Alumni Spotlight: James Ryan Jillson

Music and arts management alum James Ryan Jillson (B.A. ’13, M.A. ’15) leverages his knowledge of music with his MA/MBA degree skills as the Director of Analytics at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

MA/MBA alum James Ryan Jillson (B.A. ’13, M.A. ’15) is currently utilizing his degrees as the Director of Analytics at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Music and MA/MBA alum James Ryan Jillson (B.A. ’13, M.A. ’15) works as Director of Analytics at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra growing revenue and expanding audiences

James Ryan Jillson (B.A. ’13, M.A. ’15) is this week’s featured alum in our new Alumni Spotlight series for the This Week at Meadows e-newsletter. Each week, a different Meadows alum will be highlighted for their accomplishments post-graduation.



Though James Ryan Jillson graduated from SMU with a bachelor’s in music in 2013, it was his experience in the Meadows’ MA/MBA graduate program that changed his career trajectory. During his time in the MA/MBA program, which combines a graduate degree in arts management with a master’s in business, Jillson took full advantage of the network at his disposal and worked hard by volunteering, interning and connecting with arts industry leaders.


“All of that really helped me understand what kind of career I wanted,” explains Jillson of the networking he did during the program. “My teachers and mentors in the MA/MBA program also left me with a considerable appreciation for just how unique the nonprofit arts space is and the impact that it has.”


This appreciation for nonprofit work led Jillson to his current role as the Director of Analytics for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In this position Jillson is building and leading a new department that has been tasked with leveraging data to help grow revenue and expand audiences. This concept, while common at large for-profit entertainment companies like Netflix or Ticketmaster, is fairly new to the nonprofit arts industry.


“My hope is that this new analytics team can serve a leading role in helping the DSO re-engage audiences that dropped off during the pandemic, reach brand-new audiences, and ultimately broaden our community support,” he says. “And maybe our work can serve as a template for other arts organizations, too.”


Jillson hopes to not only inspire other arts organizations, but also current students interested in the industry. He is an adjunct lecturer for the Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship program and encourages his students to explore the Meadows’ network that was so helpful in his own professional journey. Jillson also warns against discounting students just because they are still in the midst of their education.


“As much as they might have to learn, I think students have just as much that they can contribute,” Jillson states. “My students have new perspectives on the arts as well as a digital fluency that many arts organizations could greatly benefit from.”


With the rise of degree programs like Arts Management and Entrepreneurship, it’s clear that the arts industry is adapting and evolving, and Meadows alumni are helping to lead the charge.

Learn more about Arts Management and Entrepreneurship and the MA/MBA program here.