USF's Museum Blog

Steven Tulsky demystifies management and finance for emerging museum professionals

By Iyari Arteaga (MA, 2020)

To continue our conversation with our faculty members, today we highlight professor Steven Tulsky, who has co-taught Cultural and Financial Management with professor Marjorie Schwarzer since 2015 (the course will be renamed Museum Management in Spring 2021), as he shares his own career path, passion for the non-profit sector, and goals for the course. 

Q. Steve, tell us a little about yourself and your career path?

ST: I am a very un-corporate person who somehow ended up for a time in the corporate world. I was an English major in college and my main interest was music. I became involved in college radio, which upon graduation led to my becoming program director of a commercial not-for-profit station which presented a very progressive mix of the many contemporary music genres of the time and place (central North Carolina). We were really good! But we struggled to make it all work financially.

This struggle led me to wonder if there was some training that might teach a person how to run things better. I found myself in business school, where I was shocked to discover that the concepts that they were teaching completely resonated with how my brain was wired to think. My post-MBA career started as Finance Director of a medium-sized broadcasting company, and moved from there into Transportation. Throughout my corporate career I recognized that I enjoyed becoming an expert in my particular functional areas, but that I was a total misfit within the corporate gestalt. Eventually, I decided to shift my professional efforts towards smaller organizations.

I started consulting for small and emerging companies where I could work as a trusted advisor to their leaders. My “ah ha” moment came when serving on a Board led me to realize that the nonprofit sector needed my linearity and my intuitive understanding of finance and management, and I needed the inspiration of being involved with people committed to idealistic missions. This led me to shift my consultancy to that sector, where I now support small- to medium-sized organizations as a contract CFO and as an advisor on finance-related projects. I’m now working where I belong, and I love it!

Tulsky 9-2019

Q: What brought you to USF and what is your vision for the course you teach? 

ST: I started teaching nonprofit finance over twenty years ago, first at John F. Kennedy University (JFKU) in Walnut Creek, and then with the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership in San Rafael. Marjorie Schwarzer was running the Museum Studies program at JFKU and invited me to guest teach a session for her cohort. After she came to USF, she sought me out to co-teach Cultural and Financial Management with her. From my perspective it has been a dream partnership, as I have learned a tremendous amount from her extensive expertise in the museum field, and I have been able to bring what I know about finance and management in the nonprofit sector.

I envision the course as the means whereby our students come to think of museums as both institutions and cultural enterprises. As institutions, many very different functions need to happen in an intentional and coordinated fashion for their missions to be accomplished and for value to be provided to society. As enterprises, museums take risks, incur costs, and generate revenues, and if they don’t do these wisely they will not be able to sustain themselves. 

My goal is that after taking this class, our students will have an appreciation for all the mysterious administrative things that are taking place in the offices around them which enable them to flourish in their own particular areas of expertise. 

Q: What excites you most about the course that you teach?

ST: I love seeing students begin to develop a “big picture” understanding of the institutions where so many of them will spend their entire careers. I particularly enjoy watching some of our students enter the semester terrified of words like “management” and “finance,” only to emerge sixteen weeks later with much more comfort around these topics, and in some cases even ending up with these as the focus of their own museum careers. 

Q: What is your favorite museum and why? 

ST: Ah, there are so many. My “home museum” was the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where getting to see how things worked and having lots of buttons to push was always a treat for a kid. And while I love contemporary art and our SFMOMA, I am most moved by experiential museums such as New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Q: What advice do you have for future professionals? 

ST: Ask a lot of questions. If you want to be good at doing one thing, ask “how” questions. If you want to get good at doing many things and big things, ask “why” questions.

Click here to learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program.

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