The National Arts Leadership Institute

The first session I attended at the Western Arts Alliance conference actually made the whole experience worth it in terms of professional development. I actually didn’t learn more than I already knew so much as I discovered people are really getting serious and organized about teaching good leadership skills.

The session was presented by Philip Horn, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Margaret Mertz of Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts.

Their purpose was to solicit feedback about how to make the developing National Arts Leadership Institute (NALI) valuable and accessible for artists, managers, agents and others. They were asking the question “What do we need to know and be able to do to make ourselves and our field more successful?”

They were also asking how the session attendees envisioned themselves participating in the institute and perhaps contributing to it.

Philip took our suggestions and observations on big tear off sheets which he took home with him. He also handed out some really great self-evaluation surveys for both artists and presenters which help people assess what they do and don’t know about the industry they are in. (I thought the spreadsheets were on the Southern Arts Federation website but I can’t find them. I emailed Philip in an attempt to track them down and hope to eventually feature them here.)

These self-evaluation instruments are important because, as was pointed out in the session, “there are many on ramps to presenting.” People in the industry range from those with formal training, (though apparently few management programs teach presenting), and/or long time experience in the field to amateur members of a community group who decide they want to present a performance and people in schools who get volunteered for the task because of experience in a tangentially related field.

There were a lot of great suggestions made and to my chagrin, I was so interested in the conversation I forgot to make note of half of them.

One thing that NALI is doing to make informational sessions at conferences more valuable is to require people on panels to communicate with each other weeks in advance (apparently they often don’t discuss what they will cover until ten minutes prior to the panel) and to essentially create an outline or syllabus letting participants know exactly what they should expect to be covered.

They have already put this into practice. The Performing Arts Exchange conference being held in Memphis this coming week features a section on their website where you can download the course outlines and bios of the NALI sponsored sessions and instructors.

One of the goals is to specifically plan a cycle of NALI sponsored sessions at the regional conferences so that a person could attend the same conference over a period of 3-5 years and ultimately complete all the coursework one would theoretically need for presenting.

There was some discussion as to whether NALI was going to be granting people certification of some sort, what the qualifications would be, if there was going to be testing, what happens if you fail the test, etc. Philip and Margaret essentially felt it was too early in the development of the whole process to say.

This seems logical to me since they are in the solicitation phase of developing the whole program. While people felt that there was a need for better education and information exchange to help move the profession forward, no one was actually suggesting the creation of a certifying authority. One woman actually liked the idea of the program because it would mean she could take classes and continue working (rather than quit and go to grad school).

In the discussion of delivery channels for supplementary or even core information, Philip mentioned that community colleges seems to have the flexibility and power to create and offer arts management courses much more quickly than 4 year institutions.

I brought up blogs like Artful Manager a place where links to resources may be found. (As I noted in yesterday’s entry, I didn’t mention my own at the time. I have started to rectify that situation.)

I also mentioned podcasting as a means for disseminating important information or lessons on a weekly basis. I didn’t realize the potential power of this form the way others like the Artful Manager has until I started to recently listen to a local arts podcast .

I sent the host of this podcast a press release one day and it was on the podcast the next day. Newspapers and radio stations are picky about what they announce and when, but I think getting your info announced on podcasts focused to a specific community can end up being much more powerful a tool than print and broadcast media.

Granted, this guy’s podcast has a small audience and a probably has a dearth of material to work with at the moment so I might get booted or have to compete for time in the future. But there are alliances and relationships to be forged!

In any case, I think using podcasting to send out weekly wise thoughts from arts professional on issues of the day can become a powerful tool and be especially helpful for those managers who don’t have the money to attend conferences and the professional development sessions contained therein.

I also mentioned the way Annenberg/CPB delivers their Arts in Every Classroom programs over the web as another potential delivery medium. (I wrote about these great programs earlier.)

One thing another participant in the conversation touched briefly upon (and I expanded on with Philip after the session broke up) was the need to not to move the profession forward by educating presenters, artists and agents, but also educating organizations and municipalities.

There are a lot of cities and groups out there, perhaps driven by the idea of attracting Richard Florida’s Creative Class, who are building arts facilities without really understanding the calibre of personnel and annual infusion of resources necessary to do justice to the $50 million it took to construct the facility.

I am seeing such a case on my local horizon, but they are living it in Madison, WI. Andrew Taylor responds here.

Whew! Covered a lot of ground today and wandered a little, but this is heady and exciting stuff. I hope NALI continues with their plan and becomes a going concern. Watch this space for more coverage!

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “The National Arts Leadership Institute”

  1. Thanks for mentioning weblogs and podcasts to the NALI folks as essential means of information sharing…and thanks for mentioning mine, in particular.

    I’m also eager to see how NALI moves forward. But I continue to be frustrated by the disconnection of leadership initiatives in the arts. There are literally dozens of ”leadership institute” sorts of efforts scattered around the country, all making valient efforts, and few actually speaking to each other. As a result, each starts from the beginning without learning what others have learned about the challenges and opportunities of advancing leadership and professional skills among practitioners.

    Why can’t the leadership initiatives actually model the qualities they train — building an honest, open, and on-going network of their own so that each can learn from the other?

  2. Thanks for mentioning podcasts as a way for arts organizations to reach an audience.

    A smile came to my face as I read the words “


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