Meaningful Engagement International

Development, Arts and Cultural Policy Consulting


The Arts and Cultural Policy Thesis

Posted on October 17, 2008 at 3:45 AM


The Arts and Cultural Policy Thesis

U.S. cultural policy is such a small field and I have been getting so many calls lately that I am posting this in hopes that it is helpful.  Then I can take more time to speak to individual questions and ideas. 


So, you have decided to try your hand at a thesis in arts/cultural policy. Congratulations!  Courage! Think of it as a birthing process.  Seriously.  The key word here is process-it's both creative and a lot of hard work and discipline because unfortunately these things don't write themselves.

You want to pick something interesting enough that when you wake up stressing about it in the middle of the night and you are so sick of the topic that you want to jump off a cliff that there is some small part of you that is dying to know the answer to your posed question. This leads me to my first piece of guidance.

1.      The Question:  It is tempting to try and solve world peace, or map out the entire U.S. cultural ecosystem.  Be realistic.  First, figure out what is feasible given your resources.  Don't be afraid to think interdisciplinary. Will you be able to have the access you need to individuals and/or data etc? Think about what your absolute timeframe is and don't forget to add in procrastination time.  Is this a one-term project, one year?  Consider that there will be a period after you gather all the information that you will need to process your ideas before writing.  Ultimately, your key question should be able to be answered by a yes or a no.  If not, break it down. It is almost impossible to have a question that is too simplistic. You can have secondary questions but your hypothesis needs to be very clear, concise and answerable.

2.      The Goal: What do you REALLY want to do with your degree when you are done?  What do you want to be an expert in when you are finished? If you have a longer timeframe a thesis can be an opportunity to make contacts with organizations and individuals related to the type of job you want to get.  This could lead to your first publication.  If you are having trouble narrowing the field, call the organization etc. you think you are dying to work at and ask them what questions they have that they don't have time to answer. Use them as a case study.  But don't forget to go back to step 1-is it realistic?

3.      Editing: EVERYONE needs an editor-or two or three.  Before turning in the final draft, read it out loud to yourself one last time.  At that point, you (the author) will be so close to the work it will be almost impossible to catch your own errors. Hearing your writing orally will put it into new context and will also alert you to those too long sentences (a personal flaw in case you haven't noticed).  Make sure one of your editors is outside your field.  This keeps it from being too insular and theoretical.

4.      Interviews: A digital tape recorder can be your best friend.  Also, if you really get behind you can then send out the files to have them transcribed. Need to make an international call for an interview?  I have used Skype pretty successfully and if your subject has Skype too then the call is free. Also, there is a recorder feature that you can use (but you need to get permission from the individual.) Your thesis advisor should tell you this, but if you are doing interviews you need to make sure you are following human subject protocols (this varies if you are doing internationally comparative work).  Have a one-page description of your project and its goals ready to go with your request. Respect confidentiality.  Get subjects to sign a release form (most universities require this anyway).  Plan on allowing subjects to review their quotes in the context of a final document. Most want to sound better in print than they did verbatim.  Finally, ALWAYS say thank you.

5.      Backup: Backup everything and date your drafts.  Emailing yourself the latest version is a great way to be able to access the latest from anywhere as well as to have backup copies and it is easily stored and deleted. It's amazing how much time can be lost when the writing gods decide not to bless you and it will always be when that draft is due tomorrow. Despite  knowing better, sometimes it is unavoidable. This happened to me in September so when it does happen laugh it off and fix it as best you can while you still remember.  Sometimes it ends up being even betterJ

6.      The Journey: Not too sound too cheesy but, it is a journey and a chance to take the time to really think about something. While it is an opportunity for personal growth-ah the things we tell ourselves to be able to finish-don't take things too personally.  Especially when trying to reach individuals or obtain data do not take it personally if someone does not respond to you right away.  Don't be afraid to place a follow-up call.  Haven't heard from someone? Give them a few weeks (think vacation, board meeting, election) and then send a nice but firm email with a deadline. If you are cordial, the worst thing you will hear is no.  Some people are just too busy to respond and it has nothing to do with you.  After three tries, move on. Referrals are best so if you can get someone to introduce you this is always preferable to a cold call. That said, a thesis is a unique experience and most people are happy to help if they can. 

So Bon Voyage!  Feel free to get in touch if you need some assistance and I'll do the best I can or refer you to an expert related to your investigation. But, if I don't respond right away don't take it personally.  Give me a few weeks and then try again. I'm probably just hibernating to finish my own current project.

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