Leadership Training and Discussion Moves Forward

If you have seen Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser on his Arts in Crisis tour or read any of his writings on the matter of arts leadership training, you will know that he feels not enough is being done to teach people about how to do the job well. On occasion, I have also opined that arts leaders don’t talk to each other enough about the challenges we face and the processes we employ in pursuit of our jobs and goals.

It seems like that is starting to change now. In addition to the Emerging Leadership Institute program Arts Presenters runs, they have decided to partner with Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) at NYU on a program for mid-career arts professionals with an eye toward grooming them for senior leadership positions. The Leadership Development Institute is accepting applications right now in fact. The deadline is April 19. The pilot phase of the program will employ “two series of collaborative inquiry sessions, virtual webinars, online resources and one-day action-learning seminars.”

Over at Americans for the Arts’ ARTSblog some interesting perspectives on leadership in the arts are emerging from the various contributors. Just today there was a post by Joanna Chin listing all the general arguments for the value of the arts that she could think of: “Arts = Arts; Arts = Humanity; Arts = Health/Quality of Life; Arts = Civic Engagement and Social Change; Arts = Economic Vitality; Arts = Creativity/Innovation = Growth/Vitality; Arts = Cultural Tourism = Economic Vitality; Arts = Jobs & Industry; Arts = Shared Benefit.” She expands briefly on each of these areas and wonders if this is an exhaustive list. If you can think of others, visit the entry and contribute your thoughts.

Marc Vogl offered a clever analogy of “What a Seder Can Teach Us about Arts Leadership”

“Those in leadership positions especially carry the burden of executing the plan of record which, as many E.D.s will attest, means putting out the fire that’s blazing now or shifting the pots on the stove around so that none boils over today.

So, who is responsible for periodically stepping in and asking the elemental but critical questions?

Perhaps it should be those on top of the organizational structure – whether administratively or in governance positions at the board level – but frequently those are the people who must answer the questions.

In the Seder it’s the kids who sing out to the elders: why are we doing things the way we’re doing things?

And it is for everyone around the table to respond, and hopefully, to reflect for a moment on the history that informs that response, to consider the present circumstances and how times have changed, and maybe even to look ahead and determine what we can do going forward so that we don’t spend another year going through rote motions and taking important things (like freedom in the case of Passover, or making art that has meaning for those of us in this field) for granted.”

Shannon Daut who is Deputy Director at the Western States Arts Federation and has a broad perspective on how the arts are developing regionally and I would imagine nationally, talks about the lack of leadership opportunities for younger administrators because those on the executive level continue to circulate between the available positions.

“I recently had a conversation with WESTAF’s director, Anthony Radich, and asked him what his resume looked like when he was my age—35. He rattled off a list of ED positions at various arts organizations. I think his experience is pretty typical. Because the arts field was so young, experienced arts administrators were not available to fill open positions. They made it up as they went along and were entrusted with great organizational responsibilities at early stages in their careers.

For the most part, today’s emerging (and mid-career) administrators have not been able to benefit from an environment that would take risks on “unproven” job candidates. “

Finally, Letitia Fernandez Ivins, addresses the all important issue of balancing work and personal life in an industry where it has always been expected that one suffers for ones art. Her entry primarily deals with the impact of pregnancy on a career in the arts. However, the general topic is clearly an important one. There are many comments on the entry already. One woman expresses her relief upon learning so many other people are facing the same choices.

Actually, I shouldn’t say finally regarding Letitia’s post. There have been more than 20 entries on the subject of leadership since Monday. These are just the handful that resonated with me most today. I should mention that Americans for the Arts have their own Emerging Leader Network from which I assume the drew many of these contributions. I am pleased to see such great movement in leadership training and discussion happening right now. It wasn’t that long ago that I was mentioning the lack of such activity. I didn’t think this much progress would be made in a few short years.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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.

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