"It's all a part of giving back," Dr. Karen Chandler said as she peered at a colorful painting of an African-American trumpet player hanging on her office wall. Dr. Chandler is an associate professor in arts management at the College of Charleston who has turned her passion for music into conducting research and education for the community.
From an early age, Chandler was determined to pursue a career in music. At the age of 7, she began to play the piano in her family's home in Nashville, Tenn. As her interests in music and history grew, she went on to receive her bachelor's degree and master's degree in music education and her doctorate in arts and humanities.
Chandler began her career teaching and managing performing and visual arts series at Saint Paul's College in Virginia and later at the University of Virginia where she was able to showcase her fundraising and managerial talents. This experience inspired her to relocate to Washington, D.C. to teach graduate students in arts management at
American University. Years later, Chandler moved to Charleston to co-direct the College's arts management program and then to direct the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. It was her experience at Avery that led her to become involved in an exciting music and heritage project.
In 2003, Chandler co-founded the Charleston Jazz Initiative with Jack McCray, a Post and Courier journalist and jazz history specialist. This ongoing research project documents the careers of jazz musicians who came out of South Carolina.
"We have now documented close to 70 musicians who are native to South Carolina or who were trained here," Chandler said. "My interest in particular is to highlight their contributions because they all were talented ensemble musicians with many of the big bands of the 1930s, 40s and 50s."
In addition to her work with the Charleston Jazz Initiative, Chandler is active with a number of other organizations including the African-American Jazz Caucus. This is a national project based out of New York that involves faculty and students of jazz programs from institutions across the country. Chandler has also published several articles and a book titled "Curtains up on the Friends," a history of the volunteers at
the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Currently, Chandler's primary focus is on her students. Her goal is to train students to manage visual and performing artists and arts organizations. She prides herself on being a teacher who brings real world experiences to the classroom.
"I would like students to know that I sort of come from a wealth of different kinds of interest in the arts and management, and I try to bring a lot of that into the classroom," Chandler said. "I think it's important for students to know that in my classroom I like to bring not only the experiences that I've had but those experiences that I'm currently involved in into our day-to-day classroom interactions."
Scott Shanklin-Peterson, College of Charleston arts management program director, says the College is lucky to have Chandler be such an integral part of the program. Chandler is known for her creativity and hard work in the classroom.
"Professor Chandler brings arts management to life for her students every day," Shanklin-Peterson said. "Her love of the arts, extensive arts management experience, and her enthusiasm for teaching and helping students do their best is clearly apparent."
Aside from teaching students to write press releases, design posters and raise funds for non-profit organizations, Chandler stresses that arts management is a live industry that has no room for excuses.
"I teach that excuses are still just that, excuses. Either you were there or you weren't," Chandler said. "At 8 o'clock the curtain goes up and there's no excuse for the cast being a few minutes late, or the set designer needing an extra day of tweaking. We [arts managers] are a part of an on-time, live industry, and more often than not, we have only
one time to get it right."
At times, balancing her role as a scholar, an educator and a patron of the arts can be overwhelming. Chandler says it's the work she's engaged in to document Charleston and South Carolina's jazz history, that keeps her grounded and reminds her why her involvement with the community is so important.
"It's not only the research experiences of my work with the Charleston Jazz Initiative that keeps me grounded, but it's also the music itself --the rhythm, the swing of jazz, and its improvisational nature," she says. "Jazz represents a creative spirit, a creative energy that takes me to a different level than where I may currently be. It's a real transforming music for me."
For more information on Chandler's involvement in the arts management department please visit http://cofc.edu/artsmanagement.
For more information on the Charleston Jazz Initiative please visit http://www.charlestonjazz.net <http://www.charlestonjazz.net/.
Special thanks to Lauren Santarone for her contributions to this article.