Q&A with Laurel Toyofuku ‘14, Chelsea Factory, Head of Marketing and Community; Formerly Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
In this interview with the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (DEMAN), Laurel Toyofuku ‘14 shares how her undergraduate experiences — including a Duke in New York semester and an internship with Duke Performances — helped her navigate a career in the arts. “I loved having the opportunity to be immersed in all sides of presenting artistic experiences,” she says.
Major: Visual & Media Studies / Minor: Music
What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?
My extracurricular and off-campus experiences at Duke were pivotal. My junior year, I participated in the Duke in New York fall semester program. In addition to being immersed in New York living and culture, I had my first internship experience working as a production assistant for CBS. It was such a great introduction to understanding the application and interview processes and provided a sneak peek at working in New York. Similarly, I was an intern for Duke Performances my senior year, which was my first taste of arts administration, ultimately leading me to pursue my current field.
I also give a lot of credit to the writing courses I took at Duke. It’s true, organizations are always looking for good writers! In every role I’ve had, writing has been central — whether drafting proposals, editorial pieces, or correspondence. While I probably wouldn’t have said it at the time, I am grateful for the writing seminars we were required to take at Duke. They helped hone my writing voice and actively think through tone and structure — skills I utilize daily.
How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?
I didn’t graduate with a job, which was daunting given so many of my classmates either had already been recruited for positions or were headed to graduate school. The Duke network was fundamental to my professional career, and I credit the internships and on-campus jobs I had while at Duke with helping me learn how to navigate networking and how to leverage Duke’s resources. My senior year, I mentioned to my voice teacher at Duke that I was interested in working for a performing arts organization, and he connected me with one of his former voice students working at Lincoln Center. We spoke by phone, and I stayed in touch. When I asked for a coffee the summer after I graduated, I was fortunate to learn there was an internship opening on her team. During my time at Lincoln Center, I’ve had the opportunity to move to different departments and teams — opportunities I advocated for thanks in large part to the networking skills fostered at Duke.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated (this continues to evolve!). I had been studying voice for most of my life but knew I didn’t want to pursue it professionally. I wanted to be a part of the arts world but wasn’t sure what opportunities would be available. My internship at Duke Performances introduced me to the business side of the performing arts. I loved having the opportunity to be immersed in all sides of presenting artistic experiences — from curating performance seasons to marketing shows to organizing the logistics involved with production. That experience, coupled with transformative music courses and a Duke in New York semester, motivated me to continue exploring arts administration in New York.
What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?
I love being surrounded by so many artistic offerings and creative energies. Because much of my work has focused on expanding Lincoln Center’s global partnerships, I have been fortunate to travel internationally. Having the opportunity to meet and engage closely with cultural organizations around the globe has been thrilling and a continual learning experience.
What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?
Network! As with many other industries, the arts and culture field is very small, so it’s important to take as many coffees/phone calls/Zooms as possible. Many times, jobs aren’t posted — people are hired based on who they know. It can be tedious, but it pays off to consistently stay connected with the people you meet.
If you’re interested in the arts, I would also think about the type of environment and organization that energizes you. Large and small arts organizations can differ vastly in terms of culture, opportunities, and available resources. Also consider whether a specific artistic discipline — classical music, experimental music, theater, visual arts, etc. — is important to you. If possible, I encourage students to participate in several internships on- and off-campus to explore and gain experience in a range of areas — artistic programming, marketing, fundraising, community engagement—you think you might enjoy.