MSU Alumnus Connects with Others Through Art

Black and white photo of a man with a beard and long hair pulled back. He is wearing a suit with a white undershirt

Alumnus Joel Guzman is providing a source of creativity for his community as the Director of Artist Engagement at Sing for Hope in New York City, which is a nonprofit organization that serves under-resourced schools, healthcare facilities, refugee camps, transit hubs, and public spaces by connecting them with creative outlets. 

As Director of Artist Engagement, Guzman is responsible for connecting with organizations and artists who collaborate in Sing for Hope’s programs. 

“It is a privilege to be working as the Director of Artist Engagement for Sing for Hope,” said Guzman, who received his M.A. in Arts and Cultural Management from Michigan State University in 2018. “We reach more than 2 million people in New York through all of our programs, so we’re well-known in the city.” 

It is a privilege to be working as the Director of Artist Engagement for Sing for Hope. We reach more than 2 million people in New York through all of our programs, so we’re well-known in the city.

Through his job at Sing for Hope, Guzman participated in the Noble Peace Summit in Mexico, which offered group and individual workshops with international organizations and Nobel Peace Laureates from around the world. At the summit, Guzman conducted a workshop called “Creativity as a Universal Language.” 

“The whole purpose of the workshop was to make people believe that they don’t need a common language to create and connect with other people,” Guzman said. “It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had, because not only was I surrounded by really important people in the world, but I realized that art can connect us in ways that we cannot even imagine.”

Man wearing a paper mâché stereo on his head
Joel Guzman wearing a mask he created as a student at MSU.

Connecting with others through art is something that has driven Guzman’s artistic journey from the beginning. 

“When I was a child, I always liked to tell stories with puppetry, and I was also always the class-clown and liked to be funny,” he said. “As I got older, I realized that I should have my work be something that I love, so I started studying clowning. I was looking for something to make me laugh, and I was looking for the enjoyment of other people, which is more fulfilling than any other thing.”

Guzman applied his passion for making others laugh when he co-founded the National Circus of Puerto Rico in 2009. The foundation of this nonprofit marked Guzman’s first experience managing an artistic organization. 

Having this degree opened doors for me. The knowledge I gained in the program put me in front of the other applicants when applying for jobs. Also, all the knowledge of how to manage and maintain control that I learned in classes helped me navigate the first months of a new job.

“My whole idea of creating a circus with my friend was to make the circus popular in Puerto Rico,” Guzman said. “We wanted to provide a circus in a theatrical way to the people and the communities in Puerto Rico and give back to them in that way.”

Guzman stayed with the circus for five years before enrolling in MSU’s Arts & Cultural Management M.A. program, where he connected his love of masks, puppetry, and clowning to his ability to manage an artistic organization.

“Having this degree opened doors for me,” he said. “The knowledge I gained in the program put me in front of the other applicants when applying for jobs. Also, all the knowledge of how to manage and maintain control that I learned in classes helped me navigate the first months of a new job. The thing I liked most about my time was getting the experience of making things happen related to the real world.”

Man wearing a black graduation gown with a paper mâché version of the Broad Art Museum on his head
Joel Guzman wearing a mask he created of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum when he graduated from MSU with an M.A. in Arts and Cultural Management.

During his time at MSU, Guzman worked as an intern for the Department of Theatre’s Summer Circle Theatre, where he created promotional assets and connected with audiences through surveys.

Guzman recognizes and has experienced the challenges presented by pursuing a career in the arts. However, he encourages students like him to persevere.

“If you keep persevering, it will all pay off,” he said. “Believe in your projects, even if you fail, and learn from your mistakes. Just don’t give up. No matter what they tell you, just keep going. Make sure you network, because networking is really helpful especially when you’re a student at MSU. All those people that you are surrounded with in the arts program will be your allies.”

Guzman’s long-term goal is to return to his home in Puerto Rico to apply the knowledge he has gained at MSU and Sing for Hope to create a better artistic atmosphere on the island. 

“The last time I was in Puerto Rico there were not many art organizations, but now there is a new generation that is bringing art back,” he said. “When I go back, I will go into a place where art will continue to grow, and I want to try to help every person that I can.”