MAM Alum Alissa Klaus on Art, Community, and Career Fulfillment

How centering professional growth on arts institutions led one Columbia College Chicago MAM alum to a rewarding career in museums.

For Alissa Klaus MAM ’21, now executive director of the Meadows Museum of Art at Centenary College of Louisiana, the world of museums has always had an allure. While an undergrad at Centenary College of Louisiana, Klaus had several internships within the college archives and campus museum and held a position as an administrative assistant at the Noel Community Arts Program (NCAP), a local arts and music non-profit. These experiences were so rewarding that Klaus decided that a career working in museums would be a perfect fit for her skill-sets and interests.

After graduation, Klaus moved to Chicago and began the process of applying to museums and arts organizations. Despite her passion, undergraduate degree, and robust applications, she found herself stuck. “The job search was not going well,” Klaus recalls. “I realized that a master’s degree would need to be my next step if I was serious about this field.” After some research, Klaus decided to visit Columbia’s campus.

On campus, Klaus sat in on a Museum Practicum course taught by Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Arts Management Program Robert Blandford. Klaus was delighted. “The smaller class size, style of teaching and discussion, and familiarity between the students and professors reminded me of all of my favorite things about my undergraduate institution,” she says.

Once enrolled, Blandford became one of Klaus mentors; she worked with him at the Hokin Gallery and he helped her connect with former MAM students with thriving careers in school museums, which helped Klaus hone-in on her ideal post-graduate career pathway. “Getting to learn and apply knowledge in a tangible way was huge,” Klaus says. “Final projects that included creating a marketing plan, accounting documents, strategic plan, fundraising documents, or a negotiation within the structure and support of a class was an incredible opportunity.”

Even better, Klaus was able to leverage electives to bolster her experience and help her stand out competitively after graduation. “The Museum Management and Events Management Practicums were my go-to electives because they gave me real-world experience working with clients to physically bring something to life (and as a bonus they gave me resume lines)!” she says.

After graduation, Klaus and her husband went to Louisiana for an extended visit, where she interviewed for her current position. “I had two interviews and was hired on that visit,” she says. “I was very grateful for my education at Columbia that I knew what questions I needed to be asking and what information I needed to be looking for. It also helped that I was returning to my undergraduate institution, so I had connections and institutional knowledge – at least from a student/alumni perspective – that I could lean on during that time as well.”

To students who might like to follow in Klaus’ footsteps, she has some salient advice: “Try as many things as you can. There are so many different jobs available in museums and arts organizations – exhibition design, grant writing, physical installation work, administration, research, marketing, design, education, community outreach. If you already have skills to get you in the door, it can open other possibilities.” And as Klaus’ career reveals, the skills learned at Columbia can open many doors.