Recognizing Leadership and Innovation in the Arts Happens Every Day

Each fall, many of us in the arts world look forward to hearing the names of the National Medal of Arts recipients for the year. Awarded annually since 1985, this highly anticipated honor seems to have been put on hold beginning in 2016. Similarly, the National Humanities Medal ended a 26-year-long streak with their slate of 2015 honorees, and October’s National Arts & Humanities Month—which expanded from a week-long celebration proclaimed by President Reagan in 1985, to a month-long celebration of the arts and humanities in 1993—has yet to see a presidential proclamation since October 2016. Americans for decades have appreciated nationally recognized awards and a presidential proclamation every year as a show of support and encouragement to unleash creativity and reach for new heights. This year that hope was no different and I have been asked again and again for my thoughts on what has become of these high-profile awards.

What does it mean to be a woman leader in the arts world? Hmmm … I’m not sure how to answer that.

I can think of many questions with complicated or unknown answers: Does being a woman influence the way I lead? How much has my career path been influenced by my being a woman? Would I have done things differently if I was a man (no way to know that, of course!)? Of course, the world is different for today’s generation of woman leaders. My twenties were in a time when women were starting off in careers of importance in much greater numbers than my mother’s generation, but the influences of that previous generation were very present (at least in my world). Now, although there are still tangible and intangible systems in place that affect women, it is the norm that young women feel and know that they can lead in the arts or any other sector. Much of the time, I feel that young women are leading and we older women have to be available for counsel if needed, but mostly we have to get out of the way.

The Power of Storytelling for Women Leaders

Every woman has a story, and the world needs to see and hear your story and your perspective as a woman leader—and, more critically, as a woman of color. Storytelling is rooted in our cultures and has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to not only share with the world who you are, but open people’s minds in a way that simply telling a set of regurgitated data or facts cannot. Over the past few weeks we have seen the power of storytelling play out in one of the largest stages for women that we have ever seen. The Kavanagh hearing allowed each party to tell their story in a historical setting like no other, but the stories that captured our attention, the stories that had the most impact, the ones that moved and changed people’s hearts and minds in that hearing, across the country and perhaps the world, were told in an elevator.

Equipping Artists to be Community Leaders

I joined our new staff member in a meeting last week with a prospective grant applicant. We were discussing his interest and desire to get a new keyboard for his work as a musician. This young man humbly presented himself as he shared his professional and educational background that more than qualified him to apply for the developing artist grant we administer. Our new staff member did an excellent job reviewing the grant guidelines and preparing him for the process, but as the meeting was wrapping up, I saw that something was still missing.

“May I share an observation with you before you go?” I asked. “Sure,” the artist quietly replied.

It’s Time for the Arts to Rally Around Standardized Outcomes

Like many social areas, the arts have struggled to reach consensus on impact measurement metrics. Certainly, considerable progress has been made in terms of measuring economic impact as a result of the arts, led by Americans for the Arts and its Arts and Economic Prosperity series of research reports. But, as Business Contributions to the Arts: 2018 Edition reiterates, most companies are not measuring a standard set of social outcomes when it comes to the arts—and that could be holding the sector back. Our data also show that corporate funding for the arts is in a strong position. That means that now is the time to take on the challenge of being more rigorous in the measurement of arts programs to help ensure sustained contributions over the long term. Companies would benefit from stepping up to the plate.

Arts & Business Partnerships Continue to Strengthen Both Sectors, Research Finds

Last week, we celebrated arts and business partnerships at our annual BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts gala. We heard inspiring stories about why businesses value the arts. BCA Leadership Award winner Chandrika Tandon shared how her passion for music provided passion and engagement at her job. Fifth Third Bank spoke about how the arts helped them heal and respond after a mass shooting at their headquarters. Phillips66 shared how the arts create a strong company culture. These stories align with the data from the just released Business Contributions to the Arts survey, which found, among other positive results, that business support for the arts is on the rise. 

