Here's Five Million Bucks to Help Juilliard Grads Actually Make Some Money

You'd think that teaching students to aggressively sell themselves and their talents would be standard at a prestigious arts school like Juilliard, which has graduated the likes of Kevin Spacey, Robin Williams, and Viola Davis. Apparently not, but thanks to a recent $5 million gift by Michael E. Marks and his wife Carole, that's all about to change.

The gift will establish the Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship, which will "incorporate business skills into the Juilliard Colloquium course; offer intensive sessions on business, marketing and arts management; provide career advancement grants to some graduating students; and give students help with public speaking and networking."

Those toting around arts degrees, even prestigious ones, can be burdened with the worry that it won't ever pay off (I should know; I have one). After all, a brilliant artist in the making might just as well get his or her big break on a New York City subway platform, without forking over huge sums of money to work on their craft in the hallowed halls of some art school. And even if that pricey MFA does take someone to the next level, being good at hustling and networking—or what the real world might call "sales and marketing"—is a very different matter.

So giving arts students more business skills to actually make some money strikes me as incredibly useful. A great many people trying to build careers in the arts are, in effect, entrepreneurs. And yet a total cluelessness about the alien world of business is often the norm among these folks. Something is definitely wrong with that picture, and kudos to the Marks family and Julliard for coming up with this much-needed addition to the school. 

I could go on about how smart this gift is, but what's actually really intriguing here is that Michael Marks doesn't have an arts background. Well, he does have two liberal arts degrees from Oberlin, but after that, he went to Harvard Business School, and has been entrenched in the business world ever since, serving as partner at KKR, and as chairman and CEO of a company called Flextronics. Marks currently helms a hedge fund he started called Riverwood Capital, which has offices in Menlo Park, New York City, and Sao Paulo. 

Marks is also a director at the SanDisk Corporation and GoPro, to name a couple more companies. Oh, and he has taught and lectured at Stanford Business School since at least 2007.

Nice resume, but what does any of that have to do with Julliard? 

Well, Marks' brother Alan, who passed away in the 1995 from cancer, went to Juilliard, where he got a bachelors in piano. Alan made his debut at Carnegie Recital Hall while still at Juilliard, and went on to perform as a soloist in orchestras around the country, as well as in Europe, Japan, and Israel. (Don't you hate those families in which one son becomes a concert virtuoso and the other a business mogul? Is there some other Marks kid out there who's a neuroscientist?)

So this gift, like many others we write about all the time, has an intensely personal connection: Marks is honoring his musician brother. In past years, Marks and Carole, through their family foundation, have supported Juilliard with modest sums. Just under $80,000 from the couple went to Juilliard in 2012. Marks also sits on the board of trustees at Juilliard.

In addition to the $5 million, Marks and Carole also donated $150,000 to equip two Juilliard recital halls with new video recording equipment.

One last thought: Are we worried that this gift is could be interpreted as encouraging Julliard students to sell out? Nope, since everyone in the arts faces plenty of temptation to do that anyway, just to keep their heads above water. And, in fact, if you're savvyier about how to monetize your purest creative self, you're less likely to find yourself living in a studio at 50 begging for work writing commercial jingles.