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Like many Harvard students in the arts, Mia E. Riverton Alpert ’99 had a difficult time seeing a pathway into the entertainment industry after graduation. “All our friends [were] going off to med school or law school or investment banking,” she said, “and we and our peers who were interested in arts and sort of nontraditional careers didn’t have that.”
Mia Alpert would eventually build a career as an accomplished actress and writer, and is best known for producing and starring in the film “Red Doors,” which won best narrative feature at Tribeca in 2005. While she was at Harvard, however, OCS only had what she described as a dusty old binder containing one handwritten sheet with the contact information of just five or six alumni working in the arts and entertainment. With a laugh, she said, “And so I was like, okay, I just gotta do this myself.”
Mia Alpert went on to found Harvardwood in 1999 with fellow Harvard alumni Stacy Cohen and Adam Fratto. Since then, the organization has grown to more than 10,000 members around the world. It also introduced Mia Alpert to her husband, David S. Alpert ’97, who is the CEO of Skybound Entertainment and has served as executive producer on shows including “The Walking Dead,” “Invincible” and “Locke & Key.” As the two answered questions, they each made sure the other was sharing the full extent of their thoughts and accomplishments.
The pair recently launched the Mia and David Alpert Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship. The multiyear gift is awarded annually to “support one recent graduate from the College for one year as they pursue their artistic projects.” The fellowship includes a $24,000 grant and will pair the Alpert Harvardwood Fellow with a mentor in their artistic field to help guide them as they pursue their creative projects. The application requires a resume, a work sample or portfolio, a short (one to two minute) introductory video, an artist statement (in written, audio or video format), a creative plan with an overview of their envisioned project(s) and a projected budget for the term of the Fellowship.
The pair share a boundless enthusiasm and passion for the Fellowship, citing the difficult decisions faced by many artists who juggle pursuing their artistic passions with student loans, rent, and job security. Mia Alpert, who spent her college summers interning at companies like Boston Consulting Group and Goldman Sachs, knows this feeling all too well. With this fellowship, she hopes to level the playing field so that future fellows won’t have to stress as much. “Not that it’s an indefinite kind of patronage,” she said. “But [they] can really get their portfolio or their reel or whatever it is in order, and work on their craft, and develop relationships, and have a mentorship, and then be ready to go down that path with a little more certainty and a little demystification of this crazy Hollywood arts thing that is so enticing and yet so frightening at the same time.”
David Alpert, who always knew he wanted to pursue a career in entertainment, had the same struggle, and ended up using law school as the springboard to his entertainment career. He brought up an idea one of his mentors taught him, that the life cycle of successful careers can be broken down into three categories: learning, earning, and returning. “We’re now sort of in the… returning phase, which is what we’re doing here,” he said. “But we want to also feed that cycle and [make] the ratio of success for those people higher… we want people to have an easier chance and easier opportunity to work.”
Something else the duo stressed is their commitment to equity, a concept that is sorely lacking in the arts and entertainment industry at large. “This is yet another way to try to do our part to make access available for people who otherwise wouldn't have access through other means,” Mia Alpert said. “And we think that over time, that will help contribute to underrepresented voices and stories and art finding an audience and those artists finding a career.”
The pair also had some advice for future applicants, beginning with carefully reading over the entire application. David Alpert encouraged applicants to strive for artistic specificity. “If it's like, I love science fiction and I know every single science fiction novel that's been written the last 50 years, there's gonna be somebody making a science fiction movie, video game, TV show that you will be useful to,” he said. “And then it will be sort of connected to the thing that you are already doing, and having that sort of level of expertise sooner increases your value and provides a broader set of opportunities.”
Mia Alpert stressed that focusing on the commercial side of creativity is just as important as focusing on the art itself, an element the Fellowship application strongly emphasizes. “There's pieces of it that are very like — develop a budget, develop a creative plan, these are to-do lists, these are excel spreadsheets — these are things that artists typically wouldn't necessarily be running to [do],” she explained. “They want to wait for the muse to come and tell them what to do, but that's just not how it works in the business of art and entertainment.”
More than anything, though, Mia and David Alpert want applicants to know that what they are doing and the art they create is valued, important, and impactful. “The arts matter, the arts change culture, we really believe that the arts have possibly a bigger influence on the culture than even government and politics… [this fellowship is] our way of saying art matters, you matter, if you're an artist we love you, and we support you, and we want to help you.”
The application for the Mia and David Alpert Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship are due by January 10, 2022, and can be found on harvardwood.org.
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