Arts admin program hopes to break through iron curtain

By Nicole Veenstra

For over 40 years the Cold War taught American citizens to intensely mistrust Eastern Europeans. Now, 20 years later, a Rider professor and two students are spending approximately three weeks in the same area Americans once ostracized.

Todd Dellinger, director of the arts administration center and professor of arts administration, is travelling overseas to work on research projects with Naomi Vernon, a junior musical theater major and arts administration minor, and Chelsea Stebbins, a sophomore arts administration and history double major.

Although the point of each research project varies, Dellinger, Vernon and Stebbins will be working together and sharing what they have learned.

“My project is kind of piggybacking [Dellinger’s] project because we’re going to Eastern Europe to do the same sort of thing,” Vernon said. “He’s [focusing on] the broader spectrum of all of the arts in transition while I’m studying the musical theater.”

Vernon, a recent recipient of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Award (URSA), is focusing her research on the lack of presence musical theater has in parts of Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Along with Dellinger, she is also investigating what can be done to increase state support for the arts.

Vernon titled her project “The Frozen Curtain: Expanding Arts Business in the Former Eastern Bloc” and hopes that researching overseas will be a jumping-off point for her future. She hopes to complete her education at Rider and apply for the Fulbright scholarship, which allows the recipient to deeply explore other cultures.

The URSA scholarship began during the 2003-04 academic year and is awarded to approximately five students per year. Each award is $5,000, split between two semesters. Students are asked to present their proposed research project to a panel. The panel then decides what ventures to ultimately support.

“It’s a really great opportunity that [Rider] started to help with independent research study projects,” Vernon said.

Stebbins was not awarded the URSA, but she still plans to join Dellinger and Vernon on their trip to Eastern Europe for the project with the intention of helping out with anything she can.

All three said they plan on communicating to those who are working with or have previous experience in the arts.

“Considering the time period, there are not many people alive who were artists or art administrators at the time,” Stebbins said. “We would like to talk to as many people as we can as soon as we can because there’s no greater research subject than someone who experienced the events first-hand.”

Dellinger also hopes to improve academics through his trip. “My goal with the arts administration program here is to make it the strongest [arts administration] undergraduate program in the country while incorporating an international component,” Dellinger said.

Dellinger added that he hopes to see a development in the project and relationship with Eastern European arts for years to come.

Vernon admits that although she is very enthusiastic about the opportunity she has been given, there is also a sense of shock accompanying the realization that her dream is coming true.

“I wanted to make a difference in the performing arts in another country and expand some more American influence in that region to build more cultural connections,” Vernon said. “And now it’s actually becoming real, which is exciting and kind of scary.”

Karel Foustka, Todd Dellinger and Michal Láznovský discuss how the education of arts administrators varies between Rider and the Czech Republic.
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