The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Amanda's headshot. Credit: Stephanie Wiseman Photography.

If You Can’t Find It, Create It

An Interview with Amanda Vojvodin-Dargenio

Amanda has a background in arts administration and graduated from the MMIAM in 2015. She is originally from Canada but has been living in Milan, Italy since 2015. She is currently the Marketing and Events Manager for Louisiane (Hermès Cuirs Précieux Group). Amanda also runs her own events company, La Vita è Events.

What is your background and what do you do now?

My background is in theatre and arts administration. I completed two undergraduate degrees from the University of Ottawa: Arts and Administration and French and Italian Culture. During my undergrad I was selected as one of the Ontario Youth Ambassadeurs to study in France, where I did a case study on arts management there. I decided to do the MMIAM because I wanted to blend my business side with my creative side and found that arts management was just the right way to do so. After graduating from the MMIAM program I went on to become an intern at Louisiane, the leather division in Italy of Hermès International located in Milan, and have since grown in the company to be the marketing and events manager.

I started out doing fun intern things like getting coffee, but it grew into something. I’ve gotten really lucky in that I kind of make my own position. I’m part of this huge corporate international company, but I’m still working in a department that has a close family feel.

What is your perspective of the arts and culture industry as a Canadian living in Italy/Europe?

To work in Italy you will always have to work in an internship first. This is different from Canada, for example. It’s very competitive all around so you have to volunteer a lot just to stay connected. Networking is also important while in Milan during MMIAM led me to the internship and then my job.

Work wise, I think the arts and culture sector in Italy is very hard to get into for foreigners. I think mentally, they haven’t quite opened up the borders. Many arts companies are at least partially public, which means you basically have to be an Italian citizen to apply. Now they are at least opening up some director positions to foreigners, the director of the Pinacoteca Di Brera, for example, is actually a Canadian.

The industry at large is different here. Europeans and especially Italians put a lot into their arts and culture. The arts happen naturally. It’s a part of their daily life. And I don’t think they realize how it’s not always part of other people’s lives in other places. Walking around the city is a cultural experience. Museums are everywhere and the cities are surrounded with art. There are so many free concerts and so much pride in Italian music and culture that people really get into it.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II's ceiling
“Most people consider this a fancy ‘mall’, but to me this is an artistic space, rich in history and culture that inspires me and fuels my creativity”. Picture of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’s ceiling. Credit: Amanda Vojvodin Dargenio

Even if your work is not directly arts and culture, are you still able to use your creative side in your work? What fills that space?

Although I’m not technically working in the arts today, I still work closely with the designers and suppliers of our products. Fashion is not so different from the arts. Actually, throughout the MMIAM, and for my thesis, I proposed the idea for an Italian fashion museum. This already exists in many countries, but somehow there still isn’t a national museum for Italian fashion. Fashion is approached in a similar way to art. In Italy the arts are generally traditional things. But now I realize there are arts in the for profit sector as well. The Hermès company is actually a huge sponsor of the arts and is a creative company through and through. They need to be quite creative in all aspects of business.

I work primarily behind the scenes in the B2B (business to business) sector and we need both creative and business skills to succeed. There is a lot of scheduling and budgeting, but creativity and problem solving are also key.

In addition to my work with Louisiane, I also have my own events business. I officially launched La Vita è Events at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown in Italy when the rules were very strict. The name was inspired from a fashion blog that I started during MMIAM La Vita è Style. Although it’s still small, it’s a growing business and it’s very exciting. I get to work with a lot of expat couples that live here and want to have their wedding be both Italian and American/Canadian. Before I officially opened it, I had already been doing the same thing for friends for years.

This is a great outlet for my creativity that I might not get to use as much at my everyday job because there’s so much to do and so many decisions to make that are all my own. The business and management side of MMIAM has really helped me to understand all the business aspects better, because it’s exactly what you need to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Amanda in front of a rich house that will be the location of her next event
“Finding the location for an event, the one that makes the perfect backdrop, is always such an exciting part of my job”. Photo from personal archive

Is MMIAM relevant for non-arts and culture positions? What about entrepreneurship?

Yes! All of the marketing classes and fundamentals that we learn in MMIAM are the same that you would learn anywhere. Some of them we learn in the context of the nonprofit, or specifically for arts, but at the base, they are the same classes you would take in any masters in management degree.

A lot of the skills you need to become a successful manager in any sort of company are soft skills, and soft skills are not taught through a text book, but are learned through experiences. The program gives you these challenges that are not on the syllabus. The group work for example was challenging, but very interesting. There was constant stress, timelines, and cultural differences, but we learned how to work efficiently as a team. The intangibles that companies are looking for is someone with experience and MMIAM gives you experiences that matter. MMIAM’s experimental nature means there are a lot of times when you’ll be dealing with these challenges, but you’re also travelling around the world on a schedule. You get good at adapting to different circumstances and thriving in change and uncertainty. These dynamic experiences are what employers in any industry are looking for and find impressive in an interview.

I think myself and many other MMIAM alumni have made our degree relevant in other industries. There are a number of us doing consulting around the world among many other things. And what if you can’t find the exact job you want right now, especially during the pandemic? I think our generation has learned that if you can’t find the position, you just have to make it yourself. With my job I still wasn’t fully satisfied. I knew I wanted to do more and I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I believe in the importance of the “side hustle” because if what you want isn’t there, you need to create it. The things that you learn in the MMIAM prepare you to either find that job, or make it yourself.

Amanda wearing high heels with red sole... maybe Louboutins?
“‘Keep your heels, head and standards high’ is what I continue to tell myself as a young professional in the arts world”. Photo by Lively Creative Co.