Story originally appeared in UKNow, Nov. 22, 2022. By Mark Mozingo.
Students of AAD 390: Programming & Event Planning have volunteered at The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center throughout the fall semester to experience real-world application of classroom instruction in the field of event management. Through the partnership between the UK Department of Arts Administration and The Lyric, executive director and UK alumnus Whit Whitaker visited AAD 390 students on campus to discuss the mission-driven work of The Lyric to prepare them for concerts and surrounding events.
Professor Jill Schinberg emphasized the importance of this “boots-on-the-ground" approach to community engagement, in alignment with the university’s land-grant mission and the College of Fine Arts’ collaborative relationship with Lexington institutions, often called a “town and gown” partnership.
“Students often lament that class assignments are hypothetical,” Schinberg said. “And they're right. It can be very challenging to truly synthesize what they are learning into independent thought without a tangible way to experience the assignment content. This partnership was set up to connect in-class discussions and reading assignments with the realities of event planning and management.”
Prior to their involvement with events like the Jeanette Harris Jazz Night and The Drifters anniversary concert, AAD 390 students took a guided tour of The Lyric to help contextualize the event programming with the mission and history of the arts and culture venue, and its importance to the surrounding East End neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, The Lyric is an under-resourced venue in Lexington,” Schinberg said. “So, in addition to valuable event experience to connect course content to a real-world experience, students were able to support a significant cultural institution in their community by lending their time and willingness to help — a hallmark trait of many arts administration students.”
Whitaker applauded the professionalism of the arts administration students.
"The students who volunteered for the Jeanette Harris and The Drifters concerts were stellar, well-prepared, eager to listen and learn, well-mannered, professional and such a pleasure to work with,” Whitaker said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of their arts educational journey.”
Whitaker has served as the executive director of The Lyric since 2019 and received his bachelor’s degree in music performance and a master’s degree in arts administration from UK. As an artist and leader in Lexington’s arts community, he has worked with the Lexington Singers, the Kentucky Bach Choir and the American Spiritual Ensemble. He serves on community boards including LexArts, The Lexington Children’s Theatre and the KY 988 Mental Health Coalition. He is the president of the Lexington-Fayette NAACP and is a member of the Mayor’s Commission for Racial Justice and Equality.
Following their work at The Lyric, students debriefed as a class. Schinberg said that in addition to providing a valuable service to a local arts organization, among other things, they learned that not everything goes as planned. Additionally, arts administration requires a team that’s willing to pitch in wherever help is needed. Good customer service is important, but not always easy.
"Our students did a great job,” Schinberg said. “I required them to be there as part of the course, but they really embraced the experience. It was great to see them out in the world, in action, contributing time and effort to this important cultural institution. As if that weren't enough, they represented The Lyric, the department, the college and the university like rock stars — I'm so proud of them.”
Briann Cox, an arts administration and digital media design senior with minors in music performance and media arts and studies, feels it’s important that students are engaging with their community.
“There are several things that I have been able to do though my classes, and by hearing from professors and other faculty that I wouldn’t have known about if I was just out in the community.
“In class we spend time talking about all these aspects of art administration (event planning, fundraising, marketing, etc.) but some of us don’t really seek out internships for every field in arts administration, which means we don’t really get to put what we learn in class to action,” Cox explained. “I’m grateful that this partnership allows current UK students to work with alumni like Whit, and that it gives us a sense of what our degrees and hours of classes can allow us to achieve after we graduate.”