Western Kentucky University

Sarah Schmitt

Sarah Schmitt

Art Access Director

Kentucky Arts Council

Graduated: 2007

 

Where do you currently work?

I am the arts access director for the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC), the state’s arts agency responsible for developing and promoting support for the arts in Kentucky. We are a staff of about 20 people who provide resources, grants and other opportunities for artists and arts organizations. Before I became the arts access director, I worked as a folklife specialist for two years with the Kentucky Folklife Program, a program of the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Historical Society.

 

Tell me a bit about your career?

My position is relatively new, and I have the benefit of being able to shape my job duties to meet the needs of our constituents as they arise. The guiding principle in my work is that I am responsible for ensuring that Kentucky Arts Council programs and services are available to all Kentuckians and that the Kentucky Arts Council is a model of inclusiveness. In this way, “access” is defined broadly, and I engage arts audiences in new and significant ways.

I also ensure that Kentucky Arts Council events and activities are accessible to individuals with disabilities by providing accommodations that are beyond the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act. By intentionally making arts programming meaningful and rewarding to people with disabilities, KAC can serve as a model to other arts organizations in developing their own accommodations and growing their audiences. I also gladly take on other duties as assigned. I work closely with colleagues to evaluate our programs, create new projects, conduct workshops and produce publications.

 

How has folklore prepared you for your career?

I never thought I would be working in a position like this, mainly because I did not come to it with a background in fine arts, ADA law, civil rights law or any kind of law. Luckily, folklore is a holistic discipline that prepares you for almost anything, and all of the courses instill a cultural sensitivity in emerging folklorists. Through my previous work at the Kentucky Folklife Program, the KAC recognized that I am trained mediator who can interpret culture for government agencies and the systems of bureaucracy for folk groups. This was more important to their ends than what I may have been lacking.

 

I also discovered that I didn’t necessarily need a fine arts background; folk art theory and training in public folklore are far more valuable when working with groups and individuals who are making art based on community aesthetics. I have the ability to hold dialogue with diverse groups to determine how the arts council can effectively serve them based on their unique needs. I can then competently convey the value of community art and the art of everyday life to galleries, museums, civic organizations and other state government agencies.

 

I am also apt and willing to tackle the unknown, because I got used to “learning on the job” through my internship, assistantship and course projects at Western. In two years, I lived about 20 different lives: filmmaker, copy editor, transcriber, historic preservation researcher, sound technician, curator, stonemason, oral historian, webmaster, special collections librarian, photographer etc. The academic section of my resume reveals varied experience. I never have to say, “No. I can’t help without that. I don’t have the skills.” I pick up a book, take another course, find an expert who will consult and pitch in where needed.

 

I think this superpower of career flexibility is the most important thing a folklorist has to take from their graduate school experience. There is no paying job where you get to sit in a folklorist box and only do folklore things all day. Your studies and experiences provide you with an amazing toolkit; your willingness to work in a variety of mediums allows you to create great things.

Sarah Schmitt
 Last Modified 7/22/13