The Arts Mean Business

Bringing together the arts, education, and business is no small feat—especially during a recession. But one Nazareth alumna is applying what she learned at the College to help adults in the greater Boston, Mass., area thrive despite a recent economic downturn.

Susan Hartnett '77 has always held the arts and education in high regard. As a result, she has been involved in Boston's cultural scene in a variety of roles for the last three decades. Hartnett worked 12 years for the Massachusetts state arts council, then ten years as the director of the Boston Center for the Arts, and afterward for five years in Boston City Hall, including a stint as director of the Boston mayor's office of arts, tourism, and special events and director of economic development for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Hartnett's experience in economic and cultural development is impressive. In 2009, she brought that experience to bear in her current position as the executive director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE), based in Cambridge's historic Harvard Square. Founded nearly 140 years ago, the CCAE is one of the most innovative centers for adult education in the country. The non-profit serves more than 17,000 people per year with courses, poetry readings lectures, performances, and visual art exhibitions.

"More than 450 people teach here each year," says Hartnett, "and each one of them is passionate about his or her work."

With the current economic climate, the CCAE fulfills an important role: providing classes and events to adults from a variety of backgrounds as well as those facing personal or economic hardships. "For someone who, perhaps, has lost a job, he or she can brush up on computer skills or take an art class to feed the soul," says Hartnett. "The CCAE provides financial support as well as moral and psychological support for its participants. And it's very exciting when people support you."

Harnett herself knows about the power of support. As the third of four daughters—all of whom attended and graduated from Nazareth—Hartnett received a scholarship to the College and graduated with a degree in art history and a minor in studio art.

"The arts are central to and permeate our lives," she shares, "but we need special spaces where we can integrate the arts with our lives." Hartnett identifies Nazareth as one of those special places. "The College opened my eyes and introduced me to a variety of art forms—fabric, pottery, theatre arts, and music—and the Arts Center exposed me to work from around the world."

Hartnett also credits several Nazareth professors with letting her explore her own interests and talents. But it was more than just the financial and academic support that shaped Hartnett into the arts and cultural leader that she is today. "Sr. Magdalen LaRow took a generous interest in me. She took me to New York City, introduced me to the city and its universities, and encouraged me to attend the Institute of Fine Arts for a Ph.D. in art history."

Hartnett chose not to pursue a doctorate after all, though LaRow would certainly still be proud of her former student. For Hartnett, an internship in Boston turned into a job (she was hired three weeks into said internship), which in turn launched her career in arts administration and her life in the unofficial cultural and economic capital of New England.

"I'm lucky to be living and working at a time when the arts and public policy have a sustained, if contentious, relationship," Hartnett concludes. "It was at Nazareth that I learned just how hard it is to be an artist. The College taught me enormous respect for artists, and helped me discover my own role in the arts world."