Alumni Profile – Jessica Smith Jellish

Posted: December 15, 2015 at 10:52 am, Last Updated: December 15, 2015 at 10:54 am

Jessica Smith Jellish

MA in Arts Management 2013
Erin Gaffney Award Recipient 2013
Special Events Showroom Director, Party Rental LTD

What topics in the arts are you most passionate about?

I am very passionate about involving our youth in the arts! Lately, it seems there has been a major shift away from the arts even to the point of removing arts programs completely from our schools. Choral programs, theatre programs, visual arts programs, band, orchestra—they all seem to be taking a major hit. For our children, the arts not only encourage imaginative play but they are so crucial in developing creative thinking skills and have been shown to help reduce stress and improve overall physical health.

What inspires you as an arts leader?

Once upon a time, someone told me that great leaders start with The Why. Inspiring people (my goodness, even inspiring yourself!) doesn’t begin with the how, but the WHY. So for me, inspiration and motivation changes depending on the work I am doing, but I always stay focused on WHY we’re doing the work and I try to instill an understanding, love, and excitement for The Why in myself, my coworkers, and volunteers.

What specific area of arts management is your focus?

Both throughout my graduate experience and now in my professional career I’ve focused primarily on special event management—creation, execution, and evaluation. I find this discipline incredibly rewarding as it allows me to work in many different fields—development, marketing & public relations, even community services and audience development! Working in special events has allowed me to become a subject matter expert, while still allowing me to learn new things every single day.

How has winning the Erin Gaffney Award influenced your life and career?

I was truly honored to be recognized for my work in the arts and our wonderful program as the 2013 recipient of the Erin Gaffney Memorial Award. Richard Kamenitzer, Program Director & Associate Professor Emeritus, described Erin as “a lighted candle in the dark.” For me personally, I strive every day to live that kind of life. To be a leader, to inspire, to guide. To live a passionate life dedicated to the arts and my community. And on days that I falter, I seek out the other candles around me, and reignite.


Jessica, her family, and the Gaffneys at the award ceremony.

How do you employ the transformative power of art in your work?

I am fortunate enough to work with a wide book of businesses, partnering with larger venues, such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC, and smaller venues, such as Young Voices Theatre in Woodbridge, VA. And in so doing, I have witnessed the transformative power of art in so many different ways! I have helped to organize a theatre workshop for a charter school that focused on bullying prevention. I have worked on a gala opening focused on ending domestic violence. I have watched children and adults shift their thinking through art. I have watched people relax and become happier, healthier people right before my eyes, simply because they partook in an artistic event. It is just amazing. I could write you an epic novel on this topic!

Why did you choose to study arts management at George Mason University?

Honestly, I knew my strengths, organization and managerial skills, and I knew my passion, the arts.  I wanted to make myself more competitive, more marketable, and to really hone my skill set. Ultimately my decision to study arts management at George Mason was threefold. The well rounded nature of the program allowed me to sample different aspects of arts management and then delve more deeply into the advance subject matter that spoke to me. The adult-friendly nature of the program allowed me to continue to work my full time job throughout the entire two year program. And, to be honest, the price tag! I truly felt that the education and experience presented by George Mason was the best “bang for my buck.”

How are you applying the skills you learned in the program to your professional career?

Please forgive this copout sounding answer but I quite literally use ALL the skills I learned in the program, both in and out of the classroom, in my life working in special events. I build budgets and cut checks in Quick Books (hello, Finance I), I do an endless array of PR & Marketing work, I write grants, I attend networking events, the list goes on and on!

What are you involved in now in the arts and in your career?

Currently I am working with a wide variety of venues and vendors helping to create, manage, and evaluate special events ranging from galas, to openings, to workshops, and beyond!

Any exciting projects on the horizon or plans for the future?

I am extremely excited to be launching my own company, Jessica Jellish Events, in 2016. Be on the lookout!

Anything else you would like to share?

I am always happy to chat with future, past, and current George Mason Students! Feel free to reach out at any time. Maybe we’ll catch a show!


About Jessica

Jessica Smith Jellish is the Special Events Showroom Director at Party Rental LTD. Known for her attention to detail and interactive management style, Mrs. Jellish has designed and managed events in the Washington, DC Metro area ranging from studio openings to Presidential Election galas.

During her tenure at George Mason University, Mrs. Jellish served as the President of the Graduate Arts Management Society (GAMS), where she initiated a wide variety of projects including monthly socials that ranged from local coffee shop get-togethers to day trips to cities such as Philadelphia and New York City to discuss the arts community in neighboring areas.

Mrs. Jellish currently resides in Northern Virginia with her husband, child, three cats, and a cactus that she has magically managed to keep alive for over five years now.