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1-12 May 1998

Vol. I, No. 30

Feature Article


New MET graduate program will mean lively arts, artists' livelihood

by Eric McHenry

In a perfect world, painters and singers would spend their days painting and singing. But a colorful palette requires a dollar-full wallet, and songs are of limited solace to those who don't have the do re mi.

Increasingly, Daniel Ranalli says, young visual and performing artists are discovering that a position in arts administration can offer them both proximity to their passion and a financial foothold.

"About 30,000 people take undergraduate or graduate degrees in studio art every year," says Ranalli, an associate professor of fine arts at Metropolitan College and the founding director of a new master's degree program in arts administration. "This is an area in which we're seeing a lot of people whose backgrounds are in the arts and whose aspirations are to be working artists, but who need to dovetail that with a career that actually has electronic deposit."

The part-time, two/three-year master of science program will be unique in New England. Nominally it is a new course of study, but students have been making use of its resources under the auspices of another department. For the past five years, MET has conferred a master of science degree in administrative studies with a concentration in arts administration. Although the new program is not substantively different from its predecessor, Ranalli says, the specialized degree in arts administration will help MET attract more and better-qualified students.

"I don't think that our not offering an independent degree has hurt anyone on the way out of the program," says Ranalli. "I think it hurts us by making it more difficult to get them to come in. Students looking into the discipline are going to pay more attention to a school with an autonomous department than to a school that has only a concentration within another department. We are now on a more equal footing with our cohort schools."

Even without its own department or degree, the arts administration curriculum has brought some recognition and an atypical student population to MET -- the division of BU that accommodates the schedules of working adults. According to Ranalli, about 65 percent of those currently concentrating in arts administration have moved to Boston from another part of the country in order to enroll in the program.

Nor has it escaped the attention of the local arts community.

"The program is definitely gaining a reputation in the Boston area," says Aaron Sherer (MET'98), whose arts administration training recently helped him land a job as a development officer at the Institute of Contemporary Art. "I've noticed in communicating with different people in the arts business world that if they don't know a lot about it, they at least know someone who's associated with it."

Sherer attributes that recognition to two features of the program: its faculty comprises active Boston-area arts professionals, an arrangement that would be much more difficult for a full-time program with mostly daytime courses, and it requires students to take internships with regional arts organizations.

"There are more than 50 students in the program," he says. "The internship requirement has really got us out and visible in the Boston arts community."

Although flexible, the requirements for admission are no less rigorous than those for completion of the degree, Ranalli says. Its purpose is to produce talented administrators, but the program is open only to those with a demonstrated commitment to the arts.

Daniel Ranalli Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

"We insist," he says, "on students having a background in the arts. What that usually means is an undergraduate degree, but that's not what we require. Somebody might have studied dance for 20 years and majored in botany. But we can't take, won't take, someone who has an undergraduate degree in marketing and says, 'I just thought it would be fun to work in a museum.' That person doesn't get it. We want people with really strong convictions about the importance of the arts and the role of the artist in society."

As academic disciplines go, arts administration is an infant. Most of the approximately 30 master's programs nationwide, Ranalli says, have been around for no more than a decade. He believes that the recent move toward professionalization is a beneficial development for the arts in general; traditionally, many arts organizations -- museums, galleries and exhibit spaces, arts councils, dance and theater companies -- have been operated by people with little or no management training. Administrative staff familiar with such topics as raising funds for nonprofit organizations and legal issues in arts administration can help these groups function more efficiently, he says.

Prior to joining the MET faculty full-time in 1992, Ranalli had been working to strengthen an arts administration program at Lesley College in Cambridge. He was not satisfied, however, with the school's commitment to the program, which has ceased to exist since his departure.

"I was asked if I wanted to take on some responsibility for the art history department in MET, because the person who had been doing it was retiring. I agreed, but made it clear that I was most interested in developing an arts administration program. And BU said, 'Well, give us a proposal.' So I put one together that was fairly substantial. We decided to piggyback the program onto administrative studies, which already existed here, so we didn't have to go through the degree-approval process right away. It was a low-risk situation for the University. If it failed, they had me on only a two-year contract. And I knew it wouldn't. I always assumed we would succeed, and we have."