Christopher Petre-Baumer (’14)
Chris is a 2014 graduate from the Arts Administration Program at Boston University. Currently, he works at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as a Membership Associate. He is also the Director of Development for the Juventas New Music Ensemble. In this interview, Chris talks about his journey from being a talented musician and music educator to a successful arts administrator. He goes on to share important insights about the role of a performing artist at a museum and discuss the significance of arts administrators in the current state of affairs.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your background before you joined the Arts Administration program?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Music Education at Troy University, which is in a small town in Alabama. I was very active in all of the different musical organizations there, but towards the end of my undergraduate experience, I started doing more arts administration-related jobs such as PR and marketing for the university’s School of Music. This was the kind of experience that led me down the path towards being an arts administrator.
2. How did your studies at Boston University help you focus in on a particular skill set, or open you up to new ideas about your career?
The Arts Administration program definitely opened my eyes because I went into the program with a very narrow focus. I either wanted to do graphic design and marketing or work in the education department of a large music organization like the BSO. I wanted to do something that tied in my prior experience and added more administrative components to it. I went into the program thinking that fundraising was all about asking people for money, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. Now, I work in fundraising and I love it! But I still get to tap into elements of education and the experience that I have with it. I also use the marketing experience that I have acquired before and during the Arts Admin program. The program broadened my horizons a lot.
3. What move did you make after graduation that put you on the path to where you are now?
I was very lucky because I got this great job at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum before I actually graduated, so I was working at the Gardner during the day and finishing the graduate program in Arts Administration at night. So, I can safely say that I started on this path even before I graduated.
4. What do you enjoy about work?
My particular role is very outward-facing so a lot of what I do is getting to work with our members. When they call the museum with a membership question, I’m always the one who answers the phone. When we have member events, I’m the first face that they see when they arrive. I am a pretty introverted person, but when you put me in this sort of situation, my inner extrovert really comes out! It is really nice to be a part of an organization where its members have such a great passion for it. I would say the ‘people’ part of what I do is what I enjoy the most.
5. How does a musician feel in a museum?
I am very lucky to work at the Gardner Museum because we have the longest running museum music program in the country and a broad range of concert series that we produce. While I work at an art museum, there is an element of music that proliferates throughout everything we do. My musical experience comes into play more at the Gardner Museum than say if I worked at a museum without a music program that is so deeply integrated. On the flip side of that, I have learned so much about visual arts and what it means to be an artist. I really had to pay attention to what is happening in the visual arts world in order to have a pulse on what is happening in my “new world”. For me, that is invaluable knowledge that I wouldn’t have gotten had I not landed at a museum.
6. There are ups and downs in everyone’s careers. Could you also talk about any setbacks that you experienced during your career or any mistakes that you would want the current students to avoid?
I would learn from my mistake and advise students to not go into the Arts Administration program thinking you know what you want to do. Just experience it all. That narrow focus I had really held me back through my first year, but once I let it go, I feel like I blossomed in the program. Just try and experience everything. Don’t rule anything out.
7. Could you describe a recent accomplishment, large or small, that felt meaningful to you?
Like many other organizations, at the Isabella Gardner Museum we are working very hard to reach out to specific audiences that we haven’t really focused on before.
The first target group is university audiences: students, faculty, and staff. The second one is young, millennial professionals. With little preparation, our two-person department is working to lead the way in helping this audience development plan go forward.
8. How do you stay up to date on issues in the industry?
There is a great website that I regularly go to called the ArtsJournal. This website takes art-related articles from different news sources like the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and others from all over the world, and compiles them together into easily searchable categories. It’s a great way to know what’s going on in the arts world without having to search everywhere. You get all of it in one place and you can look for what you really care about.
I also try to always go to the Opus Affair events. They host monthly meet-ups for arts professionals and enthusiasts. I started going to them when I was a student, mainly because I really wanted to get myself out there and make connections in the community. It has really paid off. I’ve made some really great friends and built my network just from going to those monthly hangouts.
9. You have worked in both visual and performing arts organizations. What do you see as the major common challenges in the arts field?
With these (2016) election results, it is going to be even more of a challenge now than it was for us before to remind people that the arts are important and for us to stay at the forefront of people’s minds. So while it hasn’t hit us all yet, it will. And for all of us, whether we are actively in the field or we are preparing to enter the field – like the students in the Arts Administration program – it is important that we think about how we can creatively stay present in our communities.
10. According to your own experience, what are organizations’ expectations from an arts administrator?
Creativity would be number one on that list. At the Gardner Museum, we often hire MBA graduates and they have a certain wealth of knowledge that arts administrators don’t have. However, unless those MBA graduates come from an arts background, I find that they often don’t have the great capacity for creativity and problem-solving skills that artists and arts administrators have. I think that’s our big leg up on the MBA graduates who are so sought after.
11. What does the arts field need from an arts administrator?
Arts administrators need to be vocal advocates for the arts. We need to speak up for the arts like arts educators have been doing for decades.
12. Is there any advice that you could give to current students?
Never say “I can’t do it”. I applied for the Gardner Museum job thinking that I was never going to get it and I was wasting my time applying. It’s been the best decision I could have made! Don’t count anything out. If you think you might like something, try it! Talk to somebody that’s there. The arts administration program gives you this huge network and you should use it!
Interview conducted by Sameera Palkar