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Notes from Field: AFTACON

When I began attending Miami University, I was incredibly nervous. As a nontraditional student who had attempted college twice before, I wondered whether or not the third time would be the charm. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. While I had an interest in the arts and was looking at working for non-profit organizations, it never occurred to me that someone could pursue a career in the arts without being a performer or artist. Luckily for me, the regional campuses began a major in Community Arts at the same time that the College of Creative Arts expanded the Arts Management program to include a co-major. I couldn’t have picked a better time to attend Miami.

Although I have enjoyed learning about Arts Management through courses and an internship at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, I still had nagging doubts that ate away at me. I know that working in non-profit organizations can be stressful. As I joked to a friend of mine, I wanted to see “what fresh hell awaits me” when I would begin my career. While there is no substitute for experience, I wanted to find an opportunity to be around others who were already working in the field. Thanks to the generosity of my programs and the Miami Family Fund, I received that opportunity by attending the 2018 Americans for the Arts annual convention (aka AFTACON) in Denver, Colorado in June.

In spite of being a natural-born introvert, I had an incredible time in Denver. The city had AFTACON, the Denver Comic Con, the Juneteenth Music Festival, the Denver BBQ Festival, and the Denver GLBT PrideFest happening on the same weekend. It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the city. At AFTACON, I discovered that people in the field had the same concerns that we had in the classroom. I remember Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, offering three words for every arts and cultural organization to ponder: Inclusion, Intersectionality, and Intentionality. All three are important, he said, because “inclusion and intersectionality will not happen serendipitously.” The struggles of sustainable funding, arts education, arts as a means of social commentary, and the fine line between urban renewal and gentrification were topics that were widely discussed throughout the convention.

Just as important as the plenaries and sessions was the opportunity to speak with people who are currently working in arts and cultural organizations. I was a bit apprehensive, fearing that I would be judged for being a nontraditional student at a professional conference such as this. I had no reason to fear, because every person with whom I spoke made me feel incredibly welcome. They talked about the work that they were doing and seemed excited about the programs at Miami University that allow students to study Arts Management on a baccalaureate level.

Although I arrived to the convention wondering whether I made a mistake in going, I left with an overwhelming sense of confidence. Where I had previously felt the need to have a backup plan, there was now no doubt in my mind. I knew that a career in the arts was not merely a pipe dream of a goal. It became a real, achievable goal that will enable me to foster creativity and connections within the communities in which I will work.

Joshua Sweet is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Community Arts and Arts Management. He works on the Hamilton campus for the Tutoring and Learning Center and Office of Academic Advising. He is also the Social Media Coordinator for MUH Pride.

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