Women Rising

My healing process occurred alongside my career in the arts—first as a student and volunteer; then as an artist and a teaching artist; and now as an arts administrator and leader. The transformation happened over the past 25 years. While the trauma is no longer debilitating, it is never forgotten. And, while the arts didn’t heal the trauma alone, theater was instrumental in helping me build the language and my own awareness of the trauma, and in seeking additional outside assistance. It is impossible for me to separate these narratives. I fervently believe that at its core, our work in the cultural sector is to build a more inclusive, empathetic, and humane society. As leaders we must recognize that many of the people we interact with on a daily basis have experienced some sort of trauma, bias, or oppression based on gender, sexual orientation, or race. It is not that hard to accomplish—just use the tools acquired through the arts themselves.

Americans for the Arts Introduces the Arts + Social Impact Explorer

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Today, Americans for the Arts unveiled the Arts + Social Impact Explorer, an interactive online tool that draws together more than 1,000 data points on how the arts impact and integrate into 26 different sectors ranging from education and innovation, to health and wellness, immigration, faith and environment. The tool provides quick top-line research, example projects, core research papers, and lists service and partner organizations doing this work, as well as provides printable PDF fact sheets to share with decisionmakers.

To Lead in the Arts as a Woman

To lead in the arts today as a woman is a privilege and an honor. We live during a critical time. There is much discord, fear, apathy, and concern for our field and its value in our society. We have the opportunity to stand up and use our bully pulpits thoughtfully. When those do not exist, we build new ones. When we are not heard, we can amplify one another. Women leaders remember integrity: when we fight for something, we use every resource available to understand the issue and go about solving it with passion as well as responsibility. Every choice we make is seen through a finer lens and has more riding on it. We must turn that into an opportunity to seize the moment and act with courage when it counts.

Diversity Conversations

Diversity Conversations is filled with examples culled from discussions with thousands of American professionals, executives, union workers, educators, politicians, law enforcement officials, and others I have trained since the 1990s. Each chapter offers practical tips to increase effectiveness in conducting productive and critical diversity conversations with your friends, family, co-workers, as well as people who do not view the world like you. This third edition of Diversity Conversations is released during a time in our world where there is a growing need for more civility, unity, and human understanding. Each person must face our own demons of bias, tribalism, and cultural blind spots. If we continue to drink from the bitter cup of blame and cross-cultural degradation, we will never engage in the work necessary to bring about sustainable change. 

Selfless Leadership: How Not to Give Away Your Apples and Turn Into a Stump

Do you know the story of The Giving Tree? Many of us do, either as a childhood story or as one that has been introduced to us as adults to share some life lesson or axiom. The story goes like this … A young boy finds a tree. The tree loves the boy, and they play. Then the boy grows older and wants things from the tree: its apples, branches, and eventually its trunk. The tree gives the boy everything, happily, until all is left is a stump. The end. Ostensibly, this is a story about selfless giving, and business folk often hold it up as a wise allegory: a story of leadership to inspire managers into their own career of selfless servitude. Y’all ... I’ve been given this story as an example of what female leadership should look like, and the worst part is that in my younger years—I actually believed it.

The Circle of Leadership

The everyday leadership of a huge, statewide arts community is less a battle charge and more of a circle or a forward spiral, going out to gather people and ideas, bringing them back to the organization, re-aligning, and then going out again. As a statewide organization, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts needs to serve artists, arts organizations, and arts audiences in every corner of our large state. Serving such a large geography means I travel the state as much as possible to serve our constituents and to gather the information we need to be effective. This forges links in a chain of relationships that webs together and strengthens our networks. I bring what I learn in those communities back to our organization to help inform our work, and then I hit the road again, completing the circle.

Americans Speak Out About the Arts in 2018: An In-Depth Look at Perceptions and Attitudes About the Arts in America

In a society struggling to find equity and social justice, Americans believe the arts improve the quality of our communities. How do we know? We asked. Americans Speak Out About the Arts in 2018 is the second in a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Americans for the Arts. One of the largest ever conducted, it gauges the public perspective on (1) personal engagement in the arts as audience and creator, (2) support for arts education and government arts funding, (3) opinions on the personal and well-being benefits that come from engaging in the arts, and (4) how those personal benefits extend to the community. Here are some findings of the survey. 

