How I Think about Programmatic Excellence at Colburn

Last week, I wrote this post about ways to tip the scales towards programmatic excellence. Here are five reflections on how I set up programming at Colburn:

  1. Give your program time. I was fortunate to be given a year to identify the needs of the Los Angeles community and see how Colburn was best suited to help. Tip: Start by developing a strategy for your organization. You will move faster when you have an institution-wide vision for your program.  
  2. Connect the dots. When I arrived at Colburn, I noticed that we had a few broad-based programs that provided very nice experiences for students and faculty, but didn’t produce the deep engagement present in our other school divisions. The sequential learning necessary for deep engagement simply wasn’t there. There was a lot of pride in preexisting programming (some programs had be going on for decades). I worked to honor those programs by pairing them with new programming that provided deep engagement for interested students. Tip: There is often pride of and sensitivity about preexisting programming when new initiatives start. Instead of cancelling programming outright, figure out how to honor the programs by fitting them into your pursuit of excellence.
  3. Flexibility is key. Make sure the administration, faculty and staff are willing to look at programming as always evolving in pursuit of excellence. Community Engagement at Colburn became a separate division of the institution when I arrived, allowing me to create programming on my own time and utilize the resources available to me in my own way. Tip: Community based work can be messy, especially when you’re working with elements that are often beyond your control (IE community partners, funding sources). Allow new programming to evolve over the first few years and find leaders who are able to adapt programming as necessary.  
  4. Great teachers produce great results. The faculty at the Colburn school is top-notch. I have been so lucky to be able to engage with a pool of highly talented teachers who are dedicated to artistic excellence as the Colburn Community Engagement programs have come into focus. Tip: Set your strategy for the organization first and then bring faculty on board. Getting your teachers to be in tune with programmatic strategy will allow the programming thrive. 
  5. Identify your pipeline. Like most institutions of higher learning as well as community music schools, Colburn had a ready-made pipeline of excellence. From the start, I could imagine a program that had a path for students in my Community Engagement program that ended in the Community School. Tip: Develop an internal pipeline or a pipeline through partnerships to achieve excellence in your programming. I’m attaching this community engagement tool to help you think about your own program. The first slide is an annotated Colburn Community Engagement pipeline document and the second slide is a blank slide for you to create on your own.

I hope this sheds some light my programming. Please let me know if you have any questions, I’m always happy to help!

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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