While we know that great arts teaching and learning is happening throughout the country, data also shows that leadership in the field of arts education still does not adequately reflect youth served or communities in which the programs operate. The challenges faced by arts education organizations could be aided by leveraging the strategies employed throughout the field of arts administration to diversify and broaden the leadership pipeline, empowering future leaders while simultaneously honoring and harnessing the great work of current leadership. These strategies can and should be explored to promote intergenerational dialogue and cyclical mentorship among arts education leaders.

Research Approach

As the population of students served continues to change and grow in their challenges, needs, and demography, research shows that national organizations – such as Americans for the Arts - have a responsibility to broaden the leadership pipeline and build future leaders through intergenerational dialogue. A community-based participatory approach to research should be taken to connect youth, emerging and mid-career leaders (adults), and veterans (adult elders) to leverage effective strategies to honor community differences and develop sustainable missions. Among others, the higher education and nonprofit sectors have led strategic investments in capacity building of multi-generational teams for purposes of fostering dialogue to engage the next generation of leaders in a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable way.

In 2017, Americans for the Arts conducted research to illuminate effective practices of emerging and seasoned leaders in the field of arts education.  The research was intended to inform the development of programming to assist in cyclical mentorship, intergenerational dialogue, and to support the broadening and diversifying of the pool of new leaders in the arts education field.

Research was led by emerging leaders and supported by mid-career and veteran staff and was deployed in a community-based, participatory manner. Researchers used a form of simultaneous storytelling and data gathering with participants to gather perspectives and generate authentic discussion. The following paper draws on the documented interviews.


The overall findings from the research were grouped in several categories ranging from transformative moments in leaders’ own development to suggestions for tackling systemic barriers to equitable leadership development.

Participants shared anecdotes about their times of growth and moments of challenge as leaders in the arts education field. For some, this moment of success was with an effective mentor and for others it was overcoming a systemic barrier challenging their race or socio-economic status.

All participants felt that systemic barriers impede the development of diverse leaders in the pipeline. They offered solutions such as shifts in the culture of internships, payment structures, certifications or inclusion of alternative qualifications, and changing certain aspects of the culture of arts or educational leadership.

Additionally, participants believed in the power to grow and change as emerging, mid-career, or veteran leaders through professional learning and leadership skill development. Suggestions included: building stronger relationships among broad swaths of individuals, engaging in inquiry-based research and management, developing a more ‘facilitated’ leadership style, and mobilizing your own practice as a student of your surroundings.

In a session held at the 2017 Americans for the Arts’ Annual Conference, the topic of ‘cyclical leadership’ was proposed for consideration in a participatory session discussing the future of arts education leadership. This proposed cycle of leadership begins as young people are mentored by adult arts educators, emerging leaders are mentored by elders and youth, and elders are mentored by both emerging leaders and youth. This concept engages the broad concepts of intergenerational dialogue and artistic skill development to engage each other in shared learning and to have shared responsibility for the future of our field by way of the pipeline built to enhance leadership.

Emerging and Veteran Leader Conversations

In the course of the research for this initiative, the following interviews were conducted in pairs of emerging and veteran arts education leaders. The conversations were transcribed and are available as case studies which will highlight perspectives on broad themes and are intended to inform and inspire emerging, mid-career, and veteran leaders to engage in this work.

Additional Resources

As an additional component of this work, Americans for the Arts compiled a list of numerous resources for those hoping to engage in additional leadership development within the field of arts education. Researchers conducted a landscape analysis of current arts education leadership programs, which are available below: