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What Is an Arts and Cultural Leadership Degree?

Our Arts and Cultural Leadership (ACL) master's is a flexible, personalized graduate program that prepares you to lead, whether you aim to be at the helm of an arts or cultural organization, a voice in cultural advocacy, or a creative force in your community, institution, or government agency.

Courses and program experiences are designed to enhance your skills in:

  • Equitable and inclusive leadership
  • Leading system change in the arts and culture sector
  • Creative placemaking
  • Navigating ethical dilemmas
  • Fundraising and budgeting
  • Collaboration and relationship building 
  • Cultural competency

The arts administration master's and nonprofit management degree is:

  • Timely—Taught by today’s thought leaders from the arts, cultural, and nonprofit spheres
  • Self-curated—Take up to 12 credits of electives to focus on a specialty
  • Career-focused—Coursework can be applied to career goals in a variety of leadership areas, from creative placemaking to activism to arts administration.

Arts and Cultural Careers

  • $63KMedian income*

Some positions of our graduates could include:*

  • Executive Director or Managing Director
  • Social and Community Service Manager
  • Education Manager, Director, or Coordinator
  • Community Engagement Director, Manager, or Coordinator
  • Volunteer Director, Manager, or Coordinator
  • Cultural Affairs Director, Manager, or Coordinator
  • Museum Educator
  • Collection Manager or Archivist
  • Teaching Artist
  • Program Officer
  • Producer or Director
  • Curator
  • Public Relations and Fundraising Manager
  • Membership Manager or Director
  • Artistic or Theater Director
  • Art Director

* Burning Glass Technologies: Labor Insights™, accessed 08/6/21


The ACL degree consists of 30 total credits (18 required and 12 elective).

Course Course Number Credits
Trends and Impacts in Arts and Cultural Leadership and Management ACL 5201 3
Creative Entrepreneurship and Resource Development ACL 5221 3
Ethical Dilemmas and Legal Issues for Cultural Leaders ACL 5231 3
A Multiplicity of Ways: Epistemologies in the 21st Century ACL 6001 1
Reimagining Cultural Leadership ACL 6201 3
Service Leadership and Board Practicum ACL 6202 2
Capstone 1: Applied Research Project ACL 6002 1
Capstone 2: Reflections and Presentation ACL 6003 2

For more course information, visit the U of M Schedule Builder.

Working with an advisor, you'll select elective courses from academic departments across the University of Minnesota, forming a specialization in an area of interest. Courses must be taken at the graduate level, approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, and should relate to the professional tasks required of arts and cultural leaders or enhance your understanding of the arts and culture within a broader cultural context.

Electives may include, but are not limited to, the following colleges and departments, such as:

  • Civic Engagement (CIVE)
  • Design (DES)
  • Public Affairs (PA), which includes urban and regional planning, human rights, nonprofit management
  • Heritage Studies and Public History (HSPH)
  • Landscape Architecture (LA)
  • Museum Studies (MST)
  • Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development (OLPD)
  • Journalism and Mass Communication (JOUR)
  • Geography (GEOG)

For detailed course information, visit the U of M Schedule Builder and enter the designator above.

Students are also encouraged to explore ACL elective courses to complement their professional goals and career preparation.

ACL Electives

  • Financial Management for Arts Nonprofits, Community Organizations, and Artists (ACL 5241, 3 cr)
  • Courageous Imagination in Action: Art and Culture as Forces and Resources of Change (ACL 5251, 3 cr)
  • Culture, Place, and Community: Ways of Living Together in the 21st Century (ACL 5261, 3 cr)
  • Special Topics (ACL 5950, 1−4 cr)

Sample Specializations

The following specializations are just samples of a course of study you can pursue in the ACL program. You will work closely with your adviser to craft a curriculum that fits your professional goals.

The following specializations are sample courses of study you can pursue. 

Mill City Museum

Culture, Place, and Community Leadership
Arts and cultural organizations, as well as artists, are playing larger roles in the overall well-being of people, neighborhoods, and cities. They are often leaders in creative placemaking, a process where community members, artists, organizations, developers, and others collaborate to create quality spaces to live, work, learn, and play in.


Artist image

Organizational Leadership
Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations of all sizes require capable, innovative leaders. They need to be able to understand complex environments and the roles such organizations play in making a difference in their communities. This focus area puts you in direct contact with current leaders and provides you with a range of essential technical skills.


Spoonbridge photo by Lydia Venjohn

Cultural Leadership in the Public Sector
Looking to take on a leadership role in your city, county, or state  that focuses on arts and cultural affairs? Or are you interested in forging your own pathway by using artistic and cultural strategies within the public sector? This specialization will help you learn how to work across sectors to support cultural and creative practices.

