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Susan Dillard

Susan Dillard

Meet Susan Dillard, a UMass alumna and current online student with AES who is pursuing the Professional Certificate in Arts Management. Dillard graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in Vocal Performance and Music Education, and holds a Masters in Music Theater from Oklahoma City University.

You recently made the move back to Western MA from Oklahoma City to step into the role of Education Director at the Academy of Music in
Northampton.  What are you doing?  How have your AES experiences helped you in your new job?

Right now I am working with kids aged 5-16 years in a series of musical theatre workshops for our summer session. The workshops are going so well and this program is one of my favorite parts of the year. Looking ahead to the fall, I have new classes to design, a winter musical to prepare for, and an online registration system to continue to familiarize myself with. There is a lot to do, but it’s great to feel busy and have those challenges ahead to push me to keep exploring.

So far my AES experience has highlighted the importance of marketing so that I can reach new audiences. I am still working on how to balance the marketing tasks with my teaching responsibilities, but once I find a system that works for me, I know my new knowledge will help me maintain it. I have also realized the importance of researching similar programs to mine and networking with others in my field. Since moving to this community, my colleagues, friends, and fellow educators have given me helpful tips to “plug me in” to the music/theater/dance/education scene. It’s energizing!
Many of our students are artists or performers who find their way into arts management. What has your path been to Arts Management and how do you apply your experience as a performer in your arts management work?

I have been lucky enough to support myself with performing and teaching for the past decade, but after 10 years of spreading myself over several jobs at once, I realized two things: 1.) That my favorite part of both teaching and performing is collaborating with other teachers and artists, and 2.) that I was lacking the skills I felt I needed to build those relationships and break into the next phase of my life as an artist. Even within the first week of my Intro to Arts Management class I could feel that Arts Management was going to be a great fit. I will continue to function as an artist and teacher as my Arts Management classes augment my skills as an administrator.

Susan Dillard and piano player
Photo courtesy of Susan Dillard

Do you have any exciting summer plans?

Moving across the country has proven to take up most of my summer on top of my job. I am excited to continue settling into my new space, get to know more about Holyoke, and take advantage of the Western Mass summer season. I’ll get out into nature, try some local breweries, and take advantage of our local produce as I get back into cooking.

Who inspires your personal creativity and passion?

SO MANY PEOPLE. I have grown so much as an educator with the support of my friends in this field, namely Martha Potyrala, Katrina Turner, and Beau Flahive, all of whom are based in the Valley. Martha and Beau have been mentors of mine for years, and without their wisdom, I would not be the educator and singer that I am today. Katrina Turner is a dear friend of mine from UMass and the two of us love to nerd-out about our challenges, hopes and dreams together. We can talk for hours about how inspired we are by our students and fellow teachers and it makes me want to be a better educator.

Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?

I have really learned that I have wanted to be an arts administrator all along. Now I feel like I have direction and that my ideas can become tangible steps to build my career.