Deeper, More Meaningful Arts Programming Experiences

Abbey Ring, a recent UMass grad alum in clarinet performance completed an Arts Management Campus Certificate to supplement her experience as a musician and gain deeper understanding of the arts industry. As someone who is deeply passionate about the arts and intrigued by the opportunity of starting her own organization in the future, Abbey says, “I feel that I can make more of an impact now that I have the knowledge to develop programming for an organization.”

In the Arts Extension Service’s Arts Programming course, students learn the tools necessary to broaden their skills as an arts manager and deepen them through real-world experience by working directly with a case-study organization. Abbey chose to work with Easthampton City Arts (ECA), an arts organization that builds community interconnectedness and opportunities for artists through public art programs, city-wide festivals, and creative economic development in the heart of the Pioneer Valley in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

"You can develop so many great programming ideas but if these don't really encompass your community's interests or needs they won't be successful. It was a great way to look outside of myself and advocate for something bigger than just my interests. ”—Abbey Ring

Abbey learned about ECA and the programs they offer by working with the organization’s coordinator, Pasqualina Azzarello. She researched ECA’s audience then developed a project that fit the organization’s mission and vision. “You can develop so many great programming ideas but if these don't really encompass your community's interests or needs they won't be successful. It was a great way to look outside of myself and advocate for something bigger than just my interests,” remarks Abbey.

Mural by Tom Pappalardo created in 2008 and located in the Cottage Street Cultural District among other murals in Easthampton, MA. Photo courtesy of ECA

Arts Programming instructor Terre Vandale says about the course, “Students learn how to create cultural programming that aligns with the mission of a nonprofit organization and responds to the needs and interests of its audiences.” In hopes of combining community collaboration with access to the arts, Abbey developed a public art plan she called the Community Mural Project. The mural would bring together hundreds of people to paint images on ceramic tiles that depict memories, places, and people that reflect what Easthampton means to them. “ The main goal for this project was to create a piece of public art that the community felt a sense of ownership over since they collaborated to create it,” Abbey says. After completing her research, she noted that ECA was looking to increase dialogue across sectors, groups, and interests, as well as expand the connection to the arts with new and existing partners. Outreach would be a key component to making the project successful by encouraging high school students, seniors, and community members to join in the mural-making together. Her project would begin with a series of “Tile Painting Parties” in a variety of locations throughout the city over a year’s time. The final creation and unveiling of hundreds of painted tiles would come together to make one mural.

Once the idea for the public art project was established, Abbey rolled up her sleeves to make a plan that included research and development of the more technical sides of arts programming from budgeting to evaluation planning. Taking the tools learned from the Arts Programming class, Abbey’s plan looked first at the community benefits of the project then focused on the audience strategies.

Photo courtesy of ECA

As a final location for the unveiling, Abbey proposed the Cottage Street Cultural District during Cultural Chaos, an annual street festival that brings together over 10,000 people from the Pioneer Valley region and beyond. After Pasqualina presented the project to the organization’s public art committee, she said, “This was such a rewarding experience to work with Abbey. Once we have the opportunity, we know this is a project we can go to in the future.”

Like many community arts organizations, ECA has had to cancel its annual festival this year. Challenging events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, caused timeline and direction shifts. As we see the word “pivot” so commonly used these days, ECA has also shifted its focus from public community art gatherings to funding artists through a relief grants program and encouraging those artists to share work with the public in virtual spaces.

"Students will learn how to plan and present programs in the current climate including online events, blended events, and in-person events with contingency plans.” — Terre Vandale

The AES Arts Programming course will address these shifts that nonprofits are having to plan for today. Terre, says, “Students will learn how to plan and present programs in the current climate including online events, blended events, and in-person events with contingency plans.”

Taking Arts Programming will help you foster a diverse set of skills that will allow you to be nimble during unpredictable times. In Abbey’s experience in working with ECA, flexibility was important in keeping the community safe while staying on target with its mission.


Interested in working with an organization that you admire as your case study? Whether you're taking Arts Programming online or on-campus, we hope to see you in the fall!  Find out more and learn how to register.