Syracuse University Magazine

Cultural Perspectives

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Mark Nerenhausen

During his nearly three decades in arts management, Mark Nerenhausen has learned the importance of presenting shows that do more than share good art and sell out at the box office. For Nerenhausen, the founding director of the Janklow Arts Leadership Program and a Professor of Practice in the art and music histories department, cultural leadership is key to ensuring a healthy life for arts organizations. “They have to be engaged in the community in a meaningful way and know what it means to be part of the community’s foundation,” he says. “Part of my vision for the program is to explore what cultural leadership means from that perspective, which speaks to the connections of the arts with things like economic development, cultural tourism, and community revitalization.”

Since arriving in Syracuse in summer 2011 to launch the interdisciplinary Janklow graduate program, Nerenhausen has embraced the wealth of cultural offerings in Syracuse and upstate New York, as well as those in the several nearby large metropolitan areas. “I don’t know of any other city, in any other location for a program like this, where students have easy access to all the varied dimensions of what cultural leadership means,” he says.

Nerenhausen began his immersion in the arts world as a teenager on Washington Island, Wisconsin. One summer, he and a friend cleaned out an old barn and turned it into a coffeehouse known as the Red Barn, where year-round and summer residents mingled over folk music, art exhibitions, and stage productions. He loved the work, running the venue through his college summers, and learned the value of creating a community atmosphere. While taking a break from graduate studies in Russian cultural history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), Nerenhausen had his eureka moment, courtesy of a graduation announcement he spotted while crumpling up a newspaper destined for kindling in his cabin wood stove. It mentioned a graduate program in arts management and sparked Nerenhausen into action. He earned a master’s degree in arts administration from UWM’s Graduate School of Business, and began an odyssey of managing performing arts centers that took him around the country, from Oshkosh and Milwaukee to Nashville, Knoxville, and Kahului, Hawaii. From 1998 to 2009, he served as president and CEO of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, and before arriving in Syracuse, he helped launch the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas as its president and CEO. 

Throughout his career, Nerenhausen has made it a point to gather a variety of perspectives on art—from such performing artists as Itzhak Perlman, Tony Bennett, and Ringo Starr to Elvis impersonators, from children attending The Lion King to set designers and stage hands, and from donors and businesspeople to even those with no interest in the arts. “To understand all those conversations together is what cultural leadership is all about,” he says. “How do you take that cacophony of voices, that multiplicity of perspectives, and synthesize it all down into a relatively coherent vision, a management strategy, and a plan.” 

Nerenhausen wants his students to understand the delicate balance of competing interests and to do more than acquire professional skills. He envisions them as cultural leaders with big-picture perspectives who know how to fit the pieces together and succeed in a complex cultural environment. “They need to know why their arts organization matters in the larger scheme of things and respond to that intelligently, proactively, and with a sense of vision,” he says. For Nerenhausen, that perspective has staying power. As evidence, he can reflect on his days at the Red Barn and the fact that it celebrated its 40th anniversary this past summer. “In a lot of ways, what I do is teach my students how to manage the Red Barn,” he says. “The emotion, the intent, the perspective are all the same—it’s just a question of scale.” —Jay Cox



Janklow Arts Leadership Program

Founding Director: Mark Nerenhausen, Professor of Practice, Department of Art and Music Histories, the College of Arts and Sciences

Program Background: The interdisciplinary, 15-month program leading to a master’s degree was established with a gift from renowned literary agent and arts patron Mort Janklow ’50 and his wife, Linda Janklow. The program’s goal is to develop leaders for arts organizations through studies in such areas as entrepreneurship, marketing, business operations, education and outreach, and public policy regarding the arts. It welcomed its inaugural class of five students this fall.