Online Classes with Real World Examples

In many Arts Extension Service courses, students work with a case study organization to apply their learning in real-time throughout the semester. Currently, our fall online courses in Financial Management in the Arts, Arts Programming, and Cultural Equity in the Arts are interfacing with nonprofit organizations on course projects. Financial Management and Arts Programming students create plans that simultaneously help their case study organizations while deepening their knowledge of the course subject. Cultural Equity students interview culturally specific organizations to get a ground-level view of how funding resources are allocated and how cultural equity issues play out in communities nationwide.

Financial Management in the Arts students receive a rare peek into the day to day financial operations of real nonprofit organizations throughout the country. Current case study organizations are located in the NY region, Boston, Chicago, DC, Oahu, Miami, and Western MA. Organizations span the visual and performing arts and include service organizations, local arts centers, and arts education organizations from start-up phase to well established, regional forces in the creative economy.

Working independently with their case study organization throughout the semester, each student will generate a final project detailing three key recommendations for improving their organization's financial health. While the student gains insight into financial management, organizations also benefit from being used as a case study. Organizations share the details of their financial identity and practices with students, including budgeting processes, financial controls, and reporting mechanisms. In turn, each student will offer their organizational collaborators continuing feedback, best practices, and comparative analyses. Since the organizations vary so widely in size, age and professionalism, the instructor guides each student to offer feedback carefully tailored to meet the case where they are and offer recommendations that are relevant and practical.

In Arts Programming the final product is a program plan for a new or significantly revised arts event or program series. This plan could allow students to develop a nascent idea for programming at the organization or further expand an existing program. Some students study the organization where they work or volunteer, while others create new professional contacts in their community through the case study project.

Current Arts Programming case study organizations are located across North America in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Worcester, and Western Massachusetts; Louisiana; Toronto, Ontario & Manitoba, Canada. Organizations reflect student interests including arts service organizations, theater nonprofits ranging from regional theaters to start-ups, music education organizations including a regional Community Music School and small nonprofit, a maker space, and a metropolitan arts council. Throughout the semester, students have the benefit of learning how these diverse organizations collaborate with their communities in planning and evaluating programming, devise program values and criteria, creatively fund programming, and handle the day-to-day logistics of implementing arts events. Case study organizations report that working with an AES student helped them clarify program goals, implement new outreach efforts, and gain new perspectives on current programming.

Online Cultural Equity students interface with organizations in a different way. By interviewing staff from a culturally specific organization, students become familiar with the organization and learn from staff’s perspective on cultural equity issues. After first identifying an organization to interview, students research funding patterns in the community where this organization resides, learning what percentage of funding typically goes to culturally specific organizations and how much the organization selected has historically received. For many students, the assignment invites them to learn about an organization that they were unfamiliar with prior to their interview generating new connections within their arts community. Students benefit from this real life perspective rather than simply learning about cultural equity theoretically. Feedback from the organizations involved has been positive, as the project gave them an opportunity to actually assess their position in their community given the questions they were asked to answer.

Over the past two years students have had the opportunity to learn from geographically and ethnically diverse organizations including PA’I Foundation (Honolulu, Hawaii), Cara Mia Theatre Company (Dallas TX), Obsidian Theatre Company (Toronto, Canada), First Peoples Fund (Rapid City, SD), Casa Azul (Greensboro, NC), Esperanza Center for Peace & Justice (San Antonio TX), Mixed Magic Theatre (Pawtucket RI), Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness (Worcester MA), and Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI).

Upcoming in Spring 2020, online students will learn from case study organizations in our courses Arts Marketing and Arts Fundraising, while students in Foundations in Arts Entrepreneurship will work to start-up or grow their own arts business. Learn more about these and other AES courses here.