Raksak Kongseng (’18)
Raksak Kongseng (she/her/hers) earned her master’s degree in Arts Administration from Boston University in September 2018. During her graduate studies, she visited Columbia University as a graduate visiting student to acquire financial and accounting skills. She currently serves as an operations and special projects manager at Theatre Communications Group(TCG) in New York and is the founder of Thai Theatre Foundation (TTF).
In the following interview, she expresses her passion for the theatre arts, compassion towards the LGBTQ community, and appreciation of being where she is today.
- Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your background before you joined the Arts Administration Program?
I graduated from Chulalongkorn University with a B.A. in Dramatic Arts and worked as an arts project manager in the Customs Department of Thailand. During that time, I started my arts philanthropy journey by advocating for LGBTIQ+ rights through a nonprofit theatre company. In 2014, I immigrated to the States. Even though I left Thailand, I am still exploring all possible avenues to assist the Thai theatre community. Thailand is facing the problem of lacking arts administrators, to fill the gap, I enrolled in the Arts Administration program at Boston University.
- What is unique in our program that attracted you?
BU Arts Administration program is the only graduate program I applied to even though it required relocation. I wanted to master financial management and fundraising skills in the development field and the program offered a graduate certificate in it. Meanwhile, the program accommodated my full-time working schedule that made earning a master degree financially possible and abled me to apply classroom knowledge to real life work.
- How did the program help you with your career in the arts to get you to where you are today?
The program exposed me to opportunities in building bridges with people who helped me to achieve many career breakthroughs. BU as the top research university and Boston as one of the most vibrant cities in arts equipped me with essential administrative skills and developed the connections I needed for success. The program offered me both academic and pragmatic training which I cannot acquire solely in the classroom or at work. I could never imagine three years ago that I will immigrate to the United States and work for one of the best service organizations in the theatre field (TCG). I appreciate being where I am today.
Understanding both the United States and Thai Art Law is mandatory for establishing my Thai theatre foundation and practicing art philanthropy in Thailand, which is an unfamiliar concept within the Thai art world. We are currently opening the ground in the Thai nonprofit world. It is a blessing that I have two teams persistently pursuing the same goal. The course Legal Issues in Arts Administration with Michelle helped me tremendously to look at the issues in arts through a legal lens, to understand the nature of law, and to have the confidence in legal practices.
- You are the operations and special projects manager in Theatre Communications Group(TCG) for almost a year now, how does a day at work look like for you? What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I work at TCG during the day for eight hours, but it doesn’t feel like work because I am pursuing my passion. My colleagues also see the importance of moving the theatre field in an internationally sustainable direction. During the night, I work on my Thai theatre foundation for four hours. The foundation is my lifelong goal that aims to uplift the whole Thai theater community and make my home country a better place to be. We are actually participating in the Bangkok International Performing Art Meeting, which is commencing today; Numerous preparations are happening right now, and we are excited to be part of it.
- What is your biggest achievement?
I believe everything is interconnected. One achievement is the consequence of another achievement and failure. To answer the question, I will say having equipped myself with the knowledge and skills to institute my Thai theatre foundation is my biggest achievement by far. It requires a series of events: earning a master degree, establishing my career path, holding a full-time administrative position in the theatre field, and then I can finally do what I am thrilled to do — uplifting a whole Thai Theatre community.
- What was the biggest challenge you faced in the program? How did you overcome it?
I spent most of life in Thailand, after moving to the U.S., I experienced barriers and difficulties in language, culture, financial systems, legal systems, and learning the nonprofit world on a daily basis. I felt I have to study twice as hard as the domestic students to be on the same level. When people discussed iconic places, for example, BCA and BSO, I couldn’t understand. I had a lot to learn both inside and outside the classrooms.
I have been battling with depression for a long time, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t fly across the ocean for thousands of miles to quit. I am here to win! Finally, I earned the master degree and I am working for one of the best theatre organizations. The most important thing I learned at BU is that I should never give up.
- What are your goals for the LGBTQ community in the arts? What is your involvement in helping the community achieve these goals?
I didn’t have an agenda for the community when I was doing solo performances back in Thailand to advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights. I was only addressing the social issues in an artistic form. Now, I see the community as a constantly developing group and that I can use arts as a vehicle for change. Even though the public sees the theatre field as LGBTQ friendly, I think there is still space for improvement.
One of TCG’s core values is Equity Diversity and Inclusion(ED&I), which encompasses not only LGBTQ cause, but also other equity causes such as racism, sexism, and disability. We have an independent ED&I department that works collaboratively throughout TCG. We achieve equity by implementing ED&I into everybody’s work instead of treating it as a standalone project. Small things such as placing menstrual products in our bathrooms, and making our staff bathrooms gender neutral, show that we truly care and we are becoming the leader in the theater field. ED&I is carried through hundreds of TCG’s member theaters across the country and is a growing conversation between our constituents.
- Could you please talk more about your experience studying at Columbia University?
Halfway through my studying in BU I was inspired by Lewis Karabatsos (the instructor of Individual Fundraising course) to start Thai Theatre Foundation. The program only offered one financial management course, whereas programs in other universities such as Columbia offered Financial Accounting as a core curriculum. I acknowledged the importance of improving my financial literacy to become the CEO of the foundation, so I applied for the Graduate Visiting Student Program at Columbia University. The application process was complicated because no student from our program did it before, but Doug and Raquel helped me relentlessly and went through lots of documentation in a short period of time to make it happen. I was beyond fortunate to have Doug as my supervisor and Raquel as my program manager. I gained two graduate-level courses credits at Columbia in finance and accounting, and have them count towards my MS at BU. During my time in New York, I worked full-time for TCG and studied part-time at Columbia University. Like I said: I will never give up.
- Do you have any advice for current and prospective students?
Don’t Give Up! That is how I got myself here so far. Everything is possible if you want to make it possible!
Interview conducted by Rose (Jingyao Quan).