“I consider myself to be a diehard arts administer, arts patron, and I am open to work anywhere. I just want to be in a position for an organization where I feel like I am making an impact.” That’s what Nancy Casanova (MFA’12) said when asked how she arrived at the decision to move away from Seattle shortly after completing her MFA degree in Arts Leadership. Nancy never thought of leaving Seattle and returning home, but it felt like everything was falling into place after receiving a position at the McNay Art Museum. She felt like she was being pulled back home in more ways than one. Looking back now, she believes it was the best decision for her. She feels that Seattle is a great city to immerse yourself, incubate your ideas, and receive invaluable feedback and advice from your peers and professors.
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Nancy remembers going to see plays, visiting museums, and playing in her father’s office, who was an architect. After completing two years with AmeriCorps, she soon started looking for graduate programs that would help her fulfill her passion to connect the arts and public service. Initially looking for Arts Administration programs online, her search led here to the MFA at Seattle University. To her, it presented the best of both worlds: not just performing arts or visual arts, both big and small organizations, and it gave students the freedom to focus on a broad range of skills. “The thought of having an MFA in Arts Leadership on my resume from a city such as Seattle sounded more appealing and soon became the frontrunner,” she said.
Looking back on her time at SeattleU she is profoundly grateful for all of the group projects, despite her lack of appreciation for them in the moment of being an MFA student. Nancy now sees those group projects as a foreshowing of things to come as an arts leader: “nothing is done alone, working with people while maintaining a healthy relationship is fundamental no matter what position you find yourself in the arts”. She believes that the things she learned in Barbara Grant’s “Leading Staff” class stuck with her the most from the program in her day-to-day life. “That class makes you a better person all round - it shows you how to treat people both respectfully and professionally,” said Nancy. Since graduating, she believes that the broad nature of the program is still useful for her today by providing an excellent overview of different organizational aspects so she can at least dabble in each area as needed.
As a board member of the Mini Art Museum, an organization under the umbrella of Spare Parts, their mission is to bring the fine arts museum experience to schools and the community through accessibility. Remembering what she learned in the “Boards and Volunteers” and “Arts Advocacy” classes, Nancy knew her visit to Europe in June 2015 would bring a unique opportunity to showcase the Mini Art Museum abroad. The Mini Museum agreed with her forward-thinking and prepared the “DEEP IN THE HEART: A Texas Triology” exhibit that showcased the artwork of three San Antonio-born and -based artists: 2015 Texas State Artist Vincent Valdez, Angela Fox, and recent East Central High School graduate/Visual Arts Scholastic Event medalist Christiana Puente. Each artist created a small-scale portrait reflective of San Antonio’s vast artistic craftsmanship. This exhibit received over 100 visitors in its time throughout Europe.
In addition to being on the board of the Mini Art Museum, Nancy is also the Executive Director of the San Antonio Dance Umbrella, and continues to focus on her creative expression as a visual artist. Nancy is now preparing to put all of her MFA skills to good use as she plans to open her own art space Quality Circle. She feels that she's armed with the strong foundational knowledge provided by the MFA program, and feels that now is the time for her to establish her own small arts organization where she can do all these things for a mission she can create and believe in. Nancy explains, “I love being a board and staff member where I can come up with ideas and see them grow. You could work for an arts organization where you believe in their mission, but also feel like you would do it differently if it were your own.” Quality Circle will be a casual venue for art experiences and arts advocacy. “This will be a combination of my knowledge to create an out-of-the-box location for community engagement. Knowing that I am directly helping people through an avenue that I love which is art – to be a part of people’s joy, a part of the community and creating accessibility – will be the greatest reward,” said Nancy.
If you are curious to know if the skills learned this program will transfer over to arts organizations outside of Seattle, Nancy says “yes, definitely.” Nancy encourages students to take their time and operate at their own pace. “Don’t settle coming out of graduate school. It is normal for you to feel like you want your dream job, to put your knowledge and skills to good use, but don’t fret . Give yourself the time; you don’t need all the answers – try not to compare yourself. This is a period of growth; have fun!”
Kevin Maifeld, MFA
Arts Leadership Programs Director
Carol Wolfe Clay, MFA
Director of Graduate Practicums
Chair, Performing Arts & Arts Leadership
Student Financial Services