The basement conference room at the Hospitality House was small and seemed even smaller with the full crowd of eager students, but the ideas shared there were huge.
The William & Mary Arts & Entertainment Alumni Council’s inaugural Arts & Entertainment Conference saw over a dozen industry professionals – many W&M alumni – share their expertise with students eager to launch careers in the fine and performing arts, entertainment, and media fields.
According to their website, the W&M Arts & Entertainment Alumni Council was formed to encourage and enable creative collaboration among alumni in the fine arts, performing arts, entertainment, and media industries as well as to identify ways for accomplished W&M graduates to share their expertise with students on campus – a goal the conference sought to enable.
The conference’s theme, “Arts & Entertainment in a Digital Age,” highlighted the changing nature of the entertainment industries as well as the opportunities – and challenges – such change presents.
Attendees had the opportunity to attend panel discussions on a variety of topics designed to give them an edge in the competitive entertainment industry, including “Writing in a World of iPads, YouTube & Whatever’s Next” and “The Profitable Artist: Resources for Making a Living Creatively.”
Perhaps more important than the sessions were the networking opportunities the conference offered.
“I wish that I had this when I was here, because it would have made a huge difference,” said Judy Plavnick Kiley ’81, a production executive who has worked on shows like “American Chopper” and “Mythbusters.”
Her advice to conference attendees was, “Network. Network until you can’t network anymore because it will be the way you get the job and the job and the job.”
Beyond the conversations that took place among panelists and attendees between discussion sessions, the conference also included networking opportunities in the form of kick-off cocktails on the Alumni House lawn as well as career mentoring roundtables.
According to conference materials, the “speed dating format” roundtables gave students the opportunity to “get honest, off the record advice from the experts.”
Dana Hayes ’14, who plans to go into the television industry, thought that the conference “provided resources for film majors and English majors and all those people who don’t have established networks, especially because the film program hasn’t been around for very long.”
Likewise, panelist Nancy Gunn ’88, Emmy-winning producer of “The Amazing Race” and a member of the Arts & Entertainment Alumni Council’s board of directors saw the conference as providing a head start for students interested in the entertainment industries.
“The best part of it for me is that you have creative professionals from so many different fields who can talk about all the different opportunities. I think that a lot of kids in liberal arts colleges don’t even know the careers that are out there, much less how to get started in them,” she said.
Gunn believes that far from a handicap, a liberal arts education – “worth its weight in gold,” according to her – is vital to success in the entertainment field.
“If you have a broad knowledge base, you can go anywhere you want with hard work and a little luck,” she said.