5 Ways my Arts Entrepreneurship & Leadership Training is Shaping my Career

Hi everyone, before we dive into this week’s post, just a reminder to please SUBSCRIBE to our blog! Students who subscribe get one free item of EXCEL swag including water bottles, coffee mugs, bags, stickers, and more!


Allow me to introduce myself! I’m BethAnne and I am the new blogger for EXCEL. I graduated in Spring 2019 with an MM in Saxophone Performance, an MM in Chamber Music, and was among the first class of students to graduate with EXCEL’s Graduate Certificate in Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Now I work full time at ArtOps (an arts management services provider in Metro Detroit), play in a sextet called Virago, teach private saxophone lessons, and work with EXCEL on this blog. So far life in the performing arts workforce is a whirlwind but I am loving the ride. 

Food is an EXCEL Tradition – especially on Taco Tuesday!

I can confidently say that I would not be where I am today without EXCEL. Students, you might be wondering, “what can the lab that always has free food do to help me build my career as a performing artist?” Well, here is what I gained from EXCEL (besides my weight in tacos):

1. A foot in the door. EXCEL’s slogan is “Do Stuff.” While at SMTD, I adhered to that advice and became involved in everything I possibly could, both musical and administrational. Frequent meetings with Jonathan or Caitlin to get feedback on my application materials, cover letters, and resume helped me to always present my best work when going for an opportunity. I would also check in with them to find out about new opportunities by attending information sessions. In my two years of grad school I interned at UMS, The EXCEL Lab, The Ann Arbor Blues Festival, The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, and even simply sold tickets and CDs at the door for my professor’s quartet shows. I realize now how many new skills I gained from these different experiences. Most importantly, I made countless professional connections of which I feel I can reach out to at any time.

Through Immersion Trips, EXCEL Talks, the Career Expo, and other kinds of networking opportunities, EXCEL helps students make connections to all kinds of professionals in many fields.

2. A diversified skills portfolio. Throughout my administrative interning, I gained experience with Patron Engagement, Artist Services, Front of House, Back of House, Artistic Operations, Fundraising, Social Media Marketing, and DIY Graphic Design. I also took EXCEL classes on the Music Industry, Grant Writing, Running an Arts Organization, and Arts Leadership. 

An excerpt from the 2019 EXCEL Report about the “Running An Arts Organization” course with the Akropolis Reed Quintet. Click the image to read the full report.

Today, many artists build a career by having multiple streams of income based on their collection of skills and interests. EXCEL’s classes, Open Lab workshops, and coaching sessions are available to students to help us build up our repertoire of skills beyond our craft.

3. A venture. During my time at SMTD I started a brand new ensemble called Virago.  This group is just a year old but we have gained momentum very quickly! From this project I realized what a huge administrative workload is involved in running a chamber music group, and all of my previously mentioned new skills are being used for this venture. We are grateful to have been supported by EXCEL, as well as different grants available to U of M students from Arts at Michigan, ArtsEngine, and Performance Engagement Educational Residencies (PEERs). As I walked across the stage at commencement, I had upcoming performance dates set and projects in motion with this group. What a great feeling!

Virago members Megan, Ellen, Wesley, Kaleigh, Sofia, & me!

Through the Enterprise Fund, the EXCELerator mentorship program, and the EXCEL Prize, students can apply for the funding they need to take projects or ventures to the next level. This not only provides students with experiential learning opportunities, but also the funding and mentorship needed to become self-sustaining in the long term.

4. A passion with a purpose. Entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean starting a venture with an idea of how to get rich; it can be used to serve a higher purpose for the greater good. Social Entrepreneurship is the term for using entrepreneurial skills and resources for social impact. The 2019 EXCEL Career Expo was focused around Social Entrepreneurship and featured speakers from a variety of social entrepreneurs in the community.

Playing with students at Virago’s Brave Performance Workshop!

In this spirit, Virago created our Brave Performance Workshop – a workshop which empowers students to be creative and fosters listening and communication skills through musical improvisation. EXCEL referred us to Performance Engagement Educational Residencies (PEERs), which connected us to our first partner school for the workshop. Later we also partnered with Girls Rock Detroit. We cannot wait to do it again soon!

5. A sustainable life in the arts. Since graduation, I have started a full-time Development position with ArtOps (an organization where I interned), expanded my private teaching studio, and continued performing and doing outreach with Virago. I feel well-equipped to go forth in these roles, and to continue my portfolio career as an arts administrator, performer, and educator for years to come.

While all students at SMTD have different passions and interests, we are all here in hopes of building a sustainable life in the arts. The EXCEL Program has certainly helped me achieve this. If you are interested in (or even just curious about) Arts Entrepreneurship & Leadership, stop by the EXCEL Lab to see what they might have in store for you! They can probably help to shape your career too.

Me with Jonathan Kuuskoski, Director of the EXCEL Lab and important mentor to so many SMTD students!

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