In February, ShaKea Alston ’17 had a video interview for a coveted internship with the Diversity in Arts Leadership program in New York City. She thought it went well but stayed realistic about her chances to be one of the 12 students chosen from the 100 interviewed.
But two months later, while studying in McCabe Library, she got the call.
“I was pretty excited and a little surprised,” says Alston, a special major in peace and conflict studies and dance from Bronx, N.Y. “After applying for something so competitive, it’s validating to hear they felt strongly enough about my qualifications and potential to accept me.
“Needless to say,” she adds, “it was an awesome study break!”
The Arts & Business Council of New York, a non-profit division of Americans for the Arts, placed Alston and 11 other students at host arts organizations throughout New York City. The program was created to promote diversity in the field of arts management and stimulate creative partnerships between the arts and business communities in New York.
This week, Alston began interning with American Documentary | POV, a series that offers alternative viewpoints to mainstream media. She works in the development department, researching funding prospects and helping to coordinate the launch of the new season of POV, among other tasks.
“I'll also be going on site visits to see where the other members of the cohort are interning and what they're working on,” she says, “and participating in networking and cultural/arts events around NYC.”
Arts organizations serving as intern hosts represent an array of disciplines such as music, dance, theater, visual arts, museums, and arts services. The program matches students with business mentors who guide their personal and professional growth throughout the summer, and it connects students to an alumni network.
Looking back on her first two years at Swarthmore, Alston cites “The Arts as Social Change” course taught by Sharon Friedler, director of the College’s Dance Program, as pivotal. It offered her the chance to intern with Dance/USA Philadelphia and gave her experience with proposing and writing a grant with classmates, which helped her in her internship with the Innocence Project last summer.
“On a more theoretical level,” she says, “the course definitely changed how I thought about and engaged with art on a personal level, and allowed me to share these new ideas with my classmates.
“The course also helped me think about and form my special major, by thinking about the intersection between dance, identity, community engagement, peace, and a whole bunch of other things I haven't quite articulated yet.”
While Alston will do everything possible to be in the moment this summer, learning all that she can from her mentor, peers, and program alumni, she’ll also have an eye to the future.
“I hope to see how my interest in the arts can continue even after I stop performing or practicing dance per se,” she says. “I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do after college, though I will say if someone in the future told me I was working in the development office of a major dance company, I’d be pretty happy and unsurprised to hear it.”