Bridging the Experience Gap with Arts Internships

Since March 2020, socially distancing guidelines and shutdowns across the nation have forced students and creatives to drastically change work and lifestyles and has forced businesses and organizations to adopt technologies and practices that they may not have regularly used before. Zoom and similar video conferencing apps connect people around the globe so they can continue their professional work including working with student interns. 

The UMass College of Humanities and Fine Arts Advising and Career Center and the Arts Extension Service recommend that students complete at least three internships before they graduate so they will develop the skills and connections necessary for success in a professional environment. To create more opportunities for students and organizations,  the Arts Extension Service invites creative colleagues throughout the Pioneer Valley and across the United States to create internships, join the Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative's Arts and Humanities Internship fairs, and post internships on AES’ website. As a result, UMass students have the opportunity to work with a comprehensive list of artists, arts organizations, and creative businesses.

While the pandemic has forced us to separate, it has also created one opportunity: remote internships. Previously, it may have been difficult for students without a car to work with artists, arts organizations and creative businesses in the Pioneer Valley located off the PVTA bus lines, working remotely gives students options to access a larger pool of internship providers in the western Massachusetts region and beyond.

UMass Amherst graduate student, Kristen Flanagan, has been interning virtually this summer. Kristen is working towards earning her master's degree in collaborative piano and her AES Arts Management Certificate. She has worked with a variety of arts organizations so she can add versatile internship experiences to her resume. For example this summer, she is working as a remote development intern with CitySpace, a small volunteer non-profit that manages an arts hub in a historic building, the Old Town Hall, in Easthampton, Massachusetts.  In her role, she has supported the organization’s fundraising efforts as CitySpace undergoes a capital campaign to renovate  their performing arts and community space.

Previously Kristen has worked with larger organizations including Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC, an internationally known summer performing arts festival that operates with more than 700 employees.  Kristen caught up with AES intern Rachael Chen to discuss the internships she has completed, share what it is like to work in remote internships and how her variety of experiences have impacted her professional outlook on arts management.

Rachael Chen (RC):Hi Kristen, thank you for finding the time to participate in this interview. 

Kristen Flanagan:Thanks for inviting me, ask away.

RC:What internships and work have you done in the past?

Kristen: I have interned at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC in 2018, worked with the Emily Dickinson Museum this past semester, and taught lessons at the Community Music School of Springfield

RC:What was it like working at the Spoleto Festival USA? How did you find out about that internship and what was your position? What experiences did you gain?

Kristen: Thanks, my professor from my alma mater performed with them and informed me about their internships. I worked with the festival’s box office, customer service, and a little bit with their marketing team. I learned a lot about work behind the scenes, such as ticketing and communication. Ticketing was interesting because you had to be knowledgeable about many things. There were also ten different venues across the city we had to communicate with and fifteen shows were presented in a single day. Pop music shows were always sold out and it was great to see lots of different artists performing. The art forms and genres that are showcased at the Spoleto Festival USA include: dance, jazz, folk, pop, classical, and theatre.

Spoleto Festival USA, a festival in Charleston, SC, where Kristen interned.

RC: It sounds like you were very busy. What was it like to work far from home? Did you have to go through training?

Kristen: It was fun to be in Charleston and I enjoyed the strong sense of enthusiasm everyone had for this festival, which has been around since 1977. This arts festival allowed me to experience an array of art forms. Interns could attend shows for free as long as they are not working. As an intern, we also received a stipend and had free housing. 

As for training, all of the box office interns had to learn about Tessitura’s ticketing system. Databases are important for selling and tracking whether or not tickets have been used. We used the ticketing side of Tessitura, but there is a development side to it. 

RC: That internship offered you so many opportunities. Let’s talk about your experience while working remotely with CitySpace. What is your current position and how is it different from your Spoleto Festival USA internship?

An architectural rendering of Old Town Hall, an arts hub in a historic building managed and preserved by CitySpace in Easthampton, MA. Kristen's development internship with CitySpace, was held remotely due to the pandemic.

