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Arts Leadership

M.F.A. in Theatre


Program Overview

Critical thinking, creative problem solving, and bold experimentation form the core of our arts leadership program. We combine coursework with hands-on learning to provide a theoretical framework and practical experience in arts management and advocacy to prepare students for the demands of today’s leadership roles in the arts. 

To complete the degree, successful completion of a minimum of 60 credit hours is required. The program is designed to be completed in three years.

Typically the Arts Leadership program accepts 1-3 students each year.


Why choose this program?

  • We combine coursework with hands-on learning to provide a theoretical framework and practical experience in arts management and advocacy to prepare students for the demands of today’s leadership roles in the arts. 
  • All accepted students receive an assistantship and full tuition waiver. 
  • The M.F.A. in Arts Leadership program is a member of the Association of Arts Administration Educators.
  • As part of the plan of study, each graduate student completes a semester-long internship. 
  • Arts Leadership students have had internships with organizations around the country, including: Alternate ROOTS, Jackson, Mississippi;  Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacob's Pillow, Berkshires, Massachusettes; and the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, New York. 

What You'll Study

To complete the degree, successful completion of a minimum of 60 credit hours is required. The program is designed to be completed in three years. Practical, hands-on projects form the foundation of the program, challenging students to think critically, problem solve, and respond creatively.

Typically, in the first year of the program, students in the Arts Leadership program will be assigned to work 20 hours a week in the Management Office of the School of Performing Arts. The Management Office is responsible for marketing/publicity and front of house duties for School productions. In the second year of the program, an assistantship in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech is possible, providing practical experience in a professional arts center.

Fundamental to the program is the direct connection of theory to practice. To ensure that students in the Arts Leadership program have the opportunity for study and experience in multiple facets of theatre production:

  • All students in the M.F.A. program will participate in the Graduate Seminar during their first two years of the program. (See description in “Courses” section below for more details.)
  • Students may be assigned assistantships in the management office, costume or scene shop, or students may serve as a graduate teaching assistant in the classroom. (Students are placed “where” needed.)
  • Coursework will, when possible, be directly tied to and connected with productions or projects in the School of Performing Arts or arts and cultural organizations in the region.

Our curriculum is designed to provide both practical experience and in-depth exploration through the study of a range of topics relevant to the field today. Courses may be conducted in small groups or one-on-one (independent study). Arts Leadership classes are specifically designed to promote discussion, examination, and hands-on exploration.

My time in the Arts Leadership program at Virginia Tech has been such a wonderful experience! My graduate assistantship at the Moss Arts Center along with class field projects have provided hands-on learning opportunities that have further developed my skills and introduced me to areas of arts administration that I wasn’t even aware of. In addition to experience on campus, this program also provides connections to a wide array of arts leaders in the field, which led me to additional internship opportunities. Amanda‘s dedication to her students and their success is unlike any other. I will be forever grateful for the mentorship that she has provided and the education I received at Virginia Tech. 
- Ashley Pope, M.F.A. in Arts Leadership candidate

After only one semester in the M.F.A. in Arts Leadership program, I was hired by a company as a theatrical research consultant. In my research, I apply the skills I cultivated and honed in the first semester of my graduate studies--skills that were unrefined only a few months prior! This goes to show that the M.F.A. in Arts Leadership not only uplifts theoretical understanding with rigorous textual analysis, but instills the practical application necessary to engage in current challenges in the artistic field.

Dr. Nelson has carefully crafted a program that spans diverse subjects. If you have gaps in your personal learning experience, you will be sure to study topics that not only help you fill those cracks, but plant new methodologies to grow your leadership skills. In addition to the important core classes, students are encouraged to take electives that will fulfill lines of personal inquiry. In this way, students are free to build upon their own passions, while ensuring that core competency in artistic leadership becomes part of the candidate's educational foundation. 

The theatrical medium critically needs individuals who are ready to adaptively lead, and the M.F.A. in Arts Leadership at Virginia Tech bestows the tools needed to students who are ready to work hard to shape their futures.
-Liz Gray, M.F.A. in Arts Leadership candidate

I started this program in Fall 2020, and there could have been no better way to spend my pandemic years. Through this program I was able to explore a bird's-eye view of the field, and through Dr. Nelson's carefully curated syllabi I was able to study both how things had been done and explore what changes I might want to be a part of post-graduation. 

Dr. Nelson displays the same high level of academic rigor that she expects of her students, and she is the most attentive advisor I have ever worked with. The small size of the program allows for a lot of individualized attention and helps me feel very cared for and supported in my studies. 

This program allows for several electives, which has been a wonderful opportunity to explore what a large research institution like VT has to offer. I have been able to take courses in literature, sociology, and urban planning, as well as designing multiple independent studies. It's important to me to stay curious about multiple things and stay well-rounded, and this program afforded me that opportunity.

I think the "leadership" lens of this program is so important right now. Dr. Nelson helps us develop not only the skills to be good stewards of the arts, but also the critical thinking and emotional intelligence necessary for this crucial moment in our field. I feel better equipped to re-enter the field not just as an arts professional, but as a human being capable of tackling challenging problems with resilience.
-Rachel Nunn, 2023 M.F.A. in Arts Leadership

"The M.F.A. Arts Leadership Program at Virginia Tech prepared me to start my professional career with confidence. I find myself using various aspects of my education on a daily basis, and I’m able to share resources I gained at VT with my work community. Joining the program was one of the best decisions I made. 'What’s a Hokie? I am.'"
– Anna Wehr, 2021 M.F.A. in Arts Leadership

“My life was changed by the Arts Leadership MFA program in so many ways. Like many students, I began my graduate education thinking I knew where my career path would lead me. The program exposed me to a variety of coursework and field projects which had a significant influence on my career as a fundraiser. Because of these experiences, I feel empowered as a professional and confident in my ability to make real change in the arts sector. Professor Nelson’s unsurpassed dedication to this program enabled me to become the driven and accomplished professional I am today.”
Caroline Capocelli, 2019 M.F.A. in Arts Leadership

"The arts leadership program presented me with the ability to construct a course of study that included arts management, arts and culture, movement and devised theatre. While attending Virginia Tech I had the opportunity to meet and spend quality time with artists from various disciplines. Such opportunities created a platform for me to grow as an interdisciplinary thinker with an interest in art as both entertainment and a tool for social change. I treasure the relationships established at Virginia Tech during my course of study! I am moving into my post-graduate school life knowing these relationships are part of my future in the field of arts, education and culture. I'm looking forward to launching an ensemble for African Diaspora youth in the Washington Metropolitan within the next year. I know my studies at Virginia Tech have prepared me for this endeavor, and for my longterm life plans of entrepreneurship in the arts."
-Daveisha Gibson, 2017 M.F.A. in Arts Leadership

  • Minimum GPA 3.0 (4 Scale)
  • TOEFL/ IELTS score required  (if applicable)

Learn more 

Each student accepted into the program receives a full tuition scholarship and out-of-state fee waiver. Each student accepted also receives an assistantship of approximately $18,700 for the first academic year, with increasing amounts in the second and third years. To maintain assistantship support, students must be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours each semester.

The Assistantship Work:

Students in the program will be assigned to work in specific production shops - the scene shop, the costume shop, or the management office. Students in the Arts Leadership program may be assigned to work at the Moss Arts Center (typically in the second year of the program).

Find out what loans are available as a graduate student and other opportunities.


Amanda J. Nelson, Ph.D.
344 Henderson Hall