• Artists: Professional Development

    Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program involves professional development for artists, staff, and community partners. Below are some thoughts and guidelines for creating a vibrant, 360° approach to that work.

  • Musical Connections Toolkit Asset ID 61606
  • Why Professional Development?

    Traditional community-based outreach programs have focused on prioritizing service. Scarce dollars have gone primarily to supporting the moments of contact between artists and audiences. The Musical Connections approach is to value the professional growth of artists and staff who undertake this work, recognizing the special skills that are required. Artists must learn about the environments they are entering, and they need to develop techniques for engaging and involving those whose circumstances might make participation and enjoyment difficult.

    Musical Connections invests in professional development for its artists. One artist shares his perspective: "No one has invested in my own education since I left school ... And this type of performance does require special skills."

    Staff members must learn about community settings, but they must also develop clear and efficient modes of communication between artists and venues. Staff members are given the responsibility of overseeing, evaluating, and improving the work, so they must straddle the worlds of the arts and community settings, striving to learn more about each as they go.

    Musical Connections uses a 360° approach to administering the work; artists, staff, leaders at partner venues, and participants are all invited to join in the formation and structure of the collaborative work, and the staff strives to communicate with all parties so that the work can have maximum impact.

    In Musical Connections, you will need to make an appropriate commitment of time and resources to developing a learning community that can support the work you are doing in an ongoing way. Here are some initial steps you can take:

    1. Assemble a small working group (staff, evaluators, artist representatives, and so on) and work to articulate your group’s membership, its goals, and its learning objectives.
    2. Create a calendar of workshops, observations, and other learning opportunities.
    3. Develop a plan for documenting and sharing the learning.
    4. Develop a plan for getting feedback from participants and responding to it.
    5. If possible, get an outside eye or evaluator to offer objective analysis and advice as you go.

    Goals and Learning Objectives

    Once you have assembled a small working group, you can articulate your goals for the program as well as learning objectives for the members of the group.

    Here is a possible set of goals:

    1. To create a vibrant learning community that explores questions vital to carrying out the work
    2. To provide a forum for issues and challenges that face group members so that program improvements can be made
    3. To involve artists, staff, and community partners in a joint exploration of their own professional growth through the work

    Professional development helps artists approach brand new situations differently. Here is one artist's impression of how appropriate preparation and support can change your attitude about a performance.

    Learning objectives specify what you want the members of the learning community to know and be able to do as a result of their professional development. They are more specific than program goals, and they have to be measurable—you must have some means of determining whether they have learned the skills you have set out for them to learn.

    Here is a possible set of learning objectives:

    1. To develop a deeper understanding of the environments (shelters, health care or correctional facilities, senior centers, and so on) where participants live and spend time together
    2. To develop and share strategies for effective audience engagement, especially those that encourage musical creativity and participation
    3. To develop strategies for maximizing the interactions of the entire event, beginning with arrival and not ending until departure
    4. To become effective self-evaluators so that program improvement is a constant and grounded pursuit

    You should be able to measure growth or change in any of these areas through a combination of surveys, interviews, observations, video documentation, and transcripts of professional development workshops.

    Creating an Annual Plan

    Carnegie Hall, like many presenting institutions, works on the basis of a “season.” The Weill Music Institute also does much of its work in tandem with the school calendar—roughly September to June. The months of July and August are generally dedicated to completing evaluative work, planning, and recharging batteries, when possible. (It is important to note this because the collaborating institutions of Musical Connections are generally working on 12-month calendars to provide services at all times. Staff and participants might take overlapping holidays to visit family or to take vacation, but services are continuous. It is important that cultural organizations are sensitive to this difference.)

    Musical Connections operates on the 10-month season calendar, and professional development events are created to bookend that timeframe. In Year 1 (2009–2010), Musical Connections held four professional development workshops that all artists and staff attended, along with selected collaborative partners (September, December, March, and June). In Year 2 (2010–2011), the approach is to offer more customized workshops, allowing participants to learn about particular topics relevant to the venues they are visiting. There are still 2–3 professional development workshops for all participants, but the Year 2 calendar features more electives and workshops for smaller groups.

