Americans for the Arts Chair Steven D. Spiess supports the Emerging Leaders Network
Several years ago, the Americans for the Arts board of directors began considering how to identify, cultivate, and support the next generation of arts leaders in the United States. In 1999, after a series of gatherings and discussions, Americans for the Arts formed its Emerging Leader Task Force—later renamed the Emerging Leader Council—and charged it with identifying the needs of the field and the role that Americans for the Arts should play in meeting those needs. Since the inception of the Emerging Leader Council, the national network of emerging leaders has grown and manifested itself through ongoing programs and activities.
In summer 2003, the council hosted the first preconference for emerging leaders at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Portland, OR. That preconference was an overwhelming success and confirmed for Americans for the Arts and the council that there was a clear need for a national organization to take the lead in supporting emerging arts leaders. A series of meetings and peer group gatherings were then held at the Americans for the Arts 2004 Annual Convention in Washington, DC, and the work of the council was met with a groundswell of enthusiasm from emerging leaders working at the local level. During that meeting, and through listserv dialogue and other convenings held since then, a wide range of emerging leader issues have been raised and discussed and Americans for the Arts has incorporated many of the resulting common themes in shaping its programming.
First, there is a strong interest in meeting regionally or locally to discuss the needs of emerging leaders. In response, Americans for the Arts collaborated with 38 local partners to organize Emerging Arts Leaders creative conversations in October 2004, during National Arts and Humanities Month. More than 800 emerging leaders from across the country participated in these dialogues, and several local emerging leader groups formalized as a result of the meetings. We have held creative conversations ever since, and our numbers grow every year. In 2005, we connected with more than 1,000 emerging arts leaders across the country through this program, and in October 2006, more than 1,500 emerging leaders are expected to participate.
Another common theme that has emerged over the years is a need for more “connection” with established and diverse leaders. Americans for the Arts continues to explore ways to help facilitate these connections at all levels, but at the most recent annual convention held in Milwaukee, WI, we implemented the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leadership Exchange. This program partnered emerging and established leaders for the weekend in mutually beneficial “shadow” relationships. This new opportunity was well received, and we hope to improve upon its success in the years to come. Another highlight at the annual convention this year was the presentation of the first-ever Americans for the Arts Emerging Leader Award. Jennifer Armstrong, executive director of 40 North/88West—the Champaign County Arts, Culture & Entertainment Council in Champaign, IL—and a founding member of the Emerging Leader Task Force, received this inaugural award for her significant impact on the arts in her local community, as well as the leadership she has shown on the national level. We look forward to honoring an emerging leader in the field each year from now on.
Because of the increasingly strong presence of emerging leaders at the annual convention, other connections between the Emerging Leader Council (ELC) and Americans for the Arts leadership groups have emerged over the years. As a result of these relationships, the ELC had a joint meeting with the United States Urban Arts Federation (USUAF) leaders in February 2006 to begin strategic planning for the next phase of the emerging leader program. That meeting resulted in the institutionalization of an annual orientation and planning retreat for the Emerging Leader Council. The Emerging Leader Council will convene again in conjunction with the Americans for the Arts board of directors, the Arts Education Council, the Public Art Network Council, and the USUAF January 2007 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Finally, emerging leaders often discuss the need for enhanced services and more opportunities to convene and network nationally and locally. In addition to the creative conversations mentioned above, we will also continue to connect emerging leaders with each other through our active listserv and through casual receptions for emerging leaders held annually at Arts Advocacy Day. In June 2007, we will convene emerging leaders again at the annual convention in Las Vegas for a reception, peer group meetings, and to continue discussions about leadership issues.
Emerging leader issues continue to be a prominent focus of the Americans for the Arts board of directors. We are working to develop programs and services that will meet the needs of not only emerging arts professionals but those of the other emerging leaders in the arts—such as emerging board members, emerging philanthropists, and emerging business community leaders. The Americans for the Arts board of directors now includes several emerging leaders—including Leslie Ito, a member of the Emerging Leader Council and executive director of Visual Communications, Inc. in Los Angeles; and Naomi Barry Perez, chief of the Office of Enforcement in the Civil Rights Center of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, DC. The number of emerging leaders on our board will continue to grow in the coming years. As we implement our strategic plan, and plan for its next phase, we will continue to identify ways in which we can support the Emerging Leaders Network and the Emerging Leader Council.
This is an exciting time not only for Americans for the Arts, but for the arts as well. Our board and staff remain fully committed to this important initiative. I invite you to get involved by signing up for the Emerging Leader Listserv and by passing your ideas along to Local Arts Agency Services Coordinator, who manages the work of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. We asked for your ideas, and we have been overwhelmed by the response. Thank you for your energy, enthusiasm, and support. I look forward to working with you in the future.
Steven D. Spiess
Americans for the Arts