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Breaking Away

Harvard students look for arts options elsewhere

By Ryan J. Meehan, Crimson Staff Writer

Every year, as their peers send off a deluge of resumes to consulting firms, investment banks, and government bureaus, 500 to 600 students interested in pursuing careers in the arts, media and entertainment turn to Office of Career Services (OCS) Assistant Director Gail Gilmore. Gilmore frequently refers the students with whom she consults to various people and programs that will help them establish connections in their fields of interest.

“For sophomores and juniors [in the arts], the pressure to find an arts internship quickly often results from peers who are pursuing internships in fields that have an earlier set of deadlines for both application and notification, such as investment banking, journalism, and consulting,” Gilmore writes in an email to The Crimson. “When one’s peers are sending off applications for internships as early as October, it does tend to create a sense of lagging behind for those not doing so.”

But for those interested in the arts, the industry connections that the OCS provides may only be one part of their desired solution. Torn between the need for real-world artistic experience and the desire to pursue a liberal arts education, many Harvard artists find themselves forced to supplement their academic work by seeking out off-campus arts opportunities.

WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Professor J.D. Connor ’92, the director of undergraduate studies of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department (VES) and a former member of The Crimson’s editorial board, is the first to admit the paradox of an unflinching course credit policy and the need to find an internship. “We’re not at a place where we can allow limited credit amounts for a course,” he says. “And at least in the arts and the creative side there’s basically a need to get an unpaid internship to get a career.”

The college’s policy of valuing curriculum over experience makes the study-through-employment route a path seldom taken. According to Connor, the only feasible way to incorporate an artistic internship into the required course load is through independent study.

“Sometimes someone will want to take an unpaid [film] production internship, which of course we would not give credit for,” he says. “But we might try to build a film studies project around that, where the intellectual work would be industry-analytic and where the job that the student did would be a very small part of the overall work.”

Even then, Connor says, this is rare. “It’s only happened in an exceptional way.”

While the odds of integrating a job or internship in the arts with an academic schedule are slim, a few students have been successful in securing the college’s support for independent art projects pursued in addition to coursework. The Arts Development Fellowship (ADF), first offered in 2006, provides one such alternative. The fellowship is aimed at fostering artistic projects that relate to a student’s course of study or aid his interdisciplinary work. Last year, the Office for the Arts (OFA) awarded the fellowship to a dozen students in concentrations ranging from VES and Music to Linguistics and Chemical and Physical Biology.

Receiving the fellowship last year changed the academic and professional perspective for Madelyn M. Ho ’08. “Because of my great experience at the dance intensive with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, I’m taking Dramatic Arts 34, ‘Paul Taylor Dance Technique and Repertory’ this semester,’” she writes in an email to The Crimson. “I’m also planning on moving to New York next year to continue studying modern dance and auditioning for modern dance companies.”

With a change in administration, there are new hopes on the horizon for the arts-conscious at Harvard. In November 2007, President Drew G. Faust announced the assembly of a task force on the arts consisting of both faculty and students, including Ho. According to OFA Director and task force member Jack Megan, the group will attempt to address the worries of undergraduates trying to pursue the arts outside of Harvard, although he doesn’t specifically foresee jobs or internships as a solution.

“I think that the whole issue of arts in the curriculum, you know, the making of art for credit, versus study of art, that’s one of things that the task force is looking at,” Megan says. The task force also hopes to encourage students to hone their artistic skills­—by becoming proficient in a musical instrument, for example, rather than taking a music class.

CONSERVING TALENT

Some Harvard musicians have already begun developing both their musical proficiency and their analyitical ability. In conjunction with Harvard, the New England Conservatory (NEC), located just across the river from campus, offers a joint-education program that allows a student to graduate from the college in four years with a B.A. while taking studio instruction and music courses simultaneously. A fifth year of study and performance at the graduate level is necessary to complete the program, and each graduate leaves the Conservatory with a masters degree in music.

Alex J. Rezzo ‘11, a saxophonist currently enrolled in the program, acknowledges that, in spite of the scheduling difficulties he confronts, he’s happy with the chance to continue pursuing his musical interests. “If you’re looking for new opportunities, different venues, to expand your boundaries, then the program is great,” Rezzo says. “Among musicians that are looking for a topeducation as well as the broad liberal arts experience, it’s fairly well known,” he adds.

Rezzo is not only getting a master’s degree; he’s getting monetary aid. Unlike Harvard, the NEC offers merit-based scholarships. “NEC’s been really generous as far as helping me out with what is otherwise a large tuition,” he says.

HARVARDWOOD HELPS

Though such opportunities are not available for ever artform, those students interested in the entertainment arts have taken matters into their own hands by creating an extracurricular network all their own. Founded in 1999, Harvardwood is a non-profit organization that creates connections between Harvard alumni and established members of the entertainment business. According to Harvardwood founder and president Mia E. Riverton ’99, one of the network’s goals is to find summer internships for students. “They become a part of our organization and participate in other activities,” she says.

Media goliaths ABC, Disney, Dreamworks, HBO Films, and Miramax Films have all offered internships through Harvardwood, and activities range from film screenings to industry panels and speaker series. “It’s not so much about getting jobs right away but creating connections over time,” she adds. Harvardwood 101 selects twenty-four students to bring to Los Angeles over intersession, introducing them to members of the Harvardwood network. According to Riverton, these programs recruit in coordination with the OCS. But with Harvardwood Career Counselors, a program that coordinates interviews between students and members from their desired fields, she hopes that “maybe [Harvardwood will bring] something that the OCS doesn’t provide.”

With the help of funds from the OCS and OFA, Harvardwood is slowly beginning its on-campus expansion, hoping to reach students during the school year. The organization offers at least one entertainment-oriented seminar every semester, the most recent of which was a television-writing workshop with “Alias” writer Jeffrey D. Melvoin ’75. In addition to a student-run filmmaking club organized by former 101 students, opportunities to work within Harvardwood itself are on the horizon, Riverton says: in the coming months, the goup plans to announce a paid fellowship for a graduating senior or alum.

DOING HIS OWN THING

While the resources of a network like Harvardwood may seem alluring, there are those who seek similar ends and pursue them without the help of such a vast organization. Ian M. Thompson ’11 recently began working as a paid intern under Harvardwood affiliate and screenwriter Andrew Arthur, who heads a Cambridge-based film and theatrical production company called EarthHart Productions. Thompson attended an informal seminar taught by Arthur last semester and afterwards accepted a position as Arthur’s assistant. He works 12-20 hours a week and receives $10 an hour, reading scripts and making comments on them. Thompson noted the irony of his situation, saying, “It’s interesting that people in showbiz who are kind of the lowest down in the business get to comment and decide on things like that, because the more important people just don’t have time to.”

At the moment, Thompson is putting his past film editing experience to work on his boss’ latest project, acting as teaching fellow in Arthur’s next seminar. While these seminars met once a week for two hours when he attended them, Thompson received no college credit for his participation.

Despite this, Thompson maintains that he preferred the opportunities that Arthur offered him over classes in equivalent departments that could have given him elective—or even concentration—credit. Like many other student artists who turn to off-campus opportunities, Thompson has no regrets: “At the back of my mind, I thought this is probably closer to something I’d want to be doing after school than anything I’m doing in school right now.”

—Staff writer Ryan J. Meehan can be reached at rmeehan@fas.harvard.edu.

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