Carolyn MacLeod (’14)
Carolyn MacLeod graduated from the Arts Administration program in 2014. During her time in the program, she explored many different facets of the arts and culture field in Boston. Currently, she works as the Digital Content Manager at the Huntington Theatre Company. In this interview, Carolyn talks about her experience in arts administration that has helped her get to where she is today.
1. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your artistic background?
I did my undergraduate degree at James Madison University in Choral Music Education. When I started my undergraduate degree, I thought I wanted to be a choir teacher. But when I actually started doing it, I found that it wasn’t the right career path for me. There were elements of teaching music that I was still deeply passionate about, like exposing new audiences to art, encouraging conversations, curation, and working with artists. I decided that I should study arts administration so I could fulfill those desires in a field in which I ultimately felt more comfortable. This is what led me to apply to the program at BU.
2. Did your studies at Boston University help you focus on a particular skill set, or open you up to new ideas about your career?
When I started the program, I realized I needed hands-on experience at arts institutions ASAP. I started interning at a number of arts organizations, beginning with positions in arts education but slowly shifting to marketing and outreach. Through those internships and BU coursework, I found a career path that was a perfect fit.
3. I see that you’ve taken on many different internships during your time in the Arts Admin program. Do you feel that they helped you get to where you are today? If so, why?
I jumped into the program immediately after undergrad, so I had zero job experience. For me personally, having the opportunity to build my résumé with internships was incredibly helpful and valuable. Being able to go to school part-time so I could pursue those internships was really great. Even beyond that, being able to work with a number of different people in different organizations and being encouraged to get hands-on experience was really helpful. I did an internship with Club Passim, a folk music venue in Cambridge. I may not have pursued that experience otherwise, and it ended up being invaluable towards my growth. I also worked with small companies like Opus Affair and with more traditional institutions like the Boston Lyric Opera, so I could curate my own education from a mix of organizational types.
4. Can you explain what a Digital Content Manager at the Huntington Theatre Company does and what a typical day looks like for you?
Like a lot of arts organizations in the city, no matter how many people you have on your team, there’s never enough hands, so I end up doing a lot of different things. I am in charge of social media for the company and managing our website, which includes maintaining a relationship with our developer as well as making sure that the content on our website is up-to-date and formatted correctly. I am also in charge of generating our video content, which includes a lot of filming, editing, and producing videos on a regular basis. We use those in our email marketing campaigns, on our website, and social media. In the past, I’ve helped code all of our emails, but I am shifting away from that as we have started to bring in apprentice help. In the past couple of months, I’ve been able to focus more on strategy, data management, and figuring out if we have the numbers to back up some of the hypotheses that we have about our digital marketing efforts.
5. Could you describe a recent accomplishment, large or small, that felt meaningful to you?
Coming into my current job, I realized after a couple of months that it was way bigger than I had expected; but I am proud of how I’ve been able to work with my supervisor and the other members of my team to start to re-think realistic expectations.
I am also really proud of the fact that over the past year I have developed a deeper relationship with our artistic members at the Huntington. I think that a lot of marketing departments in creative industries have a unique challenge. The artistic team tends to be focused on the actual product and the marketing team is expected to be creative in their own way, but must follow the artistic team. The two teams have different priorities but must communicate with one another. When communication isn’t flowing freely, marketing teams often fall into a routine to hustle and keep up with the artistic leaders rather than working alongside them. Many arts marketers wish that there was more communication about what exactly we do as a company.
I am really happy that I have been able to work with great directors here. I started going over to the production shops and photographing their work. We have a photographer that will go around during some of our productions to shoot the actors backstage. We found that showing people what’s happening behind the curtain, quite literally, is a really great way to get folks involved and to build good sentiment about the company. Being able to get the artistic team and the marketing team to trust each other more has been a big accomplishment that has taken a lot of little baby steps. I am excited to see where it goes!
6. If you were interviewing to find your own replacement, what would you be looking for in an applicant? In other words, what does an organization expect from an arts administrator?
I think you need to find somebody who is always learning – somebody who doesn’t come in thinking they know everything already. Somebody who is hungry, likes to do research, and asks questions. Probably somebody who is a little less pragmatic than I am!
7. You were recently appointed Vice President of the Arts Administration Alumni Association. What goals do you have for this organization and what changes would you like to see happen?
I really do think that the best thing about this program is the people – the professors and the peers. The fact that every single professor has years of experience, with many of them actually working in the arts, is a great benefit that we should capitalize on more. There is practically one BU alum in almost every arts organization in the city, which is an incredible asset for the program. I would like to see us leverage this more by making people stay in touch and by trying to facilitate conversations about arts issues, mentoring, recommendations, and many other things. I’ve met some of my best friends through the BU program. It’s a privilege to call them my colleagues as well. We have such a great network and I would love to see us draw connections between people more.
8. How do you stay up-to-date on issues in the industry?
There aren’t a whole lot of arts marketing and management-specific resources so I end up curating my own research from a couple of different places. I like reading blogs from places like Capacity Interactive, a consultant company that we’ve worked with in the past. They hold conferences every year and put up the slides from the conferences. I read through them and geek out with my coworkers about them. I also really like some more straight digital marketing things, like Simply Measured, HubSpot, Marketo, and CoSchedule. I try to stay up on what’s happening in the arts in the city so I will keep an eye on the Boston Globe. Generally, I try to keep my ear to the ground about local things by talking with coworkers and staying in touch with people through Opus Affair, or through Facebook with my classmates from BU.
9. What advice might you give to current students in the Arts Administration program?
Go out and talk to people. Take as many informational interviews as you possibly can. Set aside $50 a year or a semester to buy coffee for other people and pick their brain. If there is anybody that does anything that is remotely like something you may want to do, use this opportunity to go and talk to people because it could open up so many doors. Being a student is a blank check to talk to some of the coolest people. One of the best experiences I had during the program was going over to the MIT media lab. I simply emailed the head of the Opera of the Future program, told him I was a student and interested in what he was doing, and he immediately invited me over and gave me a private tour of one of the coolest places on earth. Don’t be shy!
Interview conducted by Olivia Porada