Adam Sachs (M.A. ’20, Political Science) was two months away from graduation when he was laid off from his finance role at a prestigious performing arts organization in Brooklyn. At the time, New York City was only weeks into the pandemic, but the economic impact — particularly on the arts and culture sector — was already becoming clear.
Yet Sachs managed to find a new role as director of finance at Heights and Hills, a social service organization committed to improving the lives of older Brooklyn residents. He spoke to The Graduate Center about searching for different opportunities during this time of extraordinary challenges:
The Graduate Center: How did the Political Science program help prepare you for new position?
Sachs: I came to The Graduate Center as a returning student having already spent 10-plus years working in financial management at a world-renowned performing arts center, so I was already building the nonprofit finance and accounting skills I need for this new role. What the GC gave me was a broader education in city government and urban policy. Understanding that aspect of this work is going to be essential for me. I’m responsible for the finances of a nonprofit that contracts directly with the city of New York to provide essential services for older adults and their families in Brooklyn. Having spent three years at the GC studying aspects of city government and public policy, I’m excited to be working so closely with the largest city government in the country. Partnering with New York City’s Department for the Aging and local elected officials, all while using the financial skills I built professionally, seems like a perfect confluence of everything I was working towards these last few years.
GC: You managed to find this new position during the ongoing pandemic and shutdown. What’s your advice for graduates who are job hunting now, or might soon be?
Sachs: Don’t be afraid to adjust your expectations in a difficult job market but don’t think that means you have to lower your expectations. As I got close to graduating with a degree in political science and public policy, I thought I would take my experience and new degree and continue on a path in the arts and culture sector, perhaps in city government with a job at the Department of Cultural Affairs or with an arts policy organization. This year threw me for a loop. A month before turning in my thesis, I found myself without a job and the arts sector decimated by COVID.
After I graduated, I found I was finding more jobs with social service nonprofits than arts organizations. I broadened my search to include any nonprofit that had a mission that was exciting to me, even if they were in a field that was new to me. The field of aging wasn’t a policy area I studied but I knew Heights and Hills as a local Brooklyn resident and I was actually delivering meals to their clients as a volunteer when I started the application process. Unexpected opportunities will present themselves if you get out there and engage with your community.
GC: What do you think the future holds for the arts and culture sector?
Sachs: We can’t turn our back on the arts — it’s what makes New York City the greatest city in the world. So those jobs will be there. My advice would be to look at grant-making organizations because their work has accelerated during this time. Also keep an eye on arts organizations that are forward-looking and doing quality racial and social justice related work. They’re the ones that are going to get the funding needed to get through this. There is a real reckoning in the arts right now between COVID and social movements demanding change in how arts organizations operate in our cities. The opportunities are there for new and exciting work to emerge. My thesis studied local government ownership of arts facilities and those organizations that live in city-owned buildings are also going to have a leg up on revitalization when audiences and crowds can return in earnest.
GC: What brought you to The Graduate Center, and to the Political Sciences program?
Sachs: I loved where I worked but I wanted a new challenge. I came to the GC to learn specifically about city government, New York City politics, and public policy. I did not have a strong idea of what my next career path would be. I thought perhaps of getting a job with the city, working for an elected official, or staying where I was but with a new skill set. I chose the Political Science department at the GC mainly because the classes looked interesting and I had learned from friends who went back to school in CUNY graduate programs that it could be powerful in transforming their careers, sometimes in unexpected ways.