It’s a brisk Saturday morning at the beginning of my spring break and I finally have time to try to figure out how I can best capture the AE National Summit that occurred three weeks ago today. Most difficult for me is trying to figure out how to put into words the excitement, pride, and passion I felt as we moved through the three day event held in Kansas City, MO. Perhaps the best thing to do is rewind to the day before the summit with a little story.
“I think we’re set!” says Erika Kinser, a DMA student at the University of Missouri- Kansas City and co-host of the 2011 AE Summit in Kansas City. With less than 24 hours before the start of the summit Erika has just breezed into the coffee shop where I’ve been working for the past hour putting the final touches on the weekends activities. With a calm, reassuring confidence, Erika walks me through the final logistics for the three day summit. Erika, the president of the UMKC AE chapter, has been a driving force behind its growth for almost two years and, as we talk over the grinding of espresso beans and the hiss of lattes, I’m overwhelmed by the realization that the summit is imminent. This event has been in the works for the better part of a year and it’s been great to be working on-site for the past 24 hours. Scared, excited, and nervous about the impending activities, I’m snapped back to reality when Erika says “We should head up the hill to pay for the catering.” Erika is the quintessential AE member. Driven, passionate, and artistic, Erika saw AE as an opportunity to enhance her career options two years ago and hasn’t looked back. A pianist, her goal is to land a collegiate teaching job upon completion of her degree. For Erika, AE provides a platform for action that has given her the opportunity to explore life at the intersection of business and the arts. In addition to playing a major role at the summit, Erika has led countless events and developed a strong AE leadership core at UMKC. As we walk around the beautiful UMKC campus, I am so thankful to have Erika in the AE network. Quite simply, the summit would not have happened without her.
So, why is Erika at the core of my description of the summit? Quite simply, Erika— and the 50+ students who attended— are the heart of the AE movement. Over the course of three days, I witnessed what many in my field doubt can be accomplished—business and arts students engaging in a dialogue about the arts, entrepreneurship, and the most pressing issues in our society. Here’s the best part….nobody seemed to be bothered in the slightest by the diversity of people in the room. As Peter Witte, Dean of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance puts it, “When people see it, they get it — especially those outside the tent need concrete examples”
Ultimately, this event wasn’t designed to help arts students update their websites or create the perfect resume, nor was it a conference designed to help the business students create a more effective elevator pitch. While these are important nuts and bolts activities, the summit was an attempt to look more broadly at how the arts and business silos can work together to solve the problems facing our 21st century society. For our passionate, interconnected, Millennial generation, the smashing together of business and arts students was—dare I say it—almost a naturally occurring phenomenon. I hope that any reservations those who attended the summit had about this idea were put to rest after the weekends activities.
So what was this event about? For me, it was about continuing to connect the dots between the arts and business worlds. From my prospective, the most effective way to accomplish this was to drive home the AE mission by simply connecting people to our growing network. The title of the summit Connecting AE and YOU to the World was no mistake. The power of our rapidly growing AE network is proving to be an increasingly useful tool for our members and if our goal was to empower, motivate, and create action amongst our summit attendees I feel a great sense of momentum for the AE network moving forward.