Arts and entertainment Alumni council formed

A panel presented TED-talk style speeches on of free speech in the media followed by a discussion. FILE PHOTO / THE FLAT HAT

A chance conversation between a television executive and a Tony Award winning producer in New York City eventually led to the historical triangle and the College of William and Mary,  the school they both had called home for four years.

As two alumni working in the same industry and in the same city, Jimmy Finn ’00 and Jennifer Isaacson ’06 recognized a lack of connection among College alumni in the arts and entertainment industry. Consequently, in spring 2011, Finn led the charge to put together the College’s Arts and Entertainment Alumni Council.

The group received the green light Friday and was officially approved as one of the first official industry-based alumni organizations.

Finn noticed that the College had limited opportunities for alumni in the arts and entertainment industries to connect, but networking among alumni with a strong base in the industry would benefit all involved.

“We just needed to light the spark that brought them all together,” Finn said.

The council serves as a constituent group of the William and Mary Alumni Association and is governed by a 30-member Board of Directors that includes alumni such as Patton Oswalt ’91 and Bill Lawrence ’90. Members come from all different types of professions, including lighting designers, producers, novelists and even a comedy club owner.

Finding alumni based in the arts and entertainment industry proved challenging.

“We reached out to the theater department,” Isaacson said. “We scoured the Alumni Association directory and spread it just through word of mouth, too. There wasn’t really one centralized list that included everyone. We had to do a little digging.”

The group hopes to connect alumni, current students and faculty in order to provide students with career and academic advice.

In the beginning, Finn reached out to the heads of the theater, speech and dance departments, hoping to gain insight into the needs of students at the College.

He also collaborated with the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center and the Alumni Association to emphasize the need for students to gain career advice about the competitive industry.

“Alumni events that also offer professional benefits like networking are the future,” Executive Vice President of the Alumni Association Karen Cottrell ’66, M.Ed. ’69, Ed.D. ’84 said in a press release. “We can better engage alumni in the life of the College if our programs have the added benefit of advancing their careers.”

Finn also noted that the council hopes to begin a career program similar to the Mason School of Business’s “Dog Street to Wall Street.” The council would connect students with an alumnus in the arts and entertainment industry who students would shadow in New York.

Many of the group’s ideas are still in the works, but the date for its inaugural Arts and Entertainment Conference held at the College has been set for Nov. 8 and 9. The theme, “Arts and Entertainment in a Digital Age,” will include speakers from motion picture, television, theater, advertising and news industries who will discuss the future of entertainment.

Alumni will return to speak at the event, including Reebok’s Head of Global Media David Abramo ’96, screenwriter for “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class” Ashley Edward Miller ’94, and Vice President of Creative Advertising for Nickelodeon Pete Johnson ’91. The event is free for students with a valid student ID and $85 for non-students.

“We wanted to get the alumni back to campus to interact with the students, especially at one of these conferences,” Finn said. “At some point, we want to grow it so it’s a little bit like a small version of South by Southwest.”

The group is also working on collaborations with student organizations, including the William and Mary Film Festival and AMP for a comedy show Nov. 8.

“I always love coming back to William and Mary,” comedian Sara Schaefer ’00 said. “I’ve only been back a few times since I graduated. The last time I performed at William and Mary, it was the best night of my life.”

Schaefer also serves on the council’s board of directors and will speak at the conference in November.

The council’s goals don’t stop with career advice and conferences. Following the recent announcement about the postponement of a new arts complex, Finn expressed his desire that the council advocate for the artistic and creative fields at the College through fundraising and activism.

“One of those things that we hope to make a point of with the administration is that you’ll attract more candidates from New York, Chicago and Boston to come to the Mason School of Business if you have a performing arts center that can host larger tours,” Finn said. “It will be good for the city of Williamsburg in tax revenues and it’ll be great for attracting undergraduate students. Through that, there’s ways of raising significant revenue.”

With the November conference, the group hopes to kickstart its time at the College by connecting alumni, students and faculty with an interest in the arts.

“I really loved William and Mary and I wish I had had more people in my business that I could reach out to and talk to,” Schaefer said. “This helps me give back a little. I can help someone who didn’t have the same opportunities I did.”


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