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University of Minnesota’s new master’s program aims to keep arts and cultural leaders in the state

Sherry Wagner-Henry
Sherry Wagner-Henry

Like many newcomers to the Twin Cities, Sherry Wagner-Henry recalls feeling “fascinated by the richness” of the arts and cultural community after moving from Illinois in 1995.

As she got to know the community through her role as managing director of theater and dance at the University of Minnesota, Wagner-Henry noticed that no post-graduate program existed to “steward” professional arts leaders and managers.

Some of these “great thinkers” were leaving the state to continue their education and they weren’t returning, said Wagner-Henry, director of graduate programs for the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education.

This fall, she hopes to change that with the launch of the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership offered through the College of Continuing Education.

“We want to capture that talent base and keep them here,” she said.

The program also aims to help these leaders become part of the larger “community conversation,” she said, and have an impact on major decisions affecting the sustainability of the Twin Cities or the state as a whole through an “arts and cultural lens.”

“They have to work very hard to be invited to the table when there’s a community conversation,” she said. This program is “about changing that mind set … that you don’t have to wait to be invited. You can create the conversation yourself, or invite yourself to dinner.”

So, how is her 32-hour program different from the master’s in arts administration already available at St. Mary’s University or degrees in nonprofit management available elsewhere?

For one thing, students are urged to continue working while they enroll part time. She anticipates many will take three to six hours per semester and that the total price tag is estimated at $30,000 to $35,000.  

“Our focus is not only on leadership capacity but also on … midcareer professionals already working in the industry whereas other programs in the country are targeting folks new to the sector,” she said. “That coursework is skill-based. We’re anticipating that our students would have more of a skill base under belts and are looking for another opportunity to work with people already in the profession.”

Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, earned her master’s in arts administration at St. Mary’s and sees room for professional leadership programs.    

“St. Mary’s, by and large, serves people that want to become arts administrators, and this program looks like it’s targeted at people who worked in the field for a while,” Smith said. “So it appears the focus is different. I think it’s good to have lots of development and learning opportunities for the state’s arts and cultural leadership. But I would worry if it was exactly the same thing as St. Mary’s.”

Though the recession hasn’t been kind to arts organizations and their employees, Wagner-Henry believes that the Legacy Amendment, which dedicates a portion of Minnesota sales-tax dollars to the arts and culture, is opening up employment opportunities and the need for professional development.

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