles can be found within orchestras, theaters, dance companies, museums, galleries, educational institutions, arts centers/agencies, arts festivals, operas, and more. If you are interested in reading a bit more about this you can find more information on NCA’s Arts Industry page.
How can students break into the industry?
CCM: “It really depends on which institution you are interested in. Some arts institutions are only interested in artists that are working artists and that show work, while institutions like CCM, have interests in those who have more of education-based job experience. Also, involvement is the best way to break into any industry. A lot of working multiple part-time jobs and doing contract work.”
WT: “Take advantage of opportunities when they’re presented. Being open to exploring new possibilities can expand your network and provide you with valuable information and skills. No one’s career path is ever linear, so remain open to change and growth.”
How can a resume stand out when you are reviewing so many?
CCM: “List specifics. Pull out the little pieces that relate to the job description that you are applying for. Do your research and customize your resume so that it reflects the same values and skills requested for the job. Proofread your resume. Have someone with fresh eyes look at it as well.”
WT: “Any additional experience outside of the workplace (i.e.: service organizations, community groups, etc.) are always great to see. They can often provide insight into leadership qualities, the ability to work on a team, and willingness to show initiative.”
What is your process for reviewing cover letters? How important are they in your decision to interview a candidate?
WT: “Cover letters are a chance for applicants to share their story and convey their passion or interest in our organization. This gives an added personal touch to the application that simply cannot be communicated through the job experience listed on a resume.”
CCM: “Use the cover letter to express your interests and to highlight your past experiences and what you can do/learn in the new role that will enhance the position. With the cover letter, it never hurts to do your research and to mention specific attributes the institution has and how that complies with your career choices. Write a cover letter and cite how you are suited for the specific job and organization you are applying for. Being detailed oriented (not just creative) goes a long way.”
What does your interview process look like?
WT: “Interviews for our internship and apprenticeship program are conducted over the phone with a hiring supervisor, and sometimes a few colleagues within the same department. Questions can vary depending on the position, but generally cover work experience, interest in the program, professional goals, etc.”
CCM: “For our organization, we typically phone screen first (HR), if the candidate moves on, they are invited in for an in-person interview (HR and Hiring manager – in some cases an interview team). Some common questions include:
- Why are you interested in our organization?
- What is appealing about the position that inspired you to apply?
- How has your experience prepared you for this role?
- What are your strengths that would help you succeed in this role?
- What do you feel are growth opportunities/what can you learn from this role?
- What are your short and long-term goals?
- What would you expect to gain from this opportunity (expectations)?
What advice do you have for students about interview preparation?
WT: “Prepare for your interview by practicing answers to standard questions, as well as researching the hiring organization. With the technology available today, it’s very easy to find information about current and future endeavors that are sure to impress during an interview.”
What specific skills and qualities do you typically look for when hiring for internships and entry-level positions?
CCM: “A willingness to learn, assist the supervisor in their development (open communication, letting them know what they are hoping to get out of the experience), enthusiasm about the opportunity, [and] flexib[ility] with the learning process.”
WT: “It can vary from position to position. Overall, we like to know how the internship/apprenticeship opportunity will encourage your professional growth. The opportunities offered at Wolf Trap for interns and apprentices place education at the forefront with an emphasis on professionalism and fun. Hired applicants can expect to leave their internship or apprenticeship ready to enter the workforce.”
Learn more about opportunities at the Chicago Children’s Museum and Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts by visiting their websites and keep an eye out for upcoming NCA programming to learn more about the arts administration industry. Remember, you can always make an appointment to meet with your career adviser or counselor via CareerCat!