My Favorite Class at Booth

My Favorite Class at Booth

The leadership team of The Joffrey Ballet speaking to our class at Harper Center.

There is no shortage of incredible classes to take at Booth. It’s a tradition that second years share their all-time favorites in our #academics Slack channel each quarter, which inevitably sends course bid point prices skyrocketing. If you’re unfamiliar with how Booth uses a bid pricing model for classes, I’ll spare you the details, but like any good economics focused program – it optimizes for supply and demand. At the risk of sending this course’s bid point price through the roof, I can’t help myself but shout from the rooftops about my favorite course I’ve taken at Booth.

What is this course you may wonder? Is it International Corporate Finance with Raguram Rajan, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India? Is it Mergers and Acquisition Strategy, which goes for a record breaking number of points every year? While those are both good guesses, it is in fact neither of those courses. It is instead, Mary Ittelsons’ five week elective course, Arts Leadership: Exemplary Isn’t Enough.

The course is designed to take the perspective of executive leaders of non-profit arts institutions to discuss the challenges and opportunities that face the industry today and moving forward. The goal of the course is to empower future arts leaders, like me, who aspire either to work directly for one of these organizations or indirectly through a board position. 

As an art history minor in undergrad and as a former intern for the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego, I have a strong passion for the arts (see my last post). As such, I was thrilled to see that Booth offered a course on the topic of executive leadership in the sector. The course is smaller by design, with a cap of 40 students and brings together an incredible mix of people. In my section, there were first timers who knew very little about the art industry, but were looking for something to diversify their academic experience at Booth. And, there was a professional cellist who was looking to make a career pivot from the symphony to business. And, like all bell curves, there was everything in between. 

Each week we came together to analyze a selected arts institution. Professor Ittelson curated an incredible selection ranging from local, Chicago-based organizations like The Joffrey Ballet to other institutions like New York City’s The National Theatre and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We prepared for the cases ahead of class and came prepared to discuss the innovations and shortcomings of each organization. Following a lively case discussion where we were split into small groups tasked with devising short-term and long-term strategies for each institution, we then had the unique opportunity to hear from guest speakers – often leaders from the institutions we were studying themselves! 

The most memorable and inspiring class was when we studied The Joffrey Ballet – Chicago’s celebrated and world class ballet company. We not only devised a post-Covid strategy for The Joffrey, but we then pitched our strategy to the three most senior leaders there – The Chairman of The Board, The President and Executive Director, and The Artistic Director. All three of which were in person with us at Booth listening to our ideas. We also had the distinct pleasure of hearing from one of the most tenured dancers at The Joffrey who shared his personal experiences in the Company. The Joffrey then generously invited each of us to come attend their upcoming performance, my personal favorite, The Nutcracker.

On a brisk night lit up by holiday lights, me and a small army of Boothies bundled up to attend The Nutcracker in Chicago’s historic Lyric Opera House—the perfect escape from studying for finals. It was a full circle moment for our class. Not only did we have a greater appreciation for the performance, knowing all the context and talent that goes into running The Joffrey, but we were also able to spot the dancer we spoke with in class. They dazzled as a soloist in the show. The show was the perfect ending to what was an incredibly inspiring class. 

Thank you to The Joffrey Ballet and to Professor Mary Ittelson for hosting such a fantastic course this quarter.