In a special series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring faculty members from our 16 departments and programs. We asked why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.
With 25 years of experience in the public arts and culture sector, Jill Stilwell brings a wealth of real-world knowledge to the classroom. From 2003 to 2016, Stilwell was the Director of Cultural Services for the City of Fort Collins, where she oversaw the $8.4 million renovation of the Lincoln Center and the partnership that created the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Stilwell is currently an adjunct faculty member for the Master of Arts Leadership and Cultural Management at the LEAP Institute.
What drew you to teach in the Arts Management program at CSU?
First, I’m an alumna of CSU (Go Rams! Class of ’91) and being able to teach at my alma mater feels like coming full circle. Before I began teaching, I served as the Cultural Services Director for the City of Fort Collins. During that time, I was asked to advise on the development of the Arts Management program at CSU. I loved this amazing idea to bring business acumen to art, music, theatre, and dance students at CSU and offer a graduate program in Arts Management. When the opportunity came to teach in the program, I jumped at the chance to be part of it!
How has your experience working in public arts and culture informed your teaching?
I have 25 plus years of public sector arts and culture management experience. You could say that I’ve been training to become a teacher of arts management for that entire time. I teach from my real-world experience but also ground the practical in research and theory. It’s important to know the “why” behind what we do as arts managers. It’s different from being in the for-profit business world, and I teach about the impacts we can have on communities and the arts. Much of what I learned as an arts manager was by trial and error or from mentors in the field. I enjoy sharing my experiences and what I’ve learned to help future arts managers be successful. I also find I learn as much from my students as perhaps they do from me, so we’re always learning and growing.
How have you seen the arts scene evolve in Northern Colorado?
If you look across Northern Colorado, you can find the entire art spectrum here. We have major performing arts centers, music venues, and intimate theatres; museums of art, science and history; galleries and art walks; studio tours; public art just about everywhere you look; festivals of music, art, food, and even Corgis; cultural celebrations; and concerts from symphonic to indie, indoors and out, all year round. On CSU’s campus, the University Center for the Arts serves as a hub for students and faculty and offers amazing arts experiences for the community too.
What do you predict for the future of arts and culture as we move past this pandemic?
This is the question our entire creative industry is asking. Although we can’t see the future, there are some things we learned during the pandemic that will stick with us. Arts organizations and artists had to lean into technology in new ways and that’s not going to change. Whether its virtual performances on Zoom, online tours of museums and exhibitions, or artists connecting and creating together across the country and the globe, virtual engagement is going to continue and even broaden our reach. Artists have and will continue to use this technology in new and unexpected ways. Once social distancing restrictions are lifted, live arts experiences like concerts, exhibitions, and performances will come back full force. It is human nature to want to gather together and the arts do that in a meaningful and enjoyable way. Unfortunately, some organizations may not survive the pandemic, others might merge together for sustainability. However, there are arts organizations that have held on and used this time to be introspective, to focus on equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice, to re-imagine who and how they serve their communities, and to introduce new ways of engaging with their communities. These organization have an opportunity to come out of the pandemic stronger.
Why would you recommend the MALCM program to prospective students?
I am always recommending this program because it offers a unique approach to practical knowledge that is grounded in theory, so we teach what arts managers do and why we do it. Our program provides skills and knowledge that can be applied to any genre or discipline of the arts and the creative industry or even to non-arts organizations. With our partnership with the Business School and other CSU departments, students use their electives to customize their learning experience. We also have amazing faculty who have worked in the arts management trenches and bring their real-world experience to the classroom and the class into their world. As we emerge from the pandemic, our arts, culture and creative industry will need strong leadership like never before to forge our new future and this program is preparing students for these leadership roles.