Learning on Your Feet and in the Field

“The case studies are the best part of the Arts Extension Service courses! Having hands-on experience with an actual organization is incredibly helpful.” – AES Student

On any given day, Arts Extension Service students working with a case study organization may:

  • Meet with the Development Director of a regionally renowned museum to consider fundraising strategies.
  • Tour a new performing arts venue still under construction and help brainstorm ways to engage the local community in this new resource.
  • Analyze a local historical site’s energy use and provide recommendations for no-or low-cost sustainability measures.

On campus, our students work in teams to learn arts management concepts by working with a local or regional nonprofit arts organization with the guidance of the instructor in a semester-long class, culminating with a final report or plan for the organization. Online students may directly apply the best practices and methods learned through their courses to the nonprofit where they work or volunteer and implement their plan, be it a 3–Year Fundraising Plan or a Marketing Plan. For those without a connection, we help online students research and reach out to arts and culture nonprofits in their region. This practical application gives each student an inside view of nonprofit operations and real-world professional experience while helping them build professional connections.

AES’s student-centered and team-based learning approach developed organically out of the program’s founding mission to connect the resources of the University to the community. Now, as the regional leader in arts management and arts entrepreneurship education, AES draws on its deep roots in the community to serve UMass campus students by creating the opportunity for hundreds of students each year to work with local and regional nonprofit organizations. Through the Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative’s Internship Fairs and postings, students discover local nonprofits and artists through internships. This same community-based approach to learning is entrenched in AES courses.

“From our founding, our mission has been to serve the arts community and their leaders, and the classes grew from trainings and workshops to publications to formalized, 12- 14 week classes,” said AES Director Dee Boyle-Clapp. “Working with arts and humanities nonprofit organizations in the Pioneer Valley and across the country provided two opportunities. First, students have had hands-on learning using real scenarios, and second, the final gift for the institution’s input of time is a real plan that they could immediately use. The students’ time and effort to create their best work, plus their instructor’s input has produced some amazing plans over the years. Many of the nonprofits have used these plans and have benefitted from them. Graduating students applying for jobs can confidently tell a prospective employer, ‘Yes, I can do that. Here is a plan I have already produced.’ Handing over a copy of their work has been a game changer for students. Several have told me that they were later informed that their experience creating a plan for a real institution got them hired.”

From Arts Programming to Marketing, from Grantwriting to Greening Your Nonprofit Organization, AES’s case study topics are as varied as our courses and the product for each case study is unique. Students in Arts Fundraising create a comprehensive 3-Year Fundraising Plan including revenue from private, corporate and government sources. Students analyze online donation portals, write a Case for Support and Annual Appeal, research grant funding opportunities and major donor prospects, present ideas for increasing board donations and sponsorships, conceive of membership programs and annual fundraising events, and present a semester’s worth of research and work in a co-authored final fundraising plan.

For Arts Programming the final product is a 3-Year Program Plan while in Greening Your Nonprofit Arts Organization, students write a comprehensive assessment of what an organization can do to reduce its carbon footprint, save money, and spend their own dollars to create a cleaner, greener world.

During the last academic year, AES campus students studied ten local and regional nonprofits through semester-long case studies and our online students worked with more than 150 national and international arts organizations. Online students log in from across the globe to share their experiences working with and studying arts venues from art galleries in China to performing arts centers in Israel, contextualizing the study of arts management in a global perspective.

Students appreciate the opportunity to break into the field and respond positively. One student reflected, “I really appreciate our work with a case study organization throughout the semester. Being able to apply our class theory to real-world nonprofits was very beneficial. I also appreciated that while we each focused on one organization, multiple organizations were represented throughout the class, allowing us to hear multiple perspectives in class discussions.”

In this dialogic approach to learning, case study organizations benefit as well. Arts nonprofits learn from students’ fresh perspective on how to connect with younger audiences, engage millennial donors, bolster social media marketing, and respond to emerging trends in the industry. Often a strong connection between an organization and a student working on a case results in an internship the following semester and sometimes organizations gain so much from the experience of being a case study that they ask to work with different classes - gaining a marketing plan one year, and a fundraising plan the next.

In the on-campus Arts Marketing course this spring, WAM Theatre received a marketing plan complete with social media recommendations, and the added bonus of graduate students conducting an audience survey. Kristen Van Ginhoven, Artistic Director of WAM, responded to the students’ recommendations, “The survey reinforces where we should put our marketing dollars and time. This really is gold in terms of data! This is all going to make a HUGE difference to our next few years.”

Students’ enthusiasm can give professionals a breath of new energy. Steve Angel, Development Associate for Enchanted Circle Theater responded, “We enjoyed seeing student excitement, interest, and commitment to arts administration. You did a nice job paring down expectations and keeping what we needed to do very clear.” “It’s always good to think outside the box a bit and have some new ideas generated!” commented NEPR Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Vanessa Cerillo and Webmaster and Graphic Designer Burns Maxey after participating in an Arts Programming case study.

However, the final case study product makes the most impact for our local nonprofits. Katy Moonan, Executive Director of ArteSana received two full grant proposals plus multiple shorter proposals, new supplementary materials, and a host of grant research as the case study for Grantwriting for the Arts in spring 2018. She raved, “This is unbelievable. Thank you for all your hard work and thoughtful processing of information and strategy - our future grantwriting will be the better for it.”

Heather Cahill, Springfield Museums Director of Development, reflected, “Participating as a case study for the Arts Extension Service Arts Fundraising course was truly helpful for my organization. The students asked great questions which compelled me to examine the way our office operates. They gave me some great ideas for the future!”

The list of regional arts nonprofits who’ve served as case study organizations keeps growing, and includes: Amherst Cinema, ArteSana, Black Land Project, Earthdance, Easthampton City Arts, Emily Dickinson Museum, Enchanted Circle Theater, Hampshire Shakespeare, Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, Historic Deerfield, Holyoke Community Arts Center, Northampton Community Arts Trust, Northampton Community Music School, Shea Theater Arts Center, Smith College Museum of Art Family Programs, Springfield Museums, WAM Theater, and many more.

This approach to learning not only provides tangible outcomes for nonprofits, but also essential 21st century skills for students. According to Robb Dixon of the School of Management and Rob Schadt of the School of Public Health at Boston University, “A major advantage of teaching with case studies is that the students are actively engaged in figuring out the principles by abstracting from the examples. This develops their skills in: 1. Problem solving, 2. Analytical tools, quantitative and/or qualitative, depending on the case, 3. Decision making in complex situations, 4. Coping with ambiguities.” 1

Teaching with case studies has a long history in the fields of business, law, medicine, and social sciences, but these skills apply equally to the arts and culture field. AES Lecturer, Terre Vandale reflects, “On day one of post-graduation employment, our students can look at a situation or problem in the workplace and say, ‘Oh yeah, I encountered a similar issue in my Fundraising case study’ or ‘I remember another case study group running into that.’ Our students have a firm grasp of the issues nonprofits face, and a better chance of navigating those issues successfully, because they’ve worked alongside professionals. They’ve seen it from the inside.”

If you are interested in being a case study organization for one of our online or on campus classes, please contact aes@acad.umass.edu. For AES course offerings by semester, visit https://www.umass.edu/aes/course-overview.

1. Robb Dixon and Rob Schadt, “Using Case Studies to Teach,” Boston University Center for Teaching and Learning, http://www.bu.edu/ctl/teaching-resources/using-case-studies-to-teach/.