Featured Alumna – Carla Thomas McGinnis

Posted: December 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm, Last Updated: May 5, 2015 at 4:43 pm



Carla Thomas McGinnis
Masters of Art in Arts Management
Class of  2013

Current position:
Program Specialist
Office of External Affairs
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture



What inspires you as an arts leader?

I am inspired when art moves past just being entertaining, to being a medium through which people transform. I’m inspired when I see people expand their capacity for compassion and self-expression.

What specific area of arts management is your focus?

My focus is educational programming and special events, primarily in museum and theater contexts.

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

I chose George Mason University for a variety of reasons, but at the core I choose Mason because they always keep the art and the artist at the center. As a writer and performer, I was eager to grow as a manager without losing the part of me that is an artist.

What topics in the arts are you most passionate about and why?

I am most passionate about using the arts to educate. Using the arts is a wonderful way to bring people together and expose them to new ideas, cultures and people. While the same art is not beautiful to all people, all people have some kind of art with which they can identify and with which they can express themselves. Art may not be a universal language, but the drive within to create it and to appreciate it is universally present in us all.   When we connect with that part of ourselves we are more eager to connect to others. I am passionate about helping people make that connection.

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

I am applying the skills I learned in the program every day in ways that I’m both aware and unaware. I’m using the experience I gained in everything from using new software to design a newsletter to preparing a three-year zero-based budget. I would recommend this program to someone who has been working professionally for a little while and is interested in accelerating his or her career, especially in the nonprofit arts arena.



Carla J. Thomas McGinnis (The Mountaintop Directing Fellow), Holly Bass (poet/performer) and Marty Rouse (Human Rights Campaign National Field Director) during “The Baton Passes On: After The Mountaintop,” a post-show panel discussion on Civil Rights as part of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of The Mountaintop. Photo by Ryan Maxwell.

Prior to attending the George Mason University Arts Management Program, Carla Thomas McGinnis graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in Women Studies and African American Studies, and worked as the Living History Project Coordinator and Oral Historian at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, MI.

Following her graduation from Mason’s Arts Management Master’s Program in 2013, Carla pioneered an Arts and Humanities Program designed to increase student academic performance, and served as the drama instructor at the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Carla earned a certification with the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Changing Education Through the Arts program.

Carla also served as the National Civil War Project manager at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, where she forged a groundbreaking partnership between four universities and five theater companies around the country, which brought them together to create new curricula and theatrical productions in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.

Currently, she is developing a startup nonprofit organization, Shared World Art Project, which works with young artists to bring to life museum exhibitions through the use of theatre.   She is also currently working as the program specialist in the Office of External Affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.