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Program Review is an Artform

The MS in Arts Administration program housed in Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design is one of the oldest of its kind in the nation.  Students from all different backgrounds come together through their shared love of art to develop the skills that it takes to be a leader in the art industry.  These skills range from marketing and fundraising to management and policy.  The arts industry has changed considerably since the 2008 Recession, so the program recently went through a complete curriculum revision that included all the necessary stakeholders.  This revision process was kicked off by the program’s participation in the Periodic Review and Alignment PAR program that is run by the Office of the Provost.  The PAR program involves a self-study and external review all of all Drexel programs.  The program’s participation in PAR and its subsequent changes have been documented in the scholarly article “Positioning for the Future: Curriculum Revision in a Legacy Arts Administration Program” (link) in The Journal of Arts Management, Law, Society.  All of the revisions led to a more contemporary curriculum that appeals to the wide variety of student backgrounds.  

 

Jean Brody and Julie Goodman-Hawkins, who are both faculty in the AA program, were part co-chairs of the PAR review and the creation of the article.  They both state that the road towards revision started with the program’s partnership with The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE).  AAAE is a professional industry association that started in the 1960s that puts a focus on the administration of the arts industry.   This organization provides a lot of resources for members including setting up standards for learning as well as offering professional development opportunities.   “AAAE is composed of a mixed group of people of a lot of different with backgrounds that have to do with the arts.”  This is where my colleagues are and they understand my work.”  This consortium provides an opportunity for Arts professionals to discuss the changes in the field and also come together to make the industry stronger.  “It provides a chance to expand our work beyond the classroom and to be part of the conversation at the faculty level.”  Goodman-Hawkins is now a board member in the organization which allows her to influence the industry even more.  The association is currently going through a transition phase as the founders are beginning to retire and new people are beginning to take the reins.  The program benefits from its membership in AAAE by utilizing the knowledge of the other members.  

 

Although, AAAE is a great organization that has helped the Arts Administration program in many ways, one service that they do not provide is an accreditation style self-study review and site visit.  Enter the Periodic, Alignment and Review program (http://drexel.edu/provost/initiatives/program-alignment/) that is under the auspices of the Office of the Provost.  This program is a 7 year cycle of program review in which all programs (UG and GR) study and reflect on their program/department as a whole. PAR is designed to be both reflective and analytical. Its purpose is to promote the continuous quality improvement and alignment of academic programs through a process that is reflective of Drexel’s mission and is faculty-directed, collegial, data-driven and produces clear plans of action.  The Office of the Provost is committed to an ongoing, comprehensive plan to continuously and formally review programs and the overall structure and alignment of instruction and research at Drexel, ensuring relevance, quality, and measurable achievement. This process is being overseen by the Program Alignment and Review (PAR) Committee, appointed by the Provost. The PAR Committee members represent faculty, deans, and staff from across the university. They work closely with faculty and students from units under review. One part of the PAR process is a site visit from external reviewers from aspirant programs that are identified by PAR team members.  “AAE is where we found our external reviewers, as we invited board members.  They brought knowledge from being exposed to many other programs.  They know where the field is going,” Goodman- Hawkins stated.  In this way, the AA program had an excellent outside review by qualified arts administration faculty members from other institutions.  The Arts Administration program decided to embrace the PAR process and thus planned a comprehensive, all-encompassing review of the program to evaluate its status and also plan for the future.  Because of this plan, they actually started to plan early in the December or January before the orientation in April, because they knew that they wouldn’t have time to do it during September to May.  “We knew that it was going to be a lot of work, but it was necessary for our program to change.” Jean Brody stated.  “The program historically focused on non-profit organizations, but the industry has changed, so the focus of the program must change as well.”  Through this process, the faculty were able to work with key stakeholders including faculty, students and employers to map out how the industry has changed and how to alter the curriculum to embrace the change.  “A lot of shifts in NPO fields and in support and funding as well.  Structural and business elements and the 2008 recession were difficult as well.  IN 2008, everyone was affected by the recession, so a lot of funding dried up,” Goodman-Hawkins added.    The focus of the curriculum needed to shift to more of a business model and students needed the skills that would support that change.  All the students come in knowing that they really love the arts, but they want to understand how it works and not just how to perform or create.  Representation comes from all different artistic backgrounds and sometimes the students are not even artists as they just love the arts.  That means the program needs to be flexible and adaptive to many different needs.  “Most of the people who come to the program are coming here to build their career in the field.  They have very specific career aspirations.  We have to make the program accessible to the most people,” Goodman-Hawkins added.  

 

So what changes have come from this experience?  First, they have made the aforementioned change to a focus on more businesses than just NPOs.  This broader approach meets the needs of more students.  “The biggest thing was how to ensure that it was in sync with what people need.”  Goodman-Hawkins stated.  Second, Julie Goodman-Hawkins is now a board member of AAAE which helps to further Drexel’s prestige and also places the AA program as a player in the national community.  The Arts Administration program is one of the largest in the country (faculty and offerings), so they have a lot to share with other Arts Administration programs.

 

The Arts Administration program has also taken steps to involve their alumni more within the decision making process.  This started with an alumni survey which has evolved into an alumni advisory group that didn’t exist before.  “Our alumni are out in the field, so they can provide valuable insight on our curriculum and also great networking opportunities.” Being in continuous contact with alumni in the industry will help the program to remain as up to date with the changing market of Arts Administration. 

 

Another change has been a stronger focus on research including providing more opportunity for the students to research, develop and plan their thesis topics.  The program believes that a focus on the practical applications of research will help out in the business world as well as in their job searches.  “Practical, critical thinking skills can be applied in other aspects of the business world, so we felt as if we should be devoting more time to developing those skills.”  Lastly, is the scholarly article that was created for The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society.  The process and the changes led to the development of this wonderful essay which can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10632921.2016.1274699

 

The Arts Administration program is committed to providing the most current and extensive curriculum that it possibly can for its students, so that they can begin or continue their careers in the arts industry.  They plan on continued reflection to achieve more reviews such as this one in the future.  The Periodic, Alignment and Review Program could be a good vehicle for another comprehensive review in the future as the program will be reviewed again in six years.  “The PAR program was the perfect vehicle for the review that we had wanted to accomplish,” Brody stated.