Public Servant Makes Big Impact in Arts Education
Throughout his career in the public sector, Kyle Wedberg ’00 MA (public policy and administration), president/CEO of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), has experienced some memorable singular moments. The most recent was attending, along with a current NOCCA student, the Stevie Wonder concert at the White House as guests of President and Mrs. Obama.
“I was floored when the invitation came,” Wedberg recalls. “But then, NOCCA is among the national gold standard of public arts education. It is the performing and visual arts high school for the State of Louisiana, and we have changed many lives through expanded opportunities, enhanced skills and confidence for our students. It is one of the most diverse high schools in the country as students from 25 percent of the parishes in the state come from 116 different schooling situations to get pre-professional training in the arts every day. Last year all but one of our graduates went on to college, conservatory, and university, and among them they earned $7.2 million in scholarships. That is $1.4 million more than it cost to operate the school.” Click here to learn more about NOCCA.
Wedberg’s career has focused on education and public service. After graduating from St. Olaf College, he volunteered for a year with City Year, an AmeriCorps program in Boston before completing a public affairs fellowship through the Coro Foundation Midwestern Center in St. Louis. “I then came to UMass Amherst for my MPA, largely because of funding,” Wedberg recalls. “It was the best decision I could have made. The program was a wonderful balance of analytical challenge, qualitative consideration, quantitative training, and personal attention from faculty and classmates. It was a unique and incredible environment in which to learn. Nationally, we need more professional training for work in the public and nonprofit sectors, so I am proud of CPPA and of being a UMass Amherst alum.”
Next on Wedberg’s work agenda was a period with the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Chicago where he oversaw the public safety budgets for the second largest police and fire departments in the country. In 2002 he was recruited to work for the School District of Philadelphia where he served as Deputy Chief Financial Officer.
From 2004 until 2007 Wedberg was in charge of new site development for City Year, Inc., the largest AmeriCorps program in the U.S. He managed the startup of City Year Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and proceeded to fall in love with New Orleans), managed the launch of City Year Los Angeles, and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, at City Year’s first international site.
In 2007 Wedberg took a leadership role as a member of Paul Vallas’ transition team for the Recovery School District in New Orleans, serving also as Chief Administrative Officer. While at RSD, he visited and was amazed by NOCCA, and not too long after that his formal affiliation with the school began.
Says Wedberg, “Throughout my career I have kept my eyes and ears open and never limited my options by geography or preconceived notions.” After only five weeks in his first government job in Chicago, because of a sudden vacancy, Wedberg got his first “promotion.” As he tells it, “A couple of people were asked to fill the slot and turned it down. And so they came to me. Suddenly, I was responsible for $1.3 billion and 24,000 positions. It was a learn-as-you-go experience that showed me that sometimes too much time to plan is not the greatest indicator of ultimate success.”
The ideals of public service suit Wedberg to a tee. “I believe in it. I could make more money and work less hours in the private sector, but I would not be as motivated or fulfilled,” he says. “I have always gravitated towards role models and mentors whom I admired not just for their professional talents and motivations but also for the way they live and balance their lives. I’ve had the privilege to work for some great—or at least really interesting—public leaders.”
Wedberg is also quick to acknowledge his parents as role models of active citizenship. “They instilled in me a curiosity about the world that has stayed with me all these years,” he says. Recently married, Wedberg adds, “Michelle is my best friend and biggest fan. She grew up on the north shore of Boston, so besides my UMass degree—which travels really well professionally—I have another reason to be grateful to Massachusetts.”
To those who are considering a career in public service, Wedberg says, “You won’t get rich. You are rarely thanked. You will be audited, scrutinized, and most likely sued at some point in your career. You will constantly be asked to do more with less, and you will often need to get involved in small jobs that really are important pieces of a much bigger picture. So, you’d better like what you do, find joy in doing it, and never need the external validations of recognition or money to know you have done it well. If that works for you, then a career in government or public education is as professionally rewarding and socially important as any that exists. Personally, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
To view the PBS production of the Stevie Wonder concert at the White House, click here.