Practicum Sites

As an Arts and Cultural Leadership student, you get to apply what you've learned in a hands-on practicum. The following is a list of places where ACL students have gained professional knowledge and experience:

  • American Swedish Institute
  • Artistry
  • Arts Midwest
  • The Bakkan Museum
  • The Cedar Cultural Center
  • Coffeehouse Press
  • East Side Freedom Library
  • Hennepin History Museum
  • Illusion Theatre
  • In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre  
  • Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts
  • Intermedia Arts
  • James Sewell Dance Company
  • The Loft Literary Center
  • MacPhail Center for Music
  • Metro Regional Arts Council
  • Mixed Blood Theatre
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • Minnesota Opera
  • The Museum of Russian Art
  • Northern Clay Center
  • The Ordway
  • Park Square Theater
  • Penumbra Theatre
  • Public Art St Paul
  • Red Eye Theater
  • Saint John’s Boys Choir
  • Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • Schubert Club
  • Steppingstone Theater
  • Springboard for the Arts
  • Ten Thousand Things Theater
  • Theater Latte’ Da
  • VocalEssence


MPS in Arts and Cultural Leadership faculty and advisory board members come from a range of artistic backgrounds and cultural organizations. Their commonality lies in their passion, dedication, and insider knowledge of the industry. They are eager to connect students to valuable, concrete opportunities.

Meet the Faculty


Fall Semester Application Deadline: Extended to July 15
Spring Semester Application Deadline: October 1

We strive to be fair in the admissions process. Our program thrives when we have students from different backgrounds and cultural experiences. The admissions committee looks at all the pieces of your application equally to ensure that you will be successful in the program. We do not require standardized test scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

If you have questions about the admission requirements or would like advice on how to put together application materials, please contact Steve Wicks.

Admission Requirements

We welcome applications from students who have:

  • a bachelor's degree from an accredited post-secondary US institution or its foreign equivalent.
  • an undergraduate GPA of 3.0*.
  • at least three years of professional, volunteer, and/or advocacy work in the arts and cultural field.

* If you have a GPA below 3.0, please include an explanation in the extenuating circumstances part of your professional statement.

Application Checklist

Your complete application will include:

  • An online application
  • A professional statement
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A writing sample
  • College transcripts
  • A resume or curriculum vitae
  • English proficiency test scores (if applicable)
  • An application fee

Ready to take the next step and start gathering your materials?

Prepare Your Application Materials

Admissions Advising

Graduate enrollment advisor Steve Wicks is happy to answer your questions about the ACL program and the application procedure.


Or you can give Steve a call at 612-301-6127.

Do you have a more detailed question or want to tell us a little bit about yourself before the meeting? Fill out this brief questionnaire.

Meet Steve in person at these upcoming events


Frequently Asked Questions

These answers will help you get a better sense of how the ACL degree can set you up for immediate success in the arts, cultural, or nonprofit world.

Much like a traditional master of arts or master of science, the Master of Professional Studies is a graduate degree that requires roughly four to six years of post-secondary schooling. However, there are subtle differences between these three degrees. Where the MA and MS degrees are earned more through study and the development of a thesis, the MPS degree combines study with the real-world skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Instead of a thesis, there is usually a capstone project requirement. And while traditional degree courses are taught by tenured faculty, MPS courses may be taught by working professionals.

In a nutshell, earning your Master of Professional Studies may better prepare you to hit the ground running even before graduation. This is because MPS courses give you an inside look into the profession as well as the management tools needed to be an effective leader.

An arts administration master’s sets you up for a successful career in artistic leadership. With this credential, you could work as a museum curator, a community-service program coordinator, or  an art or theater director. The degree is a cornerstone for rewarding careers, like:

  • Fundraising Manager
  • Director of Cultural Affairs
  • Artistic Director
  • Director of Education
  • Executive Director
  • Archivist

Arts administrator is a term for someone who holds a managerial position within the arts community. You may be in charge of the day-to-day operations of a museum, theater, symphony or orchestra, gallery, studio, or art council. You may work for a nonprofit agency, corporation, school, or any arts, cultural, or educational institution. And as such, you could have many different responsibilities, including:

  • Planning events, festivals, or performances
  • Developing annual budgets
  • Booking talent
  • Negotiating contracts
  • Curating collections

In a cultural leadership position, one of your main responsibilities may be raising awareness around an issue, person, group, or organization. Cultural leadership combines a community’s history and experience with art and community engagement. It has deep ties to social justice and grassroots advocacy. As a cultural leader, you'll work closely with the community you serve to effect change, educate, and enlighten.

To be an effective cultural leader, you'll need strong skills in communication, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. You'll be required to maintain high standards of ethics, be resourceful and authentic, and be able to connect and inspire others. This role is one that is service-oriented, relationship-based, and rooted in community engagement.

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