Building a Career in the Arts: Lisa Campbell’s Fascinating Journey

by Jonah Dratfield

People tend to have a narrow concept of what it means to be an artist. They see dancers as people who dance, actors as people who act and singers as people who sing. To many people, if an artist is successful, it is primarily because they practiced hard and mastered their art form. But, in truth, a successful career as an artist generally requires a whole host of skills outside the practice of one’s art. These include an understanding of how to market one’s self, how to fundraise for a project, and how to manage finances. Actor, arts manager and AES graduate Lisa Campbell has a career that exemplifies this truth.

Lisa Campbell grew up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, yet, unlike Bill Murray in the movie “Groundhog Day,” did not get stuck there. She was interested in the arts from a young age and eventually attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), which she graduated from with a degree in Theatre.

“After college, I went out to start working as a professional actor and stumbled around doing that for a few years, ” says Lisa.  “That’s when I started thinking about arts management. The problem was, I didn’t realize that arts management was an academic field. I didn’t know that was something you could get a degree in. I eventually got into higher ed administration and got my masters degree in that.”

Yet, after working in higher ed administration at IUP for years, she grew dissatisfied with her work and moved to Texas, to be nearer to her family. In Texas, she landed a job at the University of North Texas working in student affairs. In that position, she became involved with the school’s arts program and realized she wanted to do arts administration full time in a college setting. She began researching graduate opportunities, knowing she would need more credentials for that type of work.

“After doing a lot of research,” says Lisa, “I chose the UMass Amherst Arts Extension Service certificate program.  I liked that it had both a Core Certificate and a Professional Certificate. I researched the faculty and found that they were well-qualified people with a lot of real-world experience. Having the flexibility to do the program online was huge for me. I started working on the Core Certificate while I was still at my job in Texas and learned an incredible amount. Because of my age, it was really helpful to learn how to do in-depth research online. There was no internet when I went to grad school and, while taking AES’s Grantwriting for the Arts and Arts Fundraising classes I learned a lot of practical information about how these processes worked online. On another note, it was great to be with people who were from - literally - all around the world. I was also communicating with people who worked in a lot of different arts venues and who brought many different perspectives to the table. It was totally worth it.”

Lisa currently works at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania as Director of the Performing Artist Series. “I am very much present,” says Lisa, “we do six shows a year per season here and I am in charge of the performing arts shows in the season. We bring in guest artists in theatre, music, and dance, and do residences with them. We also do outreach with our own students and with students in the community. I administer the program; manage the staff and budget, oversee all the marketing, write all the grants and oversee all the fundraising work.” Starting this semester, Lisa is also teaching at the school.  “I am on the theatre faculty, where I teach in the practicum program. I team-teach a course where I lecture on arts management topics, and supervise theater students who provide marketing support for departmental shows. Teaching in that area has been a lot of fun. We’re considering adding more in the arts management program soon.”

In addition to teaching and overseeing the school’s guest artist series, Lisa works on ways to expand the school’s arts activities. “I initiated a couple new programs this year,” says Lisa. “One involved integrating guest artists with our core curriculum of the campus, called Getting to the Core. I look for artists that bring really interesting contextual pieces to the table and then try to find intersections between their work and the core curriculum on campus. As a part of that program this year, we did a student workshop with Native American artist Bill Miller in fall 2017 - for which I wrote the education guide - and a workshop with Lehrer Dance in the spring 2018. We also started a new partnership this year for outreach called EdGe (Educating the Next Generation in the Arts), and chose two organizations to begin the program with: Bethesda Mission, which serves underprivileged children and youth, and Susquehanna Township High School. We’re going to take guest artists Lehrer Dance and Curtis on Tour (Curtis Institue of Music) into these places to do workshops, classes and other activities. Lehrer Dance will be working with Bethesda Mission and Curtis on Tour (Curtis Institute of Music) will be working with Susquehanna Township High School's strings program. I also wrote a grant to provide tickets for middle school students to see these artists work.”

All in all, Lisa has used her experiences in arts, business and education to mold a unique, integrative career. Reflecting on her experience, she considers what it means to work in the arts. “There are lots of opportunities for jobs in the arts, but you really have to do your homework,” she says. “I never want to squelch anyone’s dreams of being a performer or a visual artist, but I encourage them to at least work around the arts outside of doing their own work while forging their artistic careers. AES gave me the additional knowledge and credentials I needed to have a professional career working in the arts as an arts manager.”