By Sarah Christy
Friday the 13th of March was the last time I worked in my office at International House Philadelphia. Just six weeks prior, after six years with the nonprofit organization in various roles, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer. The organization was already in the midst of a transition, having announced last fall that we would be selling our building and transitioning away from our legacy housing and film programs to find newly relevant ways to support Philadelphia’s international community. Just a month and a half into this new role, we made the difficult decision to significantly reduce operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In very little time I was tasked with drafting a Continuity of Operations plan, setting up technological infrastructure to facilitate working from home, creating a plan to maintain our 14-story building on Chestnut Street while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and interpreting a very dense piece of government legislation with the passage of the CARES Act. All of us are experiencing massive disruptions in our work and home routines as a result of this pandemic and I feel incredibly lucky to continue to have work during these uncertain times. And although I never anticipated that my first few months as COO would be spent in my living room, it has forced me to be innovative, adaptable, and forward-thinking – all tools that will serve me well as I continue my career in the nonprofit arts field.
At the same time, I am currently in my last quarter in the Arts Administration program and completing my thesis. I am fortunate that I conducted my primary research prior to the pandemic when so much changed in our field. After relying heavily on late nights at the Hagerty Library to be most productive, it has been a challenge at times to focus on coursework after sitting at the same desk in my apartment all day long. Finding ways to connect with others and the arts I am so passionate about, whether through Zoom meetings with my advisor, sharing experiences over social media with my classmates, or digital programming from Philadelphia’s diverse arts and culture community, has been helpful. I will miss the opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments in person at graduation in June, but know that the connections made through Drexel’s AAML program will continue long after I submit my final thesis in just a month’s time.
With the recent announcement that the budget proposal put forth by Mayor Kenney includes cutting Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy along with the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, it is increasingly clear that this public health crisis will have significant implications on our field for years to come. Seeing the passion and connection of our community makes me confident that we will rise to this challenging time. Armed with the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained at Drexel, we will continue to advocate for the importance of the arts and push our sector to continue to make an impact in new ways.