At UTSC, humanities program integrates work experiences in the arts

One of the goals of the federal government’s commitment to see over 80,000 postsecondary students participate in a work-integrated learning experience is to encourage students in arts, humanities and social sciences to be part of an experience more often associated with engineering or business students.   

University graduates from the humanities already have good employment outcomes, but integrating work experiences into their degree could lead to faster career advancement after graduation and better use of their knowledge, skills and creative passions in their organizations. At the moment, however, experiential work experiences are more common for STEM, business and social science students than for those in the humanities, according to the Business Higher Education Roundtable, co-founded by U of T.

The experience of a long-running program that integrates employment and coursework for arts students suggests that the benefits for employers and students increase and accelerate over time.

Mary Elizabeth Luka, the program director of the Arts Management Program at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Manaal Hussain, program and field placement advisor, explained how the program’s intensive Field Placement stream blends the arts with the business of management. Students enrolled in the program graduate equipped to take on jobs as multimedia developers, museum directors, and cultural events planner.

Q: Is it more difficult to find a work placement for an arts and humanities student than a student in STEM?

UTSC’s arts management program has been a work-integrated program from its very beginning in 1984. Work in the field is a widely accepted path into the field of arts management.

We are helped to find placements for students by our alumni network who often reach back to find a student for their organization. We also loop alumni back in to the program through field placement events once or twice a year, maintain lists of where our graduates are, and bring them back as guest speakers.

Scratch the surface of almost any arts organization in Canada and you will find a graduate of our program.

Q: One of the concerns students may have about experiential learning is that it extends the length of their program? How are students gaining valuable skills?

The experiential work is scaffolded. We think about how to increase the intensity of the experience over the four years of the degree. Students can look at what is in a textbook or a job description in first year, then in later years, they learn how projects are handled in the workplace. In second year, their first open door is to job shadow in the field for two weeks. Students then write reflections on who they have met, on whether this is the kind of organization they are interested in, and how could they could go about doing some work for the company or organization in the future.

By third year, students begin to put strategic and operational planning documents and processes together, or to think about the nuts and bolts of raising funds, as two examples of professional skill-building, as well as developing their critical academic skills.

The following, final, year is the capstone course. The course focus is flexible, depending on the cohort's interests. They might execute an event, or plan, design and produce a magazine, for example, as they did this past year.  Students do the practical and planning work, and reflect on how to develop a marketing strategy. You may not have a marketing specialization, or even have a team member with this specialization, but you have some foundational skills that you can apply to develop a marketing strategy as a professional.

Q: All of the students are arts or humanities practitioners, or are doing creative work in their minors. How does that experience help them find success in arts management?

Yes, all the students graduate with a minor in another part of the department of Arts, Culture and Media, whether it’s in art history, music, studio or theatre. In the fall, we will be adding the Arts and Media Management Major to the Arts Management Program, which allows students to double-major in media studies, journalism and new media.

For an independent artist, one of the questions of a lifelong practice is how do you market yourself as an artist? We are offering a support structure to learn about that aspect.

One of the great values of the program is that at the end of four years you can choose to be in the field that you have studied in, or, based on what you learned in your placement, you can change direction. We have had visual artists who became arts managers or financial managers — part of the program is giving students that range of experiences.