September 19, 2018 | By Vikki Doherty | Back to blog

If I had to sum up my transition to Madison for my MBA in a single word, I would have to say that it has been a real…circus. Five months ago, I was still waffling over my graduate school decision. In addition to UW-Madison, I was considering offers from several Masters of Library and Information Science programs and a dual master’s program in Arts Administration and Art History. Although they were tempting, in the end I could not resist the allure of the Wisconsin School of Business. While those other programs aligned with my plan for a career in arts leadership and management, the Bolz Center offered the best chance to enrich my past experience while also addressing my deficits – namely the business repertoire I did not gain as an undergraduate in History and Museum Studies. Once I committed to becoming a Bolzie, everything began moving along rapidly. Thanks to a confluence of events, my move to Madison was pushed forward, and I spent the summer getting to know this vibrant city while also working full-time surrounded by the manuscripts, prints, and artifacts of American circus history.

Circus history, you ask? Yes, indeed. The Bolz Center was primed to begin a two-year capstone consulting project with the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) just as I was submitting my graduate application. I hold prior work experience in archival repositories, and as a result I will complete my Applied Learning Project (ALP) with WHS as the Communications Coordinator for that project, helping to facilitate the strategic planning process as the WHS assumes management of operations at one of the state historic sites, Circus World Museum (CWM) in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

I had originally planned to move to Madison in August, so as to spend the summer with family in Wyoming. However, the opportunity arose to gain an introduction to Circus World before my ALP began, and I could not pass it up. CWM secured funding for a limited term employee in its archives and research library, and considering that I would be working closely with the institution come September, I was slotted into the position. I had never seen a circus before, and knew nothing of circus history. In fact, my first question on my first day as an LTE was to ask why in the world there was a circus museum in the middle of south central Wisconsin. The answer, of course, is that Baraboo was the hometown of the Ringling Brothers, and the historic winter quarters for one of the most recognizable circus titles.

Over the course of the summer, I received a primer in American circus history and learned to appreciate the unique and independent spirit of circus folk. Even more importantly, however, I was introduced to the intricacies of Circus World’s operations. It simultaneously juggles several distinct identities: as a live, modern circus; a full-scale archival repository; a museum; a historic vehicle restoration center; and a state historical site. Getting to know the ins and outs of the institution offered an educational overview of a very unique nonprofit. Even more importantly, the experience I gained in the CWM archives will make me a more valuable resource for both Circus World and its parent organization during this strategic planning process.