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In The Spotlight: Stephanie Brown

Meadows Alumnus Credits Connections at SMU for Helping Boost Her Career

by Mary Guthrie

Growing up in the small town of McAllen, Texas, Stephanie Brown always dreamt about life in a big city.

When she graduated from high school, she traded the palm trees of McAllen for the River Walk of San Antonio. But it didn’t take long before Dallas’s art scene and SMU wooed her away. By her sophomore year, she was enrolled at Meadows School of the Arts.

“SMU has so many opportunities for people interested in the arts,” says Brown. “Dallas has incredible resources, and the professors at Meadows are enthusiastic supporters of the arts and of their students.”

Brown graduated in 2007 with a B.A. in art history, and while at Meadows, she took advantage of her proximity to expert faculty and trips to world-class art institutions. “I enrolled in the New York Colloquium with Professor Philip Van Keuren,” says Brown, referring to the annual two-week study program that immerses students in the art world in New York with visits to the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum and more. “I had always imagined myself living in New York some day, and opportunities like this gave me the confidence to make that happen.”

She also went on three trips – once as a student and twice as staff – to the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and Poggio Colla Field School, an archaeological excavation in Italy led by former Meadows Art History Professor Dr. Greg Warden.

“We excavated an Etruscan site,” says Brown. “Poggio Colla meant working with experts in the field. We learned about the area’s culture and got a thorough introduction to archaeology and Etruscan history.”

Meadows faculty served as guides all along her collegiate and career path. Recognizing Brown’s ambition, Warden helped her get into a graduate-level art and law class while she was still an undergrad.

Professor Lisa Pon launched her in New York by helping her gain an internship with the College Art Association. “I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if it hadn’t been for Lisa,” says Brown.

In the spring of 2011, Brown joined the New York Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), the largest funder of culture and arts in the United States (2013 annual budget: $155 million). Brown began as a legal analyst, but her work soon shifted to assisting DCLA Commissioner Kate Levin.

“I work closely with the commissioner on a variety of projects around the city,” says Brown. “Considering the depth and breadth of DCLAfunded arts programs, a lot of what I do involves staying informed on what is happening in the community.”

Brown acknowledges that connections with professors and students at Meadows have been important to her career.

“When I was looking for a job, I spoke to Chair of Art History Janis Bergman-Carton and she introduced me to Meadows board member Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo (pictured at left with Stephanie), who is very involved in the art world in New York. I contacted her and we discussed my future and career in New York, and we’ve been in touch ever since. She’s been a great mentor. I admire her so greatly and am so appreciative to Janis for introducing us.”

Cassullo, who has served on numerous boards for such arts organizations as the Whitney Museum and Creative Time, also had mentors during her studies at SMU, including SMU’s Dr. Eleanor Tufts and Dr. Alessandra Comini.

“It’s when Stephanie and I meet for drinks or dinner that I step into the role of friend and mentor,” says Cassullo. “Her life has many parallels to mine, especially at her young age, and in this city. We both assumed roles of great responsibility early in our adult careers, and have focused on giving them our all. Hopefully, I am able to put things in perspective for her, having lived through similar challenges myself. I hope I encourage her.”

“The mentor relationship is very important,” says Brown. “I’ve had many mentors, and I think it’s been so easy for me because of the encouragement I received at SMU. I found that when I voiced passion or concern, the professors at Meadows immediately supported me. I would be in a very different place without those professors.

“To students today, I say seek out your mentors and take advantage of the resources at SMU. Meadows has a great deal to offer to the student who reaches out for opportunity.”

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