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Open Enrollment | East Meets West

Before I start, I must establish one thing: I’m from the east coast. My veins bleed the blood of Nor’easters, Dunkin’ Donuts, baseball rivalries, and the art and cultural Mecca that is New York City.  Boston, the “wait for me!” younger sibling to NYC, is my unofficial hometown and the city proudly stamped on my handset, Vandercook letter-pressed, 18×22 inch Bachelor of Fine Arts diploma.

It was 113° all the way across Oklahoma.

So, with my chest swelling with unequivocal New England pride, how did I find myself 3,000 miles west, living in the suburbs just outside of Los Angeles? The easy answer is grad school; the more elusive answer is an existential quest to find a meaningful place for art in my life. I tried the artist thing (hated the pressure), I tried the educator thing (hated the classroom), and I tried the museum thing (loved everything about it), so naturally the career path I found myself on after I graduated involved outdoor education, archery, and the Girl Scouts – everything my degree was not. My parents were thrilled.

Dressing up like the Golden Snitch was not proving viable to my career.

The real push for the pursuit of additional education came during a monumental breakthrough at a Sol LeWitt retrospective, and again after I decided I disliked almost every job I’d ever had since graduation.

Claremont Graduate University was always my first-choice school even when I wasn’t seriously thinking about higher education. I was drawn in by the Art Management programs’ interdisciplinary approach, its mix with the school of management, and a course I’m currently taking with the longest title in registrarial history: The Community Formerly Known as the Audience: Adapting Arts Organizations in the Era of Infinite Choice, an intensive seminar around an audience engagement project in correlation with the J. Paul Getty Trust’s phenomenal initiative, Pacific Standard Time, and taught by ArtsJournal founder, Doug McLennan.

My thought process concerning grad school went like this: it was now or never, and the now was looking bleak and the never was looking attainable. Of course I threw everything to the wind, took the GRE’s within a month of decided to go back to school, and begged for forgiveness as I gave my references a three week window to sing my praises. All you potential graduate-scholars out there, this is 100% not how to go about this. Take my advice, I drank Maalox like water.

The short story reason for why I’m here, back behind institutional-grade office furniture and end-of-term papers (papers….what is a paper? I haven’t written a paper since 2008), is because of an overwhelming love for art, its institutions and practitioners; for its theories and arguments, and the desire to be in charge of all that. In a world full of chaos, the arts are most certainly a pillar. I want to ensure the posterity of arts institutions, and make art relevant for every generation. So this is why I’m here, and you get to join me on my new, bicoastal wild ride.

© Mikey Burton

It’s going to be entertaining though, I promise you, if only for the play-by-play I will give as my right brain tries to conjure my left brain in a course called Finance and Accounting for Non Profits. I will indubitably stand as a different type of presence on the Open Enrollment blog, mainly because I won’t be in a studio, or in a crit, or in a group show, or in a solo show, or pulling an all-nighter to finish a 6-foot tall ceramic sculpture (this is a personal anecdote), but I will be dipping my fingers into the behind-the-scenes swimming pool of arts management.

In closing, new friends, I went out for drinks with some school comrades the other night. We were celebrating the launch of our audience engagement website, and as we were leaving, a joking remark was shared that involved us commissioning t-shirts logoed with a catch phrase sardonically mentioned in class. We laughed about it, rolled our eyes, got in our cars and went our seperate ways. However, I’m a semester in, a semester wiser, and the more and more I learn, and the more I think about it, walking around with “Future Arts Manager of America” emblazoned on my chest doesn’t sound like half bad an idea.

Much love.

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