Arts Management Master's Degree Opens Doors of Opportunity for Museum Professional Jessica Meis

Graduate student works as a collections assistant at Columbia's Museum of Contemporary Photography.

For Jessica Meis, the best part about growing up in Texas was the expansiveness of opportunities for cultural engagement. “My family moved to Iowa in 2008 and there it was harder to try different kinds of foods, go to museums, or experience concerts and other art opportunities.  [In college, in Iowa,] I got the opportunity to explore and access these cultural opportunities. And I really found it in Chicago.” For someone interested in building a career in museums, the cultural opportunities in Chicago paired with what Meis characterizes as Columbia’s welcoming and accepting environment made Master of Arts Management (MAM) degree program a perfect fit.

After enrolling, Meis knew immediately that she needed to build her community and start engaging professionally in the world of museums. Columbia’s Museum of Contemporary Photography seemed like the perfect place to start. “I was really interested in building my network,” Meis says of her introduction to Columbia. “I was encouraged to apply to MoCP by Bob Blandford, because it had a lot of positions open and I could use more experience in art handling. So I applied and just went for it.” That choice resulted in Meis’ current position as a collections assistant at MoCP and her meeting Laura Santoyo, who became one of Meis’ mentors. Meis also quickly became involved with the National Emerging Museum Professional Network, which has provided a supportive and informational framework for community building.

Of course, for Meis, her MAM cohort has also proven to be instrumental in her success. “There were eight of us in my cohort, which was a pretty small group, but we’ve been really friendly and we’re supportive of each other’s arts,” Meis says. “We’re all from different disciplines, from music to visual art to performing arts to theatre, but we’ve been able to connect in our shared passion for the arts and making sure that people can access them in some way.” The value that Meis found in her cohort was foundational to her decision to think big and start her own student-run organization serving the department of Business and Entrepreneurship.

In founding the student group Leaders & Innovators for Tomorrow (LIfT), Meis and her colleagues have the goal of “foster[ing] each individual’s entrepreneurial spirit, provid[ing] opportunities to network with industry professionals, and grow[ing] our business & leadership skills through experiential learning.” The group hosts on-campus events, encourages cross-field collaboration, and prides itself on creating a welcoming environment for all.

After graduating this May, Meis looks forward to continuing to work in museum environments and remaining closely connected to the community she’s worked so diligently to build here in Chicago. For Meis, Columbia’s Arts Management MA is a program that she would recommend to all. “The MAM really makes the arts accessible to everyone,” she says. “There’s a lot of people who are willing to help you get into [your chosen] industry, and it’s really possible with the MAM to make those connections and grow your experience.” In the end, her advice boils down to four words: “Just go for it!”