Hi all! I’ll be blogging here a few times this summer. I’m currently halfway through my graduate program at SMU, which will result in me receiving an MBA from the Cox School of Business and an MA in Arts Management from the Meadows School of the Arts next May.
My internship this summer, which fulfills requirements of both my academic program and the Maguire/Irby Fellowship, is with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the arts entity serving the largest county in the United States (by more than double!). Specifically, I’m working with the Commission’s education arm, called Arts for All, which works to restore arts education to students in all LA County school districts. It’s been a fascinating experience already, and a great way for me to get a feel for the Los Angeles cultural and education landscape. Here are some noteworthy observations that distinguish my experience so far at Arts for All.
1. City vs. county vs. school district
Dallas and Los Angeles both refer to a city, a county, and a school district. In Dallas, the three are largely overlapping; 14 school districts are in Dallas County, including Dallas ISD. But LA County is unfathomably big, serving 81 school districts.
How does Arts for All fit into that? Its goal is to develop and implement policies and plans for each of these 81 school districts (not just Los Angeles Unified School District). The initiative is 10 years old, and so far, the work of Arts for All supports 56 of these districts. My most recent prior experience was at Big Thought in Dallas, an organization with a staff of 50 that concentrates all of its efforts on Dallas ISD. By contrast, Arts for All works with the 56 districts it serves, with a staff of just seven.
2. Government vs. nonprofit
Coming into this internship, I knew that one of the most interesting aspects would be working for a government entity, since most of my experience has been with nonprofits. It’s proven to be eye-opening already—though not in all the ways I expected. I came in worried that we would be working in our own cubicle silos, rarely interacting with other employees, clocking in at exactly 9 a.m. and clocking out at 5 p.m. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The Arts for All staff regularly stays well into the evening, and there’s plenty of opportunity to work in teams and ask each other questions. The Arts for All team has a ton of experience, both in their current positions and at nonprofits they’ve worked for previously. I’m really excited to take advantage of this breadth of expertise in the coming weeks.
3. Funder vs. grantee
In my previous experience with Big Thought, I wrote grant proposals, requesting funding from various foundations and corporations. As a funder, Arts for All is on the other side of the funding equation. Although I’m ultimately more interested in working for nonprofits, it’s really fascinating and informative to see how funders make decisions.
My first week at Arts for All coincided with the deadline for its newest grant program, which will provide school districts with funding for residencies, professional development, supplies, strategic planning, instruments, or some combination of the above for next school year. I will be able to see the entire application review process, which can sometimes seem very mysterious to grantees.
I also have been able to talk to staff members about the organization’s emphasis on data tracking — something that’s still taboo in many nonprofit circles (particularly arts nonprofits), but is an area of emphasis at SMU, especially the National Center for Arts Research run by the head of the MA/MBA program. It’s been valuable to hear arguments for why program evaluation and tracking is so important from a funder perspective, and I know this experience will benefit me as I move forward in nonprofit fundraising.