Faculty Spotlight: Cara Dehnert

Cara Dehnert Huffman is a lawyer, arts manager, and passionate supporter of the arts and entertainment industries.

Dehnert Huffman has an extensive background in entertainment law as well as arts management and currently teaches Entertainment Law, Leadership, Writing for Managers, and Introduction to Management. In addition to teaching in the Business & Entrepreneurship department, Dehnert Huffman is an active writer and contributor to art publications and other media outlets, including Chicago Artist Resource, Chicago Art Magazine and more, as well as a strategic planning and philanthropic consultant. She has previous legal and arts administration experience as the former Executive Director of I Am Logan Square as well as with the Illinois Arts Council, Lawyers for the Creative Arts, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, and other creative organizations in Chicago and nationwide.

Along with earning a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas (2007) and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma (2002), she is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s Master of Arts Management program (2010).

We were able to talk with Cara about advice she has for students, how she got started, and where she draws her inspiration.

What is your story?

Cara: “I come from a very artistic family, however, myself, I lack any artistic talent. Ten years of piano lessons, and my parents finally gave up trying. But I’ve always been passionate about art and have always hoped to find a place for my talents and skills in the art and cultural sectors.

In college, I really wanted to study art history, but I felt there wasn’t going to be a lot of career opportunities upon graduation (at the time, I didn’t foresee graduate school in my future), so I majored in Journalism instead. Following college, I worked in advertising and quickly came to realize that it wasn’t the right path for me. At that point, I decided to go to law school. From the first day, I loved law school, but I had the sneaking suspicion being a traditional big-firm lawyer wasn’t right for me either. In my second year of law school, I took a few courses that reignited my sleeping desire to work in the arts. Following law school, I pursued a Master in Arts Management here at Columbia College Chicago. The education and experiences that I received as a student here taught me that while I love being a lawyer, I love being an arts manager just as much. And what I love most of all is teaching and serving our fantastic, inspiring and talented students!

I won’t lie – I spent my late teens and 20s pretty confused about what I wanted to “be when I grew up”. I wouldn’t change a thing because I’m so happy with where I’ve landed, but a lesson learned is not to forget about your passions and what you truly love. Nothing is impossible. I guess it’s that whole ‘follow your heart’ thing. It turns out, it’s true; with enough focus and hard work – and a bit of serendipity – dreams do come true.”

How would you describe yourself in 3-5 words?

Cara: “Excitable, passionate, dedicated. “

What projects have you been working on recently?

Cara: “Beyond teaching four classes and serving our department and college, I greatly enjoy teaching artists about the legal issues that will influence their careers, so I’m always looking for opportunities to speak on panels, give presentations, and publish articles regarding those areas of law. In fact, a colleague and I are currently working on writing and publishing a paper regarding copyright law and presenting it next summer. Also, I try to always keep my finger on the pulse of things changing in law (copyright, trademark, etc.) that will have an impact on our students and artists. Finally, I’m on the board of directors for Transit, a Chicago-based, non-profit organization that assists with coordinating resources and logistics for artists pursing national and international arts residencies.”

Why do you think it is important for our community?

Cara: “Legally speaking, I think it is crucial for artists (and I use the term ‘artists’ loosely, meaning to incorporate all disciplines, not just fine or visual artists) to recognize the areas of law that impact their work and careers every day. Specifically, I hope to help them recognize “red flags”. Legal trouble is stressful, exhausting and expensive, and I hope to do my part to keep artists from suffering through those types of experiences by knowing how to do it right the first time.”

From where do you draw inspiration?

Cara: “As a true extrovert, I draw my inspiration from other people. My colleagues, community and especially the Columbia College Chicago student body are all amazingly talented and creative individuals. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so much energy and vibrancy every day!”

How does your time outside the classroom influence your time in the classroom?

Cara: “I believe that our job as educators is to prepare our students for the “real world.” That means, in any discipline, not only teaching the theory but also its application. Continuing to be involved in the broader arts and cultural sectors – both as a lawyer and as an arts manager – helps me stay relevant, and that relevancy directly influences the examples I use and my overall teaching in the classroom.”

What words of wisdom would you give to the current students?

My first piece of advice is “never say never.” When I was 21, I was struggling with what to do when I graduated, and contemplating changing my major again. This was very distressing to my parents. They finally asked me, exasperated, what I was going to do with my life. I, equally exasperated, said, “I don’t know! But I know what I won’t be: a teacher, a lawyer or a mom!” … Did I mention I have a daughter? So, don’t close any doors. You don’t know where they might lead. It might be somewhere brilliant.
The second piece of advice is to take some time to get to know yourself. You’ll grow and change; this is true. But pieces of you – your core – won’t. Spend some time really learning to understand who you are and what makes you tick. Self-discovery and comprehension at this point will make big life choices much easier in the future.

Third, learn to be afraid. And learn to push through the fear. And finally learn to forgive yourself when you fail. My mentor told me once, “do the best you can and forgive yourself for the rest.” That piece of advice changed my entire outlook. Big changes, the chance of failure, being overwhelmed by it all – these are real, scary things. But the only way to conquer them is to get through them. And sometimes you’ll stumble; it’s inevitable. Get up. Learn from it. Keep going. The only way to truly “fail” is to freeze. You’re Columbia students; you can do it! Go get ‘em!