Arts & Culture

UK celebrates 1st class of Ph.D. grads in arts administration


LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 2, 2024) — Tomorrow, the University of Kentucky will celebrate an inaugural cohort of five graduates from its doctoral program in arts administration — the first of its kind at UK and in the nation.

Launched in 2020, the 46-hour graduate degree prepares students for careers in the arts and cultural sector, including state and local arts councils; federal, state and local government agencies; academic institutions; large arts organizations; economic and community development organizations; and thinktanks.

The online program offers the flexibility necessary for arts scholars to study in a rigorous degree program focused on field competencies and research methodologies. Rachel Shane, chair of the UK Department of Arts Administration in the College of Fine Arts, says the program also meets the needs of the growing arts and cultural sector which contributes over $1.1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy.

"I am overwhelmed with pride for the success of our first Ph.D. in arts administration graduates,” Shane said. “It's equally thrilling to see the culmination of eight years of tireless effort by our faculty in bringing this program to life. We meticulously designed the curriculum to provide the perfect balance of coursework on advanced arts and culture research and research methodologies. The decision to offer it entirely online has demonstrably increased accessibility for students across the country. This is a momentous occasion for the UK Department of Arts Administration, and I eagerly anticipate the future accomplishments of both this graduating class and those who follow." 

The first graduates of the program are all working professionals whose diverse backgrounds and experiences speak to the program’s ability to cater to a wide range of aspiring arts and culture researchers.

“I have no doubt our graduates will become leading voices in arts administration research,” Shane said. “Their work has the potential to unlock a deeper understanding of the arts' immense impact on our communities, and by extension, the economic fabric of our nation.”

Heather McDonald, one of the graduates, is an instructor of arts management and director of the music industry concentration at College of Charleston in South Carolina. She says the UK program offered everything she was looking for, with the bonus of being online.

“My goal was career advancement, but I found so much more,” McDonald said. “I quickly felt like I was part of this incredibly supportive community of scholarship with my peers and faculty mentors that respected my work and that actually challenged me to respect my own work — something I hadn't realized was a struggle for me. I can't wait to continue our work in the field for years to come. The impact the arts admin faculty has had on me has been life changing.”

Graduate Travis Newton, associate professor and chair of arts administration at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, says it is an “absolute honor” to be part of this inaugural class.

“As a faculty member and department chair, this degree will provide me both theoretical and practical support as I continue my work as a leader, teacher and scholar,” he said.

Graduate Rebecca Ferrell, an assistant professor of arts management at College of Charleston, says the current state of arts administration in the U.S. often has artists working in administrative positions by “infrastructural default” — but this new degree is changing that.

“As someone who has lived this experience, the prospect of pursuing a more developed skill set outside of the self-taught model was beyond exciting,” she said. “Aside from the personal accomplishment I feel, this is also a milestone for the field itself, marking the recognition of arts administration as a stand-alone and important area of study worthy of doctoral-level inquiry. The research being conducted in the UK is paving the way for future scholars and practitioners in the arts and culture sector.”

And while they may be online students who live outside of Lexington, McDonald, Newton and Ferrell, along with Tiffini Bowers (assistant director of Special Collections for Art and Exhibitions at Brown University) and Toni Hobbs (director of digital and brand strategy at Morehead State University), are making the trip to Central Kentucky this week to receive their diplomas and be formally hooded as Doctors of Philosophy at UK’s May Commencement Ceremonies.

“I feel a blend of accomplishment and gratitude,” Ferrell said. “Being part of this inaugural cohort has been the highlight of my academic career, as I've had the opportunity to learn from the best scholars in arts administration, including both the professors at UK and my peers within the Ph.D. program.”

The UK Department of Arts Administration has a long history of pioneering online arts administration education. In 2013, the department was the first public university to launch a Master of Arts Administration entirely online. Shane says the Ph.D. is the latest step in their unwavering commitment to provide accessible, high-quality education for arts leaders.

“We believe this Ph.D. program fills a critical research gap within the academia, government, and arts and cultural industries,” she said. “We're excited to see how it shapes the future of arts administration."

Learn more about the program at

Founded in 1987, the Department of Arts Administration at UK College of Fine Arts offers one of the most comprehensive curricula in the country. Dynamic and innovative, the department leads national and international initiatives in teaching, research, professional and community service to educate and inspire responsible arts leaders, artists and entrepreneurs.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.