“Upon graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and minor in German, I had no intention of pursuing my master’s degree—I was burnt out and ready to be homework-free,” says Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership (ACL) student Kayla Martin.
But the lure of education remained strong. “After moving home to Minneapolis and progressing through a few mediocre jobs, I decided to look into grad schools with programs in an area I have always been passionate about: the arts.”
Taking in the Big Picture
Martin, recipient of the Mucke-Roff, Julius Nolte-Harold Miller, and CCAPS Graduate Studies scholarships, currently works in the training department at People Incorporated, a nonprofit that delivers mental health services through programs for children and the homeless, crisis residences, treatment options, case management, and in-home services.
“It has been great learning about the structure and day-to-day operations of a nonprofit that is growing exponentially and implementing many new changes,” she says.
Which feeds into her desire to learn as much and as broadly about the nonprofit field as she can: “My (academic) focus is in no way strict or limited, as I want to have a well-rounded knowledge of the arts and cultural world.”
The multidisciplinary aspect of the ACL degree is part of its appeal, Martin notes. “This program covers important areas that may not always be within your comfort or expertise zone, like for me, strategic planning and financial analyses.”
Gaining Real-World Experience
To complement this multifaceted approach, Arts and Cultural Leadership students participate in internships and serve on nonprofit boards. Martin recently interned at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) where she completed projects pertaining to visitor research, an area that the organization has been trying to expand.
Martin’s work at ASI involved collecting, organizing, analyzing, and summarizing visitor data, including how much time people spent in specific rooms or exhibits, their demographic breakdown, and their key interactions with the content.
She also organized and facilitated focus groups of ASI’s current target audiences. The goal was to “compare past and present audiences, show potential funders the reach of their sponsorship, and determine what changes will be necessary in order to meet different audiences’ needs and desires.”
“The major takeaway from this experience was learning the importance of audience research and visitor feedback in any kind of museum or cultural institution,” Martin says. “What is equally important is effectively using that information to implement changes that will enhance visitors’ experience.”
This year, Martin is serving on the board at the Museum of Russian Art, where she will learn deeply about board structure in relation to a museum’s continuing growth.
“I looked at many different schools, but when I discovered the ACL program along with the Museum Studies minor here, something special sparked my interest,” she recalls. “I realize now I made the right choice and have come to greatly appreciate the true uniqueness of this degree.”
Martin recommends that students come into the program without rigid expectations. “Be ready to unleash your curiosity, utilize your creativity, and share your personal experiences—doing so will allow you to absorb the material to the fullest and apply what you’re learning to your involvement in the nonprofit arts world.”
After she graduates in May she aims to put her hands-on experience to the test and pursue a career in museum administration. “I will ideally be able to find a position involving program expansion as a means to diversify audiences. I’m very open to other opportunities and am excited to see what my future holds, wherever that quest may take me!”
Tips for Future Students
- Don’t lose sight of your passion, whatever that may be, in the collective mission to better the arts and cultural sector as a whole.
- Work within your capacity, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and take advantage of having access to the plethora of resources and wonderful, knowledgeable staff!
ACL 5201 Trends and Impacts in Arts and Cultural Leadership and Management (taught by Tom Borrup)
Editor's Note: Kayla was recently offered a summer fellowship through the University’s German & European Studies Department. She will be helping the arts nonprofit, Neuer Saarbrücker Kunstverein in Saarbrücken, Germany, collaborate with a museum in a neighboring town.
Photo: Turnblad Mansion, American Swedish Institute