Americans Speak Out About the Arts in New Public Opinion Poll

Americans Believe the Arts Strengthen Communities Socially, Educationally, Economically

Thursday, September 27, 2018

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Americans for the Arts today released Americans Speak Out About the Arts in 2018, one of the largest national public opinion surveys of American perceptions and attitudes towards the arts and arts funding. The new research demonstrates that Americans continue to be highly engaged in the arts and believe more strongly than ever that the arts promote personal well-being, help us understand other cultures, are essential to a well-rounded education, and that government has an important role in funding the arts.

A Necessary Discomfort

When reflecting on the modules I developed for Americans for the Arts' Arts Administrators Essentials: Serving Individual Artists program through ArtsU, I was honored to have been able to guide fellow arts administrators and practitioners along the journey of understanding practical ways to support visual artists and become a well-equipped coach and support system, both individually and institutionally. My favorite part of this experience was the external fieldwork that accompanied the facilitated instruction. More specifically, I felt deeply attached to one specific exercise which urged participants to immerse themselves in an experience (i.e. screening, performance, exhibition, etc.) that featured the work of local artists. Participants were instructed to reflect on audience demographics and engagement, their own reasons for having not attended sooner, and ways that their organization or individual practice could be beneficial to the practitioners and participants that were embedded within these events. While I still believe that these sorts of actions can have a positive impact on administrators and artists alike, I can also identify and acknowledge a blind spot in my own development of the prompts within this portion of my presentation: education on, and awareness of, systemic and socio-cultural injustices.

We Are All Wonder Women

It’s 2018, and the need to advance women in the workplace is still ever present. Recent decades have certainly yielded progress, but too many unacceptable issues remain unsolved. From sexual harassment to gender pay gaps and more, the fight continues. As we push for fair and equitable treatment, it’s also important to remember that female support systems should be part of the equation. Far too many women in the workforce navigate their careers without the benefit of mentors. Mentorships, both formal and informal, provide opportunities to build relationships that help younger or less experienced professionals better navigate the workplace and personal career development. This is by no means the single key to advancement, but it’s one we shouldn’t overlook. Those of us who can provide guidance and be supportive can make a critical difference in the professional development of others.

#365take2 — or, A letter without expectation.

There is so much to write in a blog about female leadership in the nonprofit arts world. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my professional and personal life. My experiences in adversity are real, but they are also privileged. I’m white, come from a wonderfully loving home, and am able-bodied. I have generally been surrounded by supportive people—women—family, friends, coworkers. I don’t have a lot of stories about being held back or feeling discrimination, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them. The Nonprofit Leadership Workbook for Women notes that while 73% of all nonprofit employees are women, we only account for 45% of nonprofit CEOs. Slightly better than the 5% of female CEOs in the Fortune 500. I was honored to become the executive director of my organization very early in career, well before I was ready. But that’s the thing about women, right? We face challenges head on. We take advantage of opportunities when they arise. We figure it all out as we go. We must. We’re spending our days making the world a better place.

On Becoming an Effective Leader and Creating Your Own Opportunities

As a woman working in the arts management field, I know how critical it is to look for opportunities and to take advantage of them. I have had several women role models who have demonstrated the importance of being a good leader, and now that I’m at a stage in my career where I am training the next generation of arts leaders, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a woman in a leadership position, and how to create your own opportunities. There are three guiding principles that I continually share with my interns who are just getting a glimpse into the inner workings of an arts organization. First, always be curious about what you are doing and what others are doing around you. Second, don’t sweat the small stuff; work your way through problems the best way you know how and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. And finally, pass your knowledge and expertise on to the next generation.

