I had the opportunity to talk to Jessica Schmidt, Senior Director of Community Programs at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra about her career path. This is the first of three blog posts where Jessica talks about her career path, landing her position at the PSO, and what it’s like having a career in community outreach and arts administration.
RA: Tell us a little bit about yourself
JS: I was born and raised in Minot, North Dakota. I am very proud of my upper Midwest upbringing, as any of my friends/colleagues will tell you (as they roll their eyes at me when I share, for the 45th time, the story about how I missed my senior prom due to a blizzard…). I began playing the French Horn when I was 10. Music and the arts were a very important part of allowing me to establish my identity and to connect with both my local world and a world beyond my hometown.
I chose the arts as my area of career focus in college, attending Indiana University in Bloomington, IN as a music major with a political science secondary focus. Even as a musician in college, I knew that the arts administration side of the field was an area that I was interested in and passionate about. As someone from a smaller town that was located ten hours from the nearest big city, I was appreciative of the impact the arts had on me and how the arts broadened my perspectives and experiences. I wanted to be a part of creating greater access to that diversity of experiences for others, and arts administration gave me a chance to do that.
I spent a summer after graduation interning with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. That experience helped me to be sure that arts administration was truly the route I wanted to take in my career path, and it gave me practical experience that proved to be invaluable during graduate school. I then went to Southern Methodist University for my graduate work, where I received my MA in Arts Administration as well as my MBA. During my graduate school years, I was fortunate to have regular practicum/internship experiences that helped to shape the specifics around my areas of career interest and to connect me to people in the arts administration field that would prove to be important to my development. Specifically, I spent a year interning with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in their Education Department, a semester working with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Development Department, and a summer working for the Communications Department of the Dallas Theater Center. After grad school, I had the great fortune of acquiring an arts administration job with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Education Department, where I worked for three years under the leadership of my grad school mentor.
RA: How did you come to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra? (PSO)
JS: I moved to Pittsburgh from Dallas in 2005 to take the Director of Education and Community Engagement position at the PSO, and have since become the PSO’s Senior Director of Community Programs. I manage community programs for the PSO as well as our diversity work. Finding administrative jobs in the orchestra field–and in the arts administration world, in general–tends to be a lot like finding jobs as a professional musician: you have to wait for a rare opening that fits your skill set and interests, and then you must be prepared to make a physical move across the country if you are lucky enough to “land the job.” In the case of the PSO position, I was fortunate enough to find a position that fit my passions for arts administration, allowed me to grow in my experiences, and be happy at a world-class organization with great colleagues…all located in an amazing city. I’m a lucky person!
Learn more about community outreach and arts administration from Jessica in our upcoming blog posts!