State Theatre Executive Combines MBA and Music Career

State Theatre Executive Combines MBA and Music Career

Alumna Anna Marie Gewirtz is leading the effort to find sources of support that can turn ideas into realities

Anna Marie Gewirtz

'I really enjoy talking to people about what we do here at the State Theatre ... people get excited about being part of something that’s making a difference and bringing the arts to people lives.'
– Anna Marie Gewirtz

Anna Marie Gewirtz would never be described as someone who had stars in her eyes.

By the time she was a teenager, she was a serious musician, performing on piano and singing. She also studied the French horn as part of an intense pre-college program at Julliard, but an internship during college with the National Alliance for Excellence gave her something else to consider besides music: a possible career in arts management.

"I had a sense early on that I didn’t necessarily just want to do music," said Gewirtz, who earned an MBA from Rutgers Business School in 2006. "I knew there was something else I wanted to do that would have a bigger impact on the community."

As vice president of development and strategic partnerships at the 1,850-seat State Theatre in downtown New Brunswick, Gewirtz is in a role now to have that impact. It’s a career that she said was "absolutely launched" by having her MBA.

Whether the theater needs a new sound system or staff wants to create a bilingual program to make the theater more accessible to New Brunswick’s Latino community, Gewirtz is leading the effort to find sources of support that can turn ideas and plans into realities.

"There are projects big and small and needs that come up in an organization like this, and by being in the fund-raising area, you’re able to make those things happen," she said.

"I really enjoy talking to people about what we do here at the State Theatre. I think there are a lot of benefits to companies, foundations and individuals who partner with us,” she said. "People get excited about being part of something that’s making a difference and bringing the arts to people lives."

James Abruzzo, co-founder of Rutgers Business School’s Institute for Ethical Leadership who is a mentor and friend to Gewirtz, said her passion and knowledge of music and the arts comes from years and years of experience. 

Challenges along the way

The road to an executive position at the State Theatre didn’t come without some challenges. Gewirtz’s ambition of working for a non-profit were dashed for a time by a terrible job market she encountered when she graduated from Rutgers in 2002. "I was applying everywhere," she said. "There were just no jobs to be found.”

As an undergraduate, Gewirtz had continued her music studies – coupled with political science – performing with the Rutgers orchestra, wind and brass ensembles. During those years, she also had regular paying gigs in piano bars and lounges.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the first job offer she received was as a performer, playing piano and singing five nights a week in the Oyster Point Hotel in Red Bank. "It was a sweet gig," she said. "To have the opportunity to work as a musician full time and pay the bills, it was very fortuitous."

For a few years, in her early 20s, anyway.

"I was meeting a lot of musicians who had been gigging literally 40, 50 years. It’s not only tough to make a living,” she said. "It’s tough to know where your living is coming from."

"In those first couple of years, I just had the sense that I didn’t want to be sitting on the same piano bench in 30 years," she said.

While keeping her night job in the hotel lounge, she started working as an intern at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, using the opportunity to move into the center’s programming department and to work on its first international Hip Hop Festival.

Gewirtz said some advice from NJPAC’s programming associate William Lockwood about the shortage of people with both a passion for the arts and the business skills to be effective in arts management was the final push she needed to set out to earn an MBA.

Gewirtz with Douglas Garback, chair of the State Theatre, and Michael Sneed of Johnson & Johnson.
She took classes in statistics and other prerequisites that were necessary to get into an MBA program, and she started studying for her GMATs, doing well enough to receive a scholarship to attend Rutgers Business School.

"I remember looking around my first semester, and I was definitely the only jazz musician there," she said.

"I found out very shortly that it was a very welcoming atmosphere, very democratic and egalitarian," she said. "People were helpful to one another, and there were lots of opportunities to take leadership positions."

And she took advantage of some of them.

She served as president the Rutgers Women in Business Association and with a team of MBA students, worked on a semesterlong consulting project for Newark’s Integrity House. The work landed her team Rutgers Business School’s annual Dr. S. George Walters Consulting Excellence Award.

Someone others turn to for ideas

Abruzzo, who met Gewirtz when she took his nonprofit leadership class as an MBA student, said “she was already exhibiting her great leadership abilities.”

"She had a great deal of poise and self-awareness," Abruzzo said. "She was the one other students turned to for ideas."

What also made Gewirtz stand out, he said, were her strong personal values. "She has a great sense of integrity, a great sense of humor and a positive outlook,” he said.

During the MBA program, Gewirtz leveraged her earlier internships to gain more experience in the marketing department with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and then as an associate with DHR International, which provides management consulting to nonprofits. Abruzzo is managing director of DHR International’s nonprofit practice.

"I think my background in music laid the foundation for what I’m doing now in the arts," she said. "But without the business training of an MBA, I don’t think I would have gotten the internship with the symphony orchestra or the opportunity to do consulting with DHR.

"It added a stamp of credibility to my resume,” she said.

Before taking the job at the State Theatre, Gewirtz was director of individual giving at the Liberty Science Center. She also worked for nearly three years as an associate director of corporate and financial relations for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre after finishing her MBA. 

Gewirtz still aspires to become a CEO of a major performing arts organization where knowing how to raise money, build programs and bring in audiences is key to being successful.

"I’m not there yet,” she said of her ultimate goal, "but each of these opportunities has been another piece of the puzzle and another chance to do something good for the arts."