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IU SPEA professor of cultural policy found her platform for research after years on the stage

Apr. 20, 2016

For Joanna Woronkowicz, who joined the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs in 2013, a background in fine arts set the stage for her work in the classroom and her research.

joanna woronkowicz

Joanna Woronkowicz has performed on stage professionally, obtained an undergraduate degree in fine arts and pursued a Ph.D. after discovering a love of research. | Photo By indiana university

She’s performed on stage professionally, obtained an undergraduate degree in fine arts and pursued a Ph.D. after discovering a love of research. Understanding the dynamics of the arts sector was, at one point, central to her work on stage -- and that understanding is still critical, now from a research perspective.

“My parents arrived with two children and one on the way, two suitcases and $500,” she said, reflecting on her parents’ immigration to Canada. Originally from Poland, they lived in Italy before transplanting to North America.

Born and raised in Canada, Woronkowicz grew up with a passion for musical theater. She was awarded her first professional role, the title role in “Oliver! The Musical,” at the age of 7 after walking several blocks, unaccompanied, to the audition.

She attended high school in the United States after her father’s engineering career moved the family. When she graduated from high school a year early -- at the age of 16 -- she enrolled as a pre-med and neurobiology major at the University of Maryland College Park.

After attending orientation, housing assignment in hand, Woronkowicz had last-minute doubts and began researching other options while her parents were out of the country. Upon their return, she presented an entirely new plan that would have her attending university in Canada -- one she hoped they would approve of, as her dual citizenship made it more economical.

“I told them all they had to do was drop me off,” she said. “And it worked.”

She graduated from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2004 and began pursuing a performance career in the Washington, D.C., area. After two years of performing professionally, Woronkowicz enrolled in the arts management program at American University.

“I took a lot of policy, stats and econ courses,” she said, “I don’t know why, but it was something I was really interested in at that point. I kind of merged these two areas together that I was interested in and ultimately began to study cultural policy.”

After a few internships and a research assistantship at the Urban Institute, she discovered she enjoyed working with data in a scholarly environment. Her mentor, Norman Bradburn, encouraged her to apply and pursue her Ph.D.

Woronkowicz began her doctoral studies in public policy at the University of Chicago in 2007 and relished the chance to participate in a project centered on building cultural facilities. That ultimately became the topic of her dissertation.

After graduation, she pursued work in the government sector, which led to her appointment as senior research officer at the National Endowment for the Arts.

While working for the organization, she continued her passion for conducting her own research by writing a book on cultural facility building in her off-hours. She traveled nationwide on weekends to conduct interviews and visit cultural facilities. She described that schedule as demanding, especially in the context of a new marriage, and decided to look for a position that would allow her to holistically pursue her passions for research and writing. That led Woronkowicz to IU.

When she accepted the tenure-track position at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, she knew it would enable her to continue writing -- her latest book, “Building Better Arts Facilities,” was published last year -- as well as conduct her own research and work with students in an arts-rich community. She said it was exactly what she wanted to do.

“Honestly, I love it here. It’s the perfect job and the ideal place for what I do,” she said. “The support I get from SPEA and IU and the collaborative opportunities make it a pretty stellar environment. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Woronkowicz's work aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a vibrant community of scholars.

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