Kristen: It was definitely challenging at first to work remotely during the pandemic, but I think the pandemic has forced arts leaders to consider many virtual and remote opportunities which we will continue to see in the future. I am currently working remotely as CitySpace’s development intern and the work is very different from Spoleto. Spoleto was more public based while the work I do with CitySpace includes fundraising and research. I do significant research on prospective donors and grant writing projects, which is great since I love researching. I haven’t taken the AES fundraising course (yet), but it is an exciting internship. The coursework and research I have done in my AES courses have been applied. Being in an arts organization has given me a new perspective of arts management that case studies are unable to offer. 

RC: Internships, even if they are remote, are truly captivating when the work involves things we are passionate about. Speaking of AES, could you say more about the Arts Marketing class project you’ve done with the Emily Dickinson Museum? 

Kristen: It helped teach me how to analyze and research an organization. This opportunity allowed me to look at an organization from a fuller perspective. The museum was different to work with because it is not a performing arts organization. The events tended to be outreach and side things at the museum instead of being the main show, so it was interesting to spread more about the museum in general than a particular performance. Something I had to do was work through social media to do outreach with the Five College students.

Kristen worked with the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA, as a case study for her Arts Marketing class.

RC: Are there any creative ways you could bring what you learned from working with the museum to the music world?

Kristen: You can bring the same engagement work at all times, such as good hospitality. I learned significantly about how valuable research is, not just promoting. Research through surveys and demographics have helped a lot. Also, your budget is really limited to a museum, so the research helps inform you to not waste money.

RC: This idea of transferable skills is something that AES classes focus on, and it is great that you could see how to use these skills  from one internship to another. What learning opportunities did working with the Community Music School of Springfield give you?

Kristen: I started working at the music school last summer and it has been a great experience to maintain my own studio and see the staff do a lot of arts management related work. Taking AES courses has helped me stay on top of my schedule with my studio. The personal connection with students is important, and I share with my students that they can do so many things with music and the arts. The AES Arts Entrepreneurship class has taught me about how to have several jobs to help sustain musical work. This is the information I share with my students.

Kristen teaches piano at The Community Music of Springfield, a nonprofit urban arts education center dedicated to providing access to the arts, particularly music, to children and adults. In the spring 2020, classes were moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RC: Given the current climate, have you thought of ways to market your portfolio career as a musician with the arts management skills you’ve gained? 

Kristen: Definitely. Arts Entrepreneurship helped me build a chamber music series and another for this year. The final project for that class is creating a business plan, which was really useful. So many artists in that class made plans for the future and others did plan about actual projects happening at that moment. Taking the class really inspired me that you can create a program for the present, not just plan for the future. You can start a prototype, meaning you don’t need a lot of money to start a program, which serves as your starting point. A prototype is basically a smaller version of a large scale project.

RC: Who has inspired you to pursue arts management? Besides music, what are your passions?

Kristen: Someone who has inspired me is Geoff Nuttall, a violinist in the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the Artistic Director of that specific series. He is truly a visionary in programming chamber music concerts that are unlike any other concert experience I’ve had, which are truly inspirational to me. 

One really rewarding part of arts management is being able to bring people together through the arts. My concerts have brought people together through chamber music, which is something I am super passionate about. I love to program and play in chamber music concerts, and the AES classes have encouraged me to pursue that passion. After I graduate, I’d love to work for an arts organization and continue to perform music with my friends. Besides music, I also enjoy baking and hiking! 

RC: Kristen, it was a joy learning about your internship experiences, and how the Arts Extension Service’s classes have supported your career while you are still in school. Thank you for sharing what it is like to work remotely. We hope that your story will inspire other students to pursue internship positions now, even while we have to  be socially distant. 

Kristen: It was my pleasure!


Are you an artist, creative business or nonprofit, and interested in hosting a remote internship? Join AES with the HFA Advising and Career Center for a webinar on August 13 at 3:00 p.m. We will guide you through how to get an intern, introduce our new remote internship toolkit, and guide internship providers on how to best connect with students and successfully transition their internship programs online.  

And save the date for the Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative's Fall 2020 Arts and Humanities Virtual Internship Fair on September 10, 11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Learn more and become an internship provider. Priority is given to providers who sign-up by August 28.