ArtsCrew program at Brown offers training, flexible jobs and career development for local artists

A workforce development program launched by the Brown Arts Institute is helping to create a pipeline of local arts professionals who build artistic, administrative and technical skills to power campus performances.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Since its debut in October 2023, Brown University’s Lindemann Performing Arts Center has quickly become a premier arts destination, captivating audiences with the inaugural Brown Arts IGNITE Series featuring more than 50 compelling performances, programs and events.

Staging such a vibrant mix of events, concerts, theater productions, dance performances and visual arts exhibits at The Lindemann and in facilities across Brown’s Perelman Arts District campus requires multiple highly-skilled teams.

Enter ArtsCrew — an innovative new workforce development program launched by the Brown Arts Institute and designed to convene a robust pool of campus and local talent to power Brown's artistic endeavors.

The program tackles the challenge of cultivating a local, skilled arts workforce by providing hands-on training, skills development, employment opportunities and a supportive community for aspiring arts professionals. Since its launch last fall, nearly 100 new Brown ArtsCrew members have been hired and trained to fill a variety of part-time positions, including in areas such as box office and front-of-house management, stage management, visitor services, producing, marketing, exhibit preparation, and sound and lighting design.

Open to both local residents and Brown students, the new roles require only a high school diploma and an interest in exploring a career in the arts, culture or entertainment. According to program leaders, more than half of the new hires are budding Rhode Island-based artists, dancers, musicians and performers, along with other local arts educators, administrators and production staff.

Avery Willis Hoffman, artistic director of the Brown Arts Institute, said that by empowering young creative professionals with new skills and freelance job opportunities, ArtsCrew will play a critical part in fueling Providence’s economy and elevating its position as a thriving creative hub. 

"It was crucial at the outset that ArtsCrew focused on serving the employment needs of both Brown students and local creative professionals," Hoffman said. "Aligning with Brown's commitment to create local partnerships that positively impact the Providence community, we recognize the importance of offering flexible work in the arts. This program encourages young and local artists to focus on their craft while earning an income, alleviating the 'hustle' for gig-work that often over-burdens artists."

But ArtsCrew goes beyond providing temporary work. It aspires to build a community around a local pipeline of skilled arts professionals who will be prepared to work at Brown, in Providence and beyond. According to Hoffman, the program is a much needed response to the devastating effects of the pandemic on arts industries nationwide. In the next few years, ArtsCrew will offer paid training, including certification programs and soft skills training, such as resume building and interview preparation, among other workshops tailored specifically to career paths in the arts, she said. 

"We created ArtsCrew not only to connect workers to work but also to inspire community and to cross-train and introduce young people and emerging artists to the many possible job opportunities in the arts," Hoffman said. “While this pilot year will focus on supporting art-making in BAI venues, our long-term vision is for ArtsCrew to become a valuable resource for the wider Brown and Providence arts communities and ultimately beyond.”

Unlocking career opportunities

According to Hoffman, ArtsCrew is one of the first robust campus/community-based workforce development programs for the arts based on a university campus. Entry-level roles offered through the program offer wages between $18 and $22 per hour, with flexible schedules that align with the University’s academic calendar. An ArtsCrew worker could be asked to work up to 35 hours a week, depending on the needs of Brown’s arts programming.

This program is a stepping stone, a beacon of possibility that says 'there's a place for you here, a chance to explore and maybe even make a career.

Farah Figuereo Dancer, choreographer
Farah Figuereo

Ryn Caddick, a multidisciplinary artist who has worked at Brown as an exhibitions assistant since December, sees the part-time role as an opportunity to gain valuable experience as she considers graduate school. At her Providence studio, the Class of 2019 Rhode Island School of Design graduate specializes in printmaking, painting, drawing and animation, but is interested in exploring arts administration or exhibition management, she said, to build on former roles as a curatorial assistant. 

"While I figure out which graduate program is the best fit, this program has given me the time and flexibility to explore my options, refine my skills and gain valuable context for my future in the arts," she said. 

To maximize flexibility and responsiveness to scheduling needs, ArtsCrew members are trained across multiple roles. This cross-training empowers individuals to fill a variety of shifts, allowing the program to adapt to the evolving needs of Brown's diverse arts programming. Roles include exhibition assistants, who support galleries and exhibitions; preparators, who handle the installation and care of artworks; producing assistants, who assist with planning and execution of performances and events; production assistants, who focus on technical responsibilities like set construction and lighting; and visitor services staff, who provide customer service at events, acting as venue ushers and overall Brown Arts Institute representatives. 

Jamil Jorge, who oversees the hiring, training and shift coordination for ArtsCrew as the program's human resources specialist, said the five roles are distinct but equally important. 

"The ArtsCrew roles are incredibly diverse," Jorge said. "Some, like producing roles, involve a lot of administrative tasks. On the other hand, preparator roles are very hands-on; you are putting up or taking down walls and painting. It might just take a week to install the artwork, but prepping or dismantling the space can take a whole month. The key takeaway is that all these different roles are crucial. They free up valuable time for our full-time staff, allowing us to support a much richer schedule of artistic events." 

Throughout the winter and spring, dozens of new staff members were onboarded through orientation and training held in small groups. New hires also embarked on venue tours, gaining familiarity with key locations, including The Lindemann, the Bell Gallery and the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, among other public art and pop-up exhibition spaces across campus. 

Johnny Santini performing
More than half of the new hires are budding Rhode Island-based artists and performers including musician Johnny Santini. Photo by Johnny Santini. 

Johnny Santini, a musician from South Kingstown, Rhode Island, began work as a production assistant at Brown in February. With the role, he said that he has gained new technical experience in theater production, from set building and lighting to operating audio/visual equipment. The job both strengthens his financial stability as a performer and lets him explore new, creative avenues and career paths within Providence's arts scene.

"Playing music around the city is an incredible experience, but the financial opportunities for a full-time performer are limited,” Santini said. "Joining a larger community like Brown is a constant learning experience, and you are surrounded by passionate people who want to see you succeed. I'm excited to see where these new skills and connections might lead. It's opened my eyes to different possibilities for the future." 

For Providence-based dancer and choreographer Farah Figuereo, Brown's ArtsCrew program inspires a tangible hope. She sees it as a path to translating her passion into a long-term professional life in the arts.

"I come from a background where art wasn't seen as a viable career path; dance was just a hobby, something to be left behind for 'real' work, but those 'real' jobs haven't clicked for me," Figuereo said. "ArtsCrew, for me, isn't just about training for a new job — it's about hope. It's showing people like me, everyday people, that there's a chance to work in the arts, even if it's not that exact dream job. This program is a stepping stone, a beacon of possibility that says 'there's a place for you here, a chance to explore and maybe even make a career."