Jennifer Chapman: Advancing the Richmond Ballet En Pointe

By Serena Wong

Images courtesy of Sarah Ferguson, Richmond Ballet

Jennifer Chapman’s bookshelf is filled with fascinating reads. There are many of significance, but what stands out is Paul Grogan and Tony Proscio’s Comeback Cities: A Blueprint For Urban Neighborhood Revival. It details the recoveries of several impoverished areas in major cities around the country, some of them through the arts alone; this is something that runs somewhat parallel to her career.

Currently, Jennifer is a Regional Coordinator for Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia. Designated as The State Ballet of Virginia in the nineties, Richmond Ballet currently employs twenty-six professional dancers and can boast of performances in places such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the Royal Opera House in London, as well as a recent 4 city tour in China performing at the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing and the Shanghai Grand Theatre in Shanghai. It is also home to the School of Richmond Ballet, where 900 students are enrolled annually.

Jennifer is in charge of overseeing advancement activities for the Ballet in her area of Virginia, Hampton Roads, the largest market in the state, and engages with community networks to support the Company’s regional growth.“What has been so special about working with the Ballet is seeing the performances and programs positively affect people in my local communities,” Jennifer explains. “Watching my fellow community members experience a professional ballet production for the first time or seeing the impact that dance has on underserved students, it really hits close to home for me.”

Both the school and the company do their fair share of outreach. Not only do they have productions featuring well-known and up-and-coming choreographers, but the company also hosts Lecture Demonstrations, in which dancers go to local schools and perform condensed, 45 minute versions of a classic story-ballet such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with narration and audience participation.

Jennifer was a graduate of UMass Amherst’s University Without Walls (UWW) program, which allows students to complete their college degree completely online. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree with a concentration in Arts Administration (now called "Arts Management") as well as a Professional Certificate in Arts Management.

Before figuring out her career path, Jennifer had to do a bit of searching. "I had a background in dance, and I've always had a love for the arts,” she says. “I knew I was never going to pursue a professional dance career, but I knew I wanted to be around the arts in some way. The arts are such an important part of our society.” After having performed throughout her childhood, she took some time to reflect on her future, enrolling in her local community college, moving out of her parent’s house, and working in the service industry.

Eventually, however, she did come back to the arts. “I knew I needed a degree that would help me get a job in the arts field,” Jennifer says. Some Google searches later, she was provided with the idea of a degree in arts administration - but there was one small problem. “There was only one school in my area that had an arts administration program,” she winces. “I would have to commute over an hour each day just to get to that campus.” More searching led her to the UWW program, which ended up fitting her needs perfectly. “There were just so many great reviews about the program,” she explains. “Not only would I be learning from the faculty, the program would allow me to learn from others who were already working in the arts in different parts of the country. I was intrigued by being around people who maybe weren't my same age but had a lot more experience than me, and learning how their communities were embracing the arts. I could learn so much from them in addition to my teachers versus sitting in a classroom full of freshmen. Plus, I was working two jobs at the time, so I loved that I had the ability to take my courses online."

In her course of study, Jennifer took AES courses, including Arts Marketing, Creative Economy, Arts Programming, Financial Management in the Arts, and Arts Education and Policy. “Creative Economy was by far my favorite course,” she affirms. “It was just so intriguing to me. When I took Creative Economy, I knew then I wanted to eventually get into a position that would directly benefit my community. Creative Economy talks so much about the arts and the impact it has on the economy, its impact on local communities, on our youth - it's always been this silent driving force for me and has really inspired me personally through what I do.” Jennifer flew through the program as fast as she could, eager to get into her community and make a difference.

She flew so fast, actually, that there was a point in which her schedule was packed tighter than a can of sardines. While she was taking her courses, Jennifer interned at both the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Her intense schedule paid off however, as her courses enriched her internship experiences, echoing the things she learned in her courses - she was even able to use her experiences at both organizations as case studies for her Arts Marketing and Creative Economy courses.

They still enrich the work that she does today. "While I’ve learned so much from working with different arts organizations throughout my career, my foundation most certainly came from University Without Walls and the Arts Extension Service. My courses at AES were my first introduction to the non-profit world, and they definitely prepared me for the day-to-day operations that I do with Richmond Ballet."

For Jennifer, UWW was the perfect solution for someone leading a busy life, and she recommends it to anyone that might be curious about looking to fulfill an online degree. "I really enjoyed having other people who were in different phases of their professional careers in class with me online,” she explains. " Even though you can be so far away from the faculty in Massachusetts, you still feel like they are accessible to you. You still feel connected to the college and everybody there."

Today, Jennifer not only gets to work on improving arts accessibility in her community, she gets to witness first hand up-and-coming ballet talent. Will she be doing it in ten years? She doesn’t know. "I don't want to tie myself to any one organization,” she shrugs. “In ten years, I hope I'm still involved in my community and doing something in the arts, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm still working in the arts. Maybe I'm serving on a board, or maybe I've grown a community arts program. "Whatever I’m doing, I hope I'm still giving back."