    The calendar that you create should support the work that artists and staff are doing in the community. You can be intentional about front-loading some types of learning (because you anticipate they will need certain kinds of information before they visit venues), and likewise, you can provide opportunities for reflection after certain events have taken place.

    Workshops and Content

    Based on the knowledge of how your program will work, you will also plan for the content of the workshops. You can rely on the strengths of workshop leaders and the expertise available to you from your community partners. You will also want to make sure that you are tying the workshop content to the program goals and learning objectives you have set for your work.

    Here are some examples of the kind of professional development work that we have found most effective:

    • • Direct testimony and/or teaching from collaborating venues’ staff and participants, with ample time for dialogue and questions
    • • Laboratory opportunities for artists to experiment with audience engagement techniques
    • • On-site observations with ample time for dialogue and questions afterwards
    • • Troubleshooting sessions in which artists are able to ask questions and share frustrations and challenges as well as successful solutions to problems

    Artists observe each other in Musical Connections. Hear about how this influences them.

    Assessing and Adjusting

    Healthy learning communities create feedback loops for themselves so they can assess their work and improve it as they go. These loops can be formal (surveys and questionnaires) and informal (observing the group, side conversations, and so on). Based on the feedback you receive, you may wish to adjust your plan as you go. In its first two years, Musical Connections staff members met frequently between professional development sessions and synthesized the formal and informal information they were receiving. Plans often changed based on feedback received.
    It is important to create an assessment plan for the overall program (addressed in other parts of this online guide), and part of that plan should be assessing the effectiveness of the professional development work. Input should be sought from all participants (artists, staff, venue staff, participants, and audiences), and if possible, from an outside, independent evaluator.

    Ongoing Professional Development

    Ideally, professional development, which is at first provided for learners, should become more and more an independent undertaking, driven by the learners themselves. Once artists and staff have experience under their belts, their professional development can be customized to fit more individual needs.

    With Musical Connections at Carnegie Hall, the increasingly independent needs of individuals are balanced with membership in the larger learning community. The group process is also important because some issues and possibilities will only make themselves known when members can hear and respond to the experiences of others. Additionally, since performers and ensembles are generally performing on their own in venues, the professional development gatherings provide some of the richest opportunities for exchange and camaraderie.

    The workshop format is useful for a number of different kinds of professional development (direct instruction, laboratory-style experiments, small group breakouts, and so on), but some of the most useful professional development that artists and staff can engage in arises from observations of the actual work taking place.

    The most common version of this is staff observation of artists. Staff members attend a concert, make notes and observations, and share these impressions in a reflective dialogue after the event has taken place. The exchange is specific and related directly to the work; nothing is abstract. These are valuable opportunities, and time should be invested in helping both staff and artists use them effectively. Outside evaluators may be able to observe as well, helping staff consider the programmatic implications and offering advice about interactions with artists. Evaluators may also be able to help artists directly through interviews or dialogue, depending on how their role is articulated.

    There may also be opportunities to reinforce professional development goals and learning objectives in planning meetings. Although there are many logistics and details to communicate in these sessions, it can be a chance to further develop or clarify ideas about audience engagement or collaborative strategies. Likewise, reflective sessions after performances can provide similar opportunities, even if there has been no observation.

    Supporting Professional Development Work

    Here is a list of criteria for appropriately supporting professional development in this work:

    • • Create a 360° approach (allowing everyone to learn).
    • • Devote adequate resources of time and space for gatherings.
    • • Think of professional development as an ongoing process, present in all aspects of the work rather than just during discrete workshops.
    • • Clearly articulate the purpose, goals, and learning objectives of the professional development.
    • • Strive for an appropriate balance of professional development and direct services (performances, workshop, and so on).

    At Carnegie Hall, in our first years of Musical Connections, we have chosen to emphasize and prioritize professional development, while still offering a wide array of performances and workshops in community settings. This is an investment which we expect will repay us generously over time.