Art Works: Turning a Passion into a Profession

Seven successful artists discussed melding the arts with business in a U-Imagine-sponsored panel for students.

Ursinus students studying the arts had the opportunity to ask advice and hear words of wisdom from a panel of seven successful working artists at a March 24 event titled, “Art Works: Turning Your Passion into a Profession,” hosted by the college’s U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies.

Five out of seven of the featured panelists were Ursinus alumni with graduation years ranging from 1939 to 2010. Though the panelists differed in artistic disciplines and professional experiences, each provided valuable insight into the sometimes daunting prospect of making a successful career in the arts.

“Ursinus taught me that there’s more to dancing than the stage,” said Roger Lee ’10, founder, owner and director of programs at Roger Lee Arts, LLC. Lee studied dance and communications at Ursinus. Aspiring to one day be an entrepreneur, Lee earned his master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University before eventually turning his passion for dance and the arts into a successful business. “Know yourself as an artist and create your brand,” Lee advised students.

Peter Bregman ’05 turned his passion for music into a career as a composer, producer, engineer and musician. Emphasizing the importance of networking, Bregman said, “in the art world, you are your community.” He advised budding artists to build a strong network of friends, colleagues and mentors in their desired field early on.

“It’s okay to stay in your lane,” added Amy Hollaman ’05, director and general manager of Terror Behind the Walls and associate director of events at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. “Trade with people in your network that have different skills,” she said, explaining how she traded event planning advice and professional contacts with a graphic designer in her network in order to launch her freelance business website.

“Art is life. As artists, everything you do will become part of your art,” said Bregman. “Everything you do, whether you love it or hate it, will inform your art and your skills in some way.”

“I worked on an assembly line after college,” added Ruth E. Grauert ’39. “It was the end of the Great Depression and jobs were hard to come by. I hated it, so I went to get my master’s at Columbia.” Grauert is founder and director of Bearnstow, a summer arts camp in Mt. Vernon, Maine. Her extraordinary career in the arts earned her the 2005 Martha Hill Lifetime Achievement Award and she holds honorary doctorates from Ursinus College (2009) and Centenary College (2013). “If you’re going to pursue a career in the arts, learn how to write grants!” she advised.

Freelance pianist and accompanist Peter Cirka (Professor Carol Cirka’s son) earned his master’s degree in piano and pedagogy from Penn State before recently completing a Doctor of Musical Arts from Boston University. He recommended identifying one’s artistic mission and following it wholeheartedly, cautioning, “know your limits and set practical goals rather than overextending yourself.”

Julie Toth ’08 is currently communications associate at Villanova, where she is studying for her MBA. She added, “be willing to push your limits and try new things.” Toth served as a set construction assistant while studying at Villanova for her masters in dramaturgy.

Panel moderator Andrew Binns, a freelance baritone vocalist and managing principal at a consulting practice specializing in innovation, strategy and change, emphasized persistence. “Just because the world is speaking a different language doesn’t mean you should give up your dream,” he said. “Follow your passion and go to the beat of your own drum.”

One point that rang true for every panelist: be true to yourself. “Know yourself and be clear on your artistic vision. Follow your heart,” said Lee.

After the discussion, events featuring several of the panelists continued throughout the day on campus. Ruth Grauert gave a talk to group of students at the Berman Museum with fellow panelist Roger Lee and Professor of Dance Karen Clemente; Peter Bregman spoke with students in Professor Holly Hubb’s music class; panelists Julie Toth and Amy Hollaman engaged students in Professor Domenick Scudera’s acting class; and panelists Peter Cirka (piano) and Andrew Binns (baritone) displayed their artistic talents at a CIE Common Event in Bomberger Hall titled, “Musical Works Inspired by 19th Century Romantic Poetry,” where the musical selection complemented current Common Intellectual Experience study of the romantic period. – E.A.