Why Arts Administration Matters: An Interview with UCI's Molly Lynch

As I pulled into the University of California, Irvine to park my car I couldn’t help but be transported back in time. I graduated from UCl in 2016, and poured all of myself into four years of dancing, reading, and writing. My degree was in Dance Performance and English and I’m happy to report that I get to use both of them on a daily basis. 

A part of me couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as I started walking towards the Dance Department office of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Another part of me was ecstatic to be interviewing the Chair of the department, Molly Lynch. She was one of my favorite professors and one of the main reasons I became a dance journalist. Professor Lynch is not only a teacher of dance, but she also specializes in arts management, business, and administration.

As I entered the double doors of the department, I was ushered to Lynch’s new office, which had the same sweet charm I had remembered. A table was perfectly cleared in the center of the office for the two of us to sit and talk, and with coffee in hand we dived right in… 

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WHITAKER: In an effort to reach out to our readers who are interested in other areas of the dance world, and dancers who are interested in higher education, we wanted to reach out to someone who could answer our reader’s questions. But before we get into the administrative side of dance, can you tell us a little more about what you do?

LYNCH: As Chair of the Dance Department, I would say my main responsibility is making sure that we as faculty provide the curriculum to the students. We work with the Dean's office on administrative and budget manners while also providing programming within the budget that we are allotted. From the Dean's office we are given initiatives and directives that come down from central and higher up, which means that I need to be communicating with the faculty in the department not only on the curriculum they are teaching but also on any other administrative initiatives.

If you are thinking this sounds like a big responsibility, you are correct, but there is no one better for this job than Molly Lynch. She has had a career that would make your head spin… From being a professional ballerina to running the UCI Dance Department, she can do it all.

So you're now the chair of a renowned Dance Department. I said with enthusiasm. So what kind of jobs prepared you for your current role?

I have been a professional dancer, but I decided fairly early on that I wanted to get involved in the arts management or the administrative side of it instead of going on to a graduate program. I chose to go and work for organizations and I did an internship with South Coast Repertory and eventually got a position as a special events director. I think this is a good direction to go for people who are in dance, because we do events all the time for performances or shows. Then I decided that I wanted to branch out more and get back towards dance, which was my love and passion, and I was asked to be the artistic director of Ballet Pacifica. It was really in the role of artistic director that I experienced having my hand in the budget, production, artistic, marketing fundraising, and education scenes. I came back to teaching at the University and I started out really more as teaching ballet, which was what I was predominantly hired to do, but because of my experience in arts management I was able to start working on an Arts management course as well. So I guess what I'm saying is that some of the business experience that I had outside of the University I am bringing back into the University through the Arts management course and also into the chair position in terms of the budgeting, marketing, and fundraising.

It's a journey and there's no set way to do it, you just have to do it.

So why is it important for dancers to understand the business and administrative part of the dance world?

Well dance is a business and they are part of that business. I think it's very beneficial for dancers to understand what goes on in an organization, like marketing and how to sell tickets and how you raise money for events. Because if you have an idea about how these elements work, you can see how you fit into it and you can become a better member of your organization.

Let’s say a dancer is now interested in the business side of things, what are some careers that focus on the business side of dance?

Well there are a lot of different jobs inside a nonprofit organization and I think that a dancer could find that one area is of more interest than another. For instance marketing, social media, communications (like email blasts), writing press releases, doing photography, development, special events director, or an annual fund director. If you're really good with numbers and you like accounting you could be working in the business office selling subscriptions, or if you are particularly interested in contracts and making sure that everything is explained in the contract you could go into a more legal aspect.

[...] having a college degree [...] not only gives you the knowledge but also lets people know that you know how to learn.

How do you get connected to a big-time theater or a higher up organization with more job options?

Sometimes it's just luck and sometimes it's just being in the right place at the right time. I also encourage people to look for internships, and sometimes it's paid and sometimes it's not. If you have to volunteer, volunteer with the idea to gain more business experience. Get your foot in the door and start to meet people in that organization, and they will start to know you, your work ethic, your discipline, and your level of responsibility. They’ll start to see you're serious about this and you really do want to do this.

After a pause, Molly went on

If they say no to you they're not usually saying 'no' they're just saying 'not right now'.

This little tidbit is extremely comforting; we’ve all been told no after putting ourselves out there at one point or another. Rejection never feels good, but we cannot let it stifle our forward momentum!

Molly Lynch teaching
Molly Lynch teaching

What steps does a dancer need to take in order to work in the business side of the dance world?” I asked. “Should they attend college? Should they double major? Do they need their masters?

I think there's a variety of things they can do and I don't think they have to do all of them. It’s also about what they can do. I think having a college degree is definitely important because that not only gives you the knowledge but also lets people know that you know how to learn. I went and talked to people that worked in the fields I was interested in and asked them if I could have 20 minutes of their time to talk to them about the field and get the recommendation about what I should do to try and get into the field. I went to South Coast Repertory and asked them what do you suggest I do to see if I needed to go back and get a masters, and a lot of times people said just get in there and work.

In regards to continuing education, Professor Lynch had this to say

It's sort of what seems to suit the person, and their timing; what they can afford what they feel comfortable doing.

Side note: I feel like when I graduated there was an expected order: you dance until you can't dance anymore and then you go and find a job that's related to dance. But after I took an arts management course, I realized I could mix up my career order and do what I really wanted to be doing. I could be a dance journalist and a dancer. There's so many more careers now and so many different ways to “make it” as a dancer.

Do you feel like there's a location where there's a higher chance of finding a job in the dance business administration world?

Well you've got to be someplace where there are dance companies. That’s generally major cities, such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, Houston, Chicago, and New York. There are certainly jobs in other cities and other locations, so it doesn’t have to be a major city. I also suggest that you get involved in some organizations like dance USA, because they do a conference every year of networking and professionals from dance companies around the country, and they also have a job listing.

If they say no to you, they're not usually saying 'no' - they're just saying 'not right now'.

And finally, you spend four years with your students, making sure they get a lot of wonderful insight, but if you had to boil your teachings into one sentence, what would you say?

It's a journey and there's no set way to do it, you just have to do it.

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And with that glorious statement our interview came to a close. I thanked the wonderful Molly Lynch for lending me her time and we parted ways. As I drove home, I played our interview over in my head, and decided that her last sentence was worth every penny I spent at UCI. “It’s a journey and there’s no set way to do it, you just have to do it”. How true. My journey has not looked the same as any of my other peers, but it has still been successful, just as your journey is also your own.

So what can we take away from Molly’s wise words?

  • Understanding the business administrative side of the dance world can make you a more valuable member or dancer in your organization.
  • You do not necessarily need a specific type of education, but you should contact individuals in the field you’re interested in and find out what they did to become successful. Chances are they’re going to tell you to just get your foot in the door and start working.
  • Major cities will have the most amount of work available, because you need to be somewhere where dance is prevalent.
  • And of course, remember, “It’s a journey and there’s no set way to do it, you just have to do it.”

About the author

Keira Whitaker is a dedicated teacher, performer, and choreographer, who has been dancing for the past 21 years. She recently graduated from the University of California Irvine with a BFA in Dance performance and a minor in English.