Planning and executing major events that raise millions of dollars for the arts is challenging enough. But imagine doing it at one of the most prestigious arts institutions in the country – Carnegie Hall.
As director of special events at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Ginger Vallen ‘05 thrives in the fast-paced, high-pressure world of fundraising and event planning. It’s her job to make sure that no matter how hectic and chaotic things might be behind the scenes that guests and arts patrons enjoy a pitch-perfect event that appears to come off without a hitch.
“From the time I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to spend my life working in the arts, but always saw myself working in a management capacity,” says Vallen, a native of Marietta, Ga. “I never wanted to win an Oscar; I wanted to plan the Oscars.”
In the following Q&A, Vallen discusses the value of her arts management degree, the importance of gaining experience through internships, and the excitement of working at a renowned arts institution.
Q: How did your CofC degree help you land your first job and subsequent jobs?
To me, the most valuable aspect of my arts education at CofC was the real-world experience that accompanied the academic component of my degree. As part of the arts management major, I was required to work at least one internship in the field. My first internships were local within Charleston itself (Theater 99, Spoleto Festival, Piccolo Spoleto), and I was able to leverage that experience into subsequent internships in New York City, including an internship with MTV, where I helped to produce the Video Music Awards. These internships led directly to my first “real” job in the arts in NYC with the Roundabout Theater Company (Broadway) in 2005.
Q: What are your responsibilities in your current role at Carnegie Hall?
I am currently the director of special events at Carnegie Hall, where I oversee a team of four people dedicated to fundraising and event planning for one of the oldest and most prestigious non-for-profit arts institutions in the country.
We plan over 50 events a year – ranging from donor membership events to formal galas – three of which are major fundraisers that raise anywhere between $2 million to $5 million each. These events, and the revenue that they bring in, helps to ensure that Carnegie Hall can continue to provide top-tier artistic programming, as well as music education initiatives in New York City and around the country.
Q: How did you find out about and land your job at Carnegie Hall?
Funnily enough, I saw the job for special events manager posted on-line, and simply applied for it. I was working in the same capacity for the Roundabout Theater Company, but wanted to explore a career outside of theater working for a larger institution with a wider donor base, and Carnegie Hall seemed like an exciting and logical next step. After working as the special events manager for five years at Carnegie Hall, I was promoted to the director.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
Working in special events allows me to interact daily with Carnegie Hall’s donors and supporters, which is an aspect of my job that I love. More than anything else, fundraising for the arts is about cultivating long-lasting and personal relationships, which makes coming into the office a more rewarding experience than just sitting behind a desk. I get to interact with donors from all over the country, and help to ensure that the events they support are as rewarding for the donors as they are for the artists and staff at Carnegie Hall.
Q: What’s the craziest thing you have had to do to pull off an event?
A few years ago there was a labor union strike at Carnegie Hall, which was announced the day of our Opening Night Gala, which is Carnegie’s largest fundraising event of the year. As a result of the strike, the concert that was supposed to be the highlight of the event was unable to be performed, leaving me and my team with only a few hours to contact all of our gala donors and guests to let them know that the concert they had all planned on coming to that night was simply not going to happen. It was the most stressful day of work I’ve ever experienced, but we did convince almost all of our donors to attend an extended gala dinner-dance at the Waldorf Astoria. This was quite an accomplishment, and in the end we pulled off an event we could all be proud of.
Q: What advice do you have for students interested in careers in event management?
Get as much hands-on experience as you can. Fundraising and event planning is a very “real world” field of study, and as much experience as you can get working, the more prepared you’ll be for that first job out of college and the more you will know what type of job you wish to pursue for your career.
Q: What lesson or piece of advice from a professor at the College sticks with you to this day?
Professor Jeanette Guinn, my mentor in college and now a good friend, always stressed how important it was to be aware of what was happening in the world outside of the college classroom. The more aware you are of what’s happening in the arts industry and the world (for example, which companies are making money and donating to artistic causes) the more prepared you’ll be for a career in the field.
Q: What is the ideal skill set and temperament for a job like yours?
This job requires that you stay focused under stress, and can handle multiple responsibilities in a concise and organized manner under a great deal of time pressure.
On the night of an event nothing happens in exactly the way that you planned it, but it’s your job to make sure that your guests participate in a flawless event worth their donation, and that any “glitches” that come up are handled quickly and smoothly.
Q: What are the perks of your job?
In addition to getting to interact with donors on a daily basis, I also get in interact with artists, politicians, and public figures whom I really admire. Throughout my time at Carnegie I’ve been fortunate enough to work with James Taylor, Bill Clinton, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Bloomberg, Sting, Tom Brady, and Elton John, just to name a few.
Q: What is your favorite story from Carnegie’s long history?
Most people don’t know this, but during Prohibition there used to be a speakeasy next to Carnegie Hall. It’s fun to imagine what was happening during those times in the building I work in every day.