The following is a guest blog post written by Jenisha McDonald, the Arts and Education Council’s 2019 Katherine Dunham Fellow, at the completion of the 16-week program.

As the Arts and Education Council’s 2019 Katherine Dunham Fellow, I have been able to connect with great leaders within the St. Louis arts community and attend events that have made me even more determined to have an impact within the arts community. The fellowship has been the perfect opportunity to see the significant role I can have in arts administration.

The arts are for everyone and our community should reflect that. Through this program, African-American students can see the need for diversity throughout the arts and the positive change we can make happen.  

The project

While working with several departments at the Arts and Education Council, I had the opportunity to apply what I was learning to a project of my own - writing a business plan for an arts-based organization. I am currently working on an afterschool playwriting program for 5th to 8th graders. My organization will partner with schools to give students the opportunity to learn from professional writers and create their own scripts.

At the end of the 16-week program, students will showcase their work for friends and family to see. This program will offer those students a chance to learn a new craft while also helping them to evolve into well-rounded individuals. It is important for children to have a safe space to express themselves and be amongst their peers in a positive environment. I am excited to see how my startup will come together and the impact it will have on our children. 

Top 3 takeaways

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

1.  Details matter. While working on my business plan, I realized the importance of not overlooking details. For example, I want middle schoolers to write their own scripts and have their work performed. I then had to think about how would I make that possible. It is easy to get tangled up in the big picture of things but if you want to produce successful and sustainable work, you have to pay attention to the smaller elements.

2. Embrace change. While creating a business a plan, I was constantly making changes and it was frustrating. I first thought that making several changes meant I was moving away from the vision I had for my program. I soon realized as long as I kept the end-goal in mind while making changes, my business plan would only be new and improved. I have come to realize success is not a straight path but instead full of loops and turns.

3. Unity. I was given the opportunity to attend the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards and yes, it is as amazing as people think. The room was full of diversity and unity! Everyone came full of support and gratitude, not only for the arts but for those who help the arts thrive within our community.  The greatness we see throughout our arts community is due to people coming together and supporting each other. It is important for us to support and lend a hand when we can. We have to be the community we want to see.

Finishing the fellowship, I can say I have gained wisdom that will not only help me develop a successful organization but evolve into a great leader. “Be a student of the world” was advice from Cynthia Prost, Arts and Education Council president and CEO, that I will carry with me throughout my career. I will continue to be intentional in learning from those around me. I want to be impactful and give the upcoming generation an opportunity to thrive and prosper.

The arts are for everyone and through the arts, many children will be impacted in a tremendous way and I will be a part of that movement. The Katherine Dunham Fellowship at the Arts and Education Council has definitely been an experience like no other.

Jenisha McDonald was the Arts and Education Council’s Katherine Dunham Fellow in spring 2019. She is currently a junior studying business administration at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. For more information about the Katherine Dunham Fellowship, click here.

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