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AU Arts Management Fellows Take the (Back)stage at the Kennedy Center

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AU Arts Management graduate students learn how arts organizations run—from lessons in the classroom to experiences in the field. This year, four students are getting invaluable hands-on experience during yearlong fellowships at the iconic John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Since 2016, the Kennedy Center has hosted 21 fellows from the AU Arts Management Program. Fellows engage with departments across the Center, setting the stage for the students to embark upon successful careers in arts management. Fellows receive a stipend for their work with the Kennedy Center plus tuition awards from AU. All incoming students are considered for fellowship opportunities on campus, and all can also apply for competitive external fellowships. "Hands-on learning is a central and essential part of our Arts Management master's degree,” says Andrew Taylor, Arts Management Program director. “Our collaboration with the Kennedy Center is an ideal example of how our students connect thinking to action, theory to practice."

Alumni of the fellowship program have gone on to jobs at The Kennedy Center itself, and other arts organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Chorus America, and others.

Read on to learn about this year’s cohort of fellows and their projects.

Arts management student fellows at the Kennedy Center.From left to right: Jasmine Watkins, Aidan Dixon, Destiny Bugg, and Jimena Fernandez.

Destiny Bugg (CAS '25) 

Destiny Bugg is passionate about community. A lifelong dancer, Bugg earned her BA in entertainment and arts management while minoring in dance and business at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she became involved with the local dance scene both as a performer and arts administrator. When searching for a graduate school, Bugg sought out a program in a large arts and culture hub. AU’s Arts Management Program was a perfect fit. “The Kennedy Center fellowship was also a big part of the reason I came to AU,” Bugg said. “I wanted to work while going to school to expand my horizons in a new city.” 

In her fellowship, Bugg works in the Kennedy Center’s Social Impact department supporting Dance Sanctuaries, which offers free movement classes to the public, and Culture Caucus, a cohort of culture makers in the DC area. Much of Bugg’s work is dedicated to fostering community and exploring how to forge true partnerships. “A lot of my work is based around empowering our artists and communities,” says Bugg. “We work on integrating them into the network of the Kennedy Center and bringing them into the fold.”   

Bugg aims to build connections around creativity and artistic expression through community and accessible programs. “I want to reach people who don’t necessarily go to the theater but appreciate art in a way they can experience on a day-to-day basis,” says Bugg. “Art is about expression—it doesn’t just live in traditional venues.”

Aidan Dixon (CAS ‘25)

A self-described “music kid,” Aidan Dixon is from West Palm Beach, FL, where he played tuba in middle school and then at a high school for the arts. As an undergraduate at Stetson University majoring in music, Dixon explored many areas outside of music performance—including mentoring, helping with orientation, fundraising, and the student advisory council. “I wanted to find something that could mix music education and arts management. That path took me to AU.” 

In his Kennedy Center fellowship, Dixon supports marketing and recruitment efforts for two youth programs—the National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) Summer Music Institute and the Washington National Opera's (WNO) Opera Institute. “I’m trying to find different voices from across these experiences—conductors, alumni, teachers, current students—and share their stories,” says Dixon. “We are entrepreneurs of the programs we’re pushing. We need to think about how they look coming from the audience across our channels.” 

Seeing the outcomes of music education programs and alumni success from the Kennedy Center’s youth programs has inspired Dixon. “I’m seeing so much intentionality in how programming is done—it does wonders for students,” he says. “Alumni go on to become musicians, conductors, and teachers.” 

Dixon's classroom education at AU enhances the practical experience he’s gained during his fellowship. “I’ve seen work being done across departments that connects to my classes—education, fundraising, marketing, and financial management—it's given me an overarching understanding of non-profit organizations.”

Jimena Fernandez (CAS ‘24)

During her childhood in Costa Rica, Jimena Fernandez started playing the piano and then the flute. She moved to the United States to continue her education at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where she majored in music and political science. “At St. Olaf I studied performance, music theory, and musicology. But I didn’t think that performance was for me.” Fernandez took a one-month class called “Democracy and the Arts” in DC where students visited organizations including Americans for the Arts, Washington Performing Arts, and the Kennedy Center. This experience sparked Fernandez’s pursuit of an Arts Management degree at AU.

As a Kennedy Center fellow, Fernandez works with the Social Impact team, which is divided into three sections—creative alliance, civic alliance, and impact performance. “At first, I explored all different areas,” said Fernandez. “Then, I got to choose my own projects and goals to suit my interests.” 

One of those projects includes helping with events at Millennium Stage. “They train us how to run the backstage from greeting artists to running rehearsals, but also helping with contracts, payments, and communications with artists.” Fernandez’s work also leads her out into DC, facilitating community engagement. “As part of the civic alliance, I table at public libraries around the city and invite people to a free show at the Kennedy Center, including transportation,” says Fernandez. 

Fernandez’s AU coursework has helped inform her work and career goals. “I’m working on programming, but it’s interesting to see how things in my classes come together at the Kennedy Center. For example, I’m not working with finance but it’s helpful to know how it works. Once you’ve taken these classes, you’re more analytical about your work.”

Jasmine Watkins (CAS ‘25)

A native of Atlanta, GA, Jasmine Watkins grew up playing the cello. But, by her second year of middle school her school’s orchestra program shut down. “I realized that my zip code was going to have a big impact on my education and music training,” says Watkins. Through the efforts of her parents and music teachers, Watkins was able to start private lessons and enter a magnet program to continue music lessons. 

After earning a BM in music education from West Virginia University and a research-based master's degree in music performance from Miami University of Ohio, Watkins hit a crossroads. “I wanted to merge my background in education, performance, and my love of research,” says Watkins. “AU’s arts management program seemed like an amazing opportunity where all my interests intersect.” 

As a Kennedy Center fellow, Watkins works in the School and Community Programs department, part of the education division. One of her projects involves the Center’s “Any Given Child” program, which aims to expand access to arts education across the country. Following quarterly meetings with Any Given Child and Partners in Education, Watkins collects and analyzes data collected from attendees. “My report is going to inform the program on its work to support communities,” says Watkins. 

Supporting arts education comes full circle with Watkins’ own story, when her childhood music education was once threatened. ”Being a part of something bigger than myself that really gets me, makes me really excited,” she says. "The department values my ideas and contributions. I feel like a member of the team, welcomed and accepted.”