Adam Sachs (M.A., 2020) currently serves as the Director of Finance at Heights and Hills, a Brooklyn based organization dedicated to serving older adults. While completing his degree, Adam worked for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and his M.A. thesis focused on how the arts are funded in cities across the U.S.
The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Claudia Benincasa: In a recent interview, you shared your experience of losing a job during the crisis—something not everyone would be comfortable doing. Do you feel strongly about serving as a mentor through hard times?
Adam Sachs: There shouldn’t be any shame in losing a job, especially due to a financial crisis or pandemic, both of which we’ve lived through in recent memory. If I felt empowered it was perhaps because I had just gotten a new job—so it seemed like a good time to encourage others to keep looking. I was out of work for 6 months which felt like a long time and no time at all. It did give me time to finish my M.A. thesis and graduate. And also finish every season of “The Great British Bake Off.”
CB: What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree in Political Science and not another field? Can you tell me about your M.A. thesis?
AS: I returned to school after having worked for nearly 15 years since my undergrad. While I looked at other programs, like one in arts administration, I felt it was more of what I was already doing, whereas the course listing at the GC struck me as interesting and I thought I could get something out of them even if I was less sure how they would apply professionally. That part came with time. My thesis was my attempt to marry my professional career up to that point with everything I had learned at the GC.My thesis studied cities as the largest source of government support for the arts—how funding decisions are bound by a local government’s ownership of arts facilities and cultural buildings. Decisions from the 1800s regarding NYC ownership of buildings in Central Park creates and binds hundreds of millions in arts funding in today’s city budget.
CB: Were you particularly impacted or prepared by any courses, workshops, or similar activities at the GC?
AS: I came to our program to learn about city government, particularly NYC’s. So having the opportunity to work at a social services organization that contracts with a major city agency, I feel extra prepared due to my time at the GC. We talk so much about public policy in a theoretical sense, it’s fulfilling to be on the front lines of policy implementation. My first course was “Politics and Government of New York” with John Mollenkopf and that set me on the right path. The research design class I took with Keena Lipsitz was also a highlight—taking the time to deconstruct how all this work in our field gets done.
CB: You currently serve as the director of Finance at Heights and Hills. Do you have advice for students entering more professionalized roles?
AS: I had been working in nonprofit finance when I started at the GC, at BAM in Brooklyn. When I came to NYC I found an entry level job at an arts organization, and just learned on the job for the next 10+ years. It was the mission that drew me in, nothing really about finance. And now as the Director of Finance at a social service agency that provides assistance to older residents in Brooklyn, it’s still the mission that motivates the work. Every staff meeting starts with our amazing staff sharing stories about how they impacted a client’s life in the last two weeks. Find a place you want to be and then learn how to be useful with whatever skills or aptitude you have. That’s basically what I’ve done the last 17 years I’ve lived in New York.
CB: In undergrad, you majored in theater and writing. Do you miss it?
AS: The reason I live in NYC is because of the arts. Theater, the comedy at places like the now closed UCB Theater—I moved here to do those things. I stopped performing when I no longer found the grind of it fulfilling but it’s still the thing I love most about our city. I can’t wait to get back to seeing live theater. I’m so tired of Netflix.