A Gathering of Artists
The lure of Wolf Trap's location and creative diversity attracts alumni
It's no wonder that Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts recently was named one of the top 50 best places to work by Washingtonian magazine. With a great outdoor arena hosting world-renowned artists such as Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin, an opera company, and a great education center, Wolf Trap buzzes with creativity and learning. So with all that Wolf Trap has to offer, it's no surprise that George Mason graduates from all areas of the career spectrum have migrated a few miles around the Beltway to work for the organization.
The only national park dedicated solely to the performing arts, Wolf Trap is unique in its purpose and its name. Named after the farm that its founder, Catherine Filene Shouse, donated to the government in 1966, Wolf Trap is home to hundreds of live music, stage, and dance performances each year. Each season, thousands gather to sit on the lawn to listen to performances at the Filene Center or attend intimate staged operas in the Barns at Wolf Trap.
Currently, nine Mason alumni and soon-to-be alumni work at Wolf Trap: Charlie Walters (BS Business '71), executive vice president and CFO; Georgia Grena (BS Accounting '82), director of finance; Melanie Wolfe (MA Human Resources Management '91), director of major gifts (development); Debbie Marcinkowski (BA Fine Arts and Psychology '95), director of advertising sales; Barbara Parker Granieri (BFA Dance '98), assistant director of programming and production; Emily Lu (MFA Creative Writing '01), copywriter and graphic designer; Meg Porta (MPA '02), director of development operations; Candace Mauerhan (BS Psychology '04), intern; and MPA student Mary Kay Khattak, director of human resources. With about 80 full-time staffers overall, Mason grads make up more than 10 percent of the workforce. In addition, many Mason students intern at the organization in all areas, ranging from stage production to accounting.
So what makes Wolf Trap such a great place to work? Mason alumni say they enjoy the creative environment, as well as the free tickets to most performances. Most of the alumni have backgrounds in the arts or arts management; some are dancers, flutists, artists, or writers.
Granieri, who handles all the dance performances at the Filene Center, likes that she can meet and interact with professional dancers in her job. She has been able to develop professional relationships with several dancers and dance companies that she first saw perform as a student at Mason. Now, Granieri shares those relationships with the university. Granieri is the executive director of Friends of Dance, the fund-raising organization for Mason's Dance Department. Under her direction, the Friends of Dance has exceeded all previous fund-raising objectives and expanded membership and special events programming.
The partnership between Wolf Trap and Mason has grown over the past few years due in part to the strong alumni base. Another Mason alumnus who has been instrumental in these efforts is Charlie Walters. In his 19 years with the organization, Walters has helped Wolf Trap grow from an organization with an annual budget of $3 million to one with a budget of $20 million. He developed and ran the campaign that built Wolf Trap's new Center for Education, which he says has been “a dream and aspiration of the organization since its inception.” The new facility hosts hundreds of students from preschool to high school who come to learn how to think creatively and artistically and develop an interest in the arts from a young age.
Walters's interest in arts education doesn't stop at the high school level, though. He sits on the advisory board for Mason's new Master's in Arts Management Program and has classes come to Wolf Trap to learn more about the workings of an arts organization. The two institutions often work together to ensure that the best possible venue hosts touring artists coming to the Washington metropolitan area.
These partnerships create a close connection for the Wolf Trap employees and their alma mater. “At George Mason, the dance program was like a family to me, and here at Wolf Trap it is no different,” says Granieri.