This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.

Working in any field, we want assurance that there is upward mobility in our careers. Once upon a time, that is something that would often happen. One would start in a specific entry-level role and move up the ranks to be a top-level executive. However, today things in the nonprofit sector, and more specifically in arts education, look a little different. This is due in part to several systemic challenges that often limit the opportunities of growth for emerging leaders.

Some of the challenges emerging leaders in arts education face can include:

Organizational Budget Constraints

Many arts education organizations, or education departments within larger arts institutions, tend to be small. Budgets are tight and limit opportunities for expanding capacities. The majority of funding is tied to programming development and support, with little monetary backing to cover administrative costs. General and administrative expenses include operational overhead from rent, insurance, staff salaries, and more. With the majority of arts education funding being restricted to programming as opposed to supporting the employees needed to make the programs happen, there is little wiggle room to expand the budget, often making it difficult for organizations to cover the costs to allow one to move up the ranks.

Lack of Financial Accessibility for Professional Development

Working in the arts, I have found, is an ever-growing and ever-changing field. In order to keep up with different shifts and trends in the field, it requires a level of professional development. These opportunities can range from being a member of an arts service organization, attending a conference or convening, or participating in a fellowship/mentorship program. Being involved in one or all of the above opportunities does come at a cost. The fees of course go to support the organizations and the cost to run the program. However, these can quickly add up. Then it comes to a point where you have to pick and choose which professional development programs you will participate in, based on what you can afford. If you can afford to attend, another obstacle might be that you can’t afford to miss the days off from work. It’s a catch-22 situation that leaves you between a rock and a hard place.

With the aforementioned challenges, how can an emerging leader in arts education work through and around these systemic barriers?

Seek Opportunities to Shadow and Learn

If there is a particular task or skill you are curious to know more about, or how it works within your organization, ask your supervisor to allow you to shadow them so you can learn. Ask to attend that planning meeting at a school, help to assist in meeting with a potential funder, volunteer to take on a larger role in planning an event. These will help you to watch and give you an opportunity to get more hands on with different activities that are essential to your organization. It will also give you more visibility among your staff.

Join a Networking Group

Becoming a member of a networking group is a great way to talk and connect with others in your field. Many local arts service organizations and councils have small gatherings and networking opportunities (many of which are free) throughout the year. Now that it is the beginning of a new school year, it’s a great time to connect with your fellow colleagues in the field. Get on their email list so that these events can be on your radar. Get out there and be seen!

Take Advantage of Grants, Scholarships, and Discounts

Many membership organizations may offer emerging leaders access to different grants, scholarships, and discount opportunities to attend their annual conference or become a member. If the opportunity presents itself and you qualify, do not pass it up! I absolutely encourage you to take advantage of these funds. Look on the websites of different national, regional, and local service organizations—especially as they begin making announcements about different programs and events. That will be a time they will alert the public of these opportunities. Keep your eyes and ears open!