“Somebody Has to Run the Kennedy Center”: Sherburne Laughlin ’83 Discusses Careers in Arts Management

Sherburne Laughlin '83 shares arts management career resources with students

Sherburne Laughlin ’83, Director of the Arts Management Program at American University in Washington DC and a former member of Davidson’s Board of Trustees, visited campus last week to speak with students about careers in arts management.  An economics major at Davidson, Ms. Laughlin went on to work at a bank before earning her MBA from Yale University and launching her career in the arts management.  This is the third successive year that she has given this talk to a full room of students.

Ms. Laughlin started her talk by generating discussion on many pertinent issues in the arts today, such as the role of government funding for the arts and how to get that funding, ensuring that boards can make decisions for the sustainability of their organizations, censorship in the arts, and intellectual property issues with art.  She also commented on what she calls the “Arts and …” movement which encompasses arenas such as health, social justice, and business as well as technology and “gamification” in the arts.

As arts management graduate programs are looking for students with experience in the field, even at an assistant level, Ms. Laughlin advised joining the workforce for a few years before pursuing a graduate degree.  If you work first, she argues, you will ask better questions in graduate school and will have a better sense of why you want to pursue a career in arts management.  When looking for a first job in the field, look for various assistant level positions or internships in areas of arts management like development or marketing.  She suggests staying in contact with people who are in your network, including Davidson alumni.

Ms. Laughlin also guided students towards resources such as the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte and the North Carolina Arts Council that have their own job banks.  She also pointed out Americans for the Arts, which has a great professional development web page and services.  Laughlin explained the importance of keeping up to date with publications and blogs such as The Art Newspaper, Arts Journal and Createquity and advised students to register for the e-mail list You’ve Cott Mail.

There are many different places to look for jobs in the arts, including education, established arts organizations, service organizations, artist residencies, clubs, and festivals.  Laughlin encouraged students to look for opportunities that may not be obvious, giving an example of someone she knows who has a position in the arts with the National PTA (Parent Teacher Association).

Laughlin ended the presentation by giving more details about her program at American University, one of the oldest arts management programs in the country.  She pointed out that the older programs are beneficial due to the large alumni network that they create.  It provides an opportunity to graduate with certificates in Technology in Arts Management or International Arts Management.  The program is small, with twenty students in each class, and has a nearly 100% job placement rate.  They also have a special arrangement with Sotheby’s through which they send students to a very rigorous and fulfilling program in London.

If you would like to get in touch with Ms. Laughlin to discuss a potential careers in arts management, and/or the American University program specifically, feel free to send her an e-mail at slaughlin@american.edu.

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