What does it mean to be a woman in a leadership position at an arts nonprofit in today’s world?

Because the arts sector has had so many women leaders from the beginning, I’ve never really thought of this issue as being unique. What I have found compelling is that my position as a local arts agency leader gives me the opportunity to sit at so many tables that impact policy decisions in business, civic, and political arenas—which traditionally have been primarily male dominated. In many cases, we can have the greatest impact in situations outside of our field. Often, I have been the only arts person, the only woman, the only Latina—and this is where my voice really matters.

What challenges or obstacles have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I enrolled in graduate school 10 years after college! I had been a double major in art and modern languages—which did not prepare me for the type of complex, business oriented work I ended up doing in my first job working for an LAA in Houston. I was accepted into a one-year intensive double Master’s Program in Business & Arts Administration at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. At the time, I had two toddlers under the age of 3. Imagine: Arts major, taking Managerial Accounting, Statistics, Economics, and Finance within the first 6 months of the program. It was the hardest thing I ever did, and the best thing I ever did.

Fast forward to a view from a women’s leadership perspective, and there are so many situations that continue to repeat themselves no matter how far we’ve come. I still find that women have difficulty being heard—the old story: a woman makes a key point in a group meeting, nobody reacts; a man follows with the same point and everyone thinks it’s a good idea. I’ve seen savvy women handle that one by circling back and thanking the man for reiterating her point. Women often get rolled over by men in discussions because they are bigger, louder, more aggressive where women tend to be more deferential. Faced with such an instance, I stopped talking, held up my hand to visually stop the grandstanding, looked at the director in the eye, and asked him to refrain from talking over me so that I could finish my point—he did. Women often start statements by apologizing—and continue to do so throughout their commentary. STOP THAT. Julia Child once said, “Never apologize, and carry on.” The first step in women becoming leaders is empowering themselves to be leaders.

How do you encourage other women to become leaders in their organizations?

About two years ago United Arts started an Emerging Arts Leaders Program in conjunction with Americans for the Arts’ program. We have over 100 members and growing. An important component is the Mentorship Program; established leaders have a responsibility to invest in up-and-coming leaders. I have five mentees (all young women) who meet with me monthly to discuss one topic of their choosing. The conversations have been stimulating, eye opening, jaw dropping—and so much fun. Big first issue? How to say “no” to their staff, board, donors! Wow. Is that a woman or a leadership issue? I’ll let readers percolate on that one. I do believe, though, that knowing how to say “no” is a fine, and studied, art and critical to the success of any leader.

We have recently received funding from Duke Energy to create a paid internship program for college students of color with an interest in arts administration to work within cultural organizations. I’d like to see the field become more diversified.

Working in the arts influences everything I do and the person I am. I have always been aware that being in the arts forces you to look at things from multiple facets. We are constantly solving problems in creative ways; constantly making ends meet to accomplish goals; constantly negotiating, advocating, moving the needle—all with the goal of making our community better. Because we are creatives, we see things differently than our non-arts counterparts, and we are often better able to connect the dots to create better, more comprehensive solutions.


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