Nominations Open for Advisory Council Members

Monday, September 17, 2018

Americans for the Arts Council Members

Americans for the Arts invites arts professionals from across the country to submit nominations for incoming advisory council members to advise on programs and services in the fields of Arts Education, Emerging Leadership, the Private Sector and Public Art. Nominations close Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

Experiential Education for the Future of Arts Leadership

Often, the pathways to job positions at the highest levels in the arts field are not very clear. The Diversity in Arts Leadership internship (DIAL) helps ensure undergraduates interested in leadership at arts organizations gain the skills, networks, and experience needed to assume leadership roles in the arts. Each intern in the Americans for the Arts’ DIAL Internship has displayed a combination of passion for the arts, some experience leading meaningful projects, and self-identifies as being from a background traditionally untapped for arts leadership. The DIAL internship then provides the platform for competitively selected undergraduates to explore nonprofit careers in the arts, taking the arts practices they love and combining them with meaningful experiences in business and leadership. While most internships can be considered experiential, the DIAL internship is a ten-week experience.

Fostering Diversity among Future Leaders in the Arts

I will never forget the day I first heard the phrase, “If you can see it, you can be it.” Fast-forward thirteen years, and these words ring true in the work I do to help facilitate the annual National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Collegiate Advocacy Summit and Hill Day. Over the past five years, more than 400 undergraduate students from across the United States have traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn leadership and advocacy skills from leaders in the field of music education. Additionally, and arguably most important, is the work these students do to advocate for the importance of music education to our elected officials during congressional office visits. The stories they tell and the passion they bring make all the difference when connecting a face to a name and cause for our representatives on Capitol Hill. These experiences often lead these young leaders and future music educators to report envisioning themselves as leaders and decision-makers—not only for the arts and arts education, but for our country and our world.

The Privilege of Voice

The MOCA Teen Program, which I co-manage, is an academic yearlong paid internship for 18 students that supports teens on a journey of self-discovery through learning about art, the museum, and the world. In the process of selecting candidates, we look for individual voices that can become part of a diverse and connected community. Students who come from privilege are empowered to have a voice from a young age. Students with fewer resources are not, and face a disadvantage before even applying for the MOCA Teen Program. The unequal empowerment of student voices illuminates a systematic barrier for youth to be prepared and competitive candidates for art and leadership pipeline opportunities. While the MOCA Teen Program aims to empower the voices of our program participants, we may be perpetuating cycles of privilege if our selection process gravitates towards privileged applicants. We must put more resources and thought into equitable recruitment and application processes to creative pathways if we are to overcome this barrier to diversity in our field. 

Lifting Up a Community Through the Arts

When people tell me they see me as a leader and influencer in the nonprofit arts world, I must confess that I don’t really see myself that way. I’m in a unique situation as a Lakota woman. First, we actually have no Lakota word for “art.” Expressing ourselves visually is something we’ve always done; it’s part of who we are as Lakota people. Art is life. We also don’t perceive leadership the same way the dominant society does. For me, it’s my honor and my responsibility to find the right ways to care for our people. In this case, I’m very fortunate to be able to help lift up my community through the arts. To me, at its heart, leadership isn’t really about leading something. It’s about using what you learn to forge a path forward. When you grow internally, that shapes what you want to do and the impact you will have. The arts absolutely can empower others in their own leadership journeys, because getting in touch with creativity in any way will change you.

Expanding Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Museums through Teen Programming

The High Museum of Art has been on a journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion in recent years. With the diversification of our board and staff, the inclusion of programs for students with cognitive and physical disabilities, boosting our family programming, and more, the Museum has taken a concerted effort to truly reflect the community it serves. One of these areas is in our teen programming. In 2016, we applied for a contract with the Kennedy Center VSA to develop programming for students on the autism spectrum. In this program, we work closely with the students, teachers, and administrators to develop tours and workshops that are interactive, sensory-friendly, and responsive to the needs of all learners. The High Museum also has a program called Teen Team, a yearly group of 15 to 20 rising juniors and seniors representing a wide range of students from public, private, charter schools who create and host public programs at the Museum. 

New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival: Inspiring Future Generations of Creative Innovators

The New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival celebrated the third year of its revival this past spring at Ocean County College in Toms River. Thousands of students and teachers from 18 counties gathered with professional artists for the three-day statewide arts festival, to celebrate the important role the arts play in enriching all of New Jersey. This year’s festival was a great success, reaching 3,500 students and 400 educators in attendance. At the center of the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival programming are the showcases and displays of student creative work. The students that present at the State Festival are selected as the exemplary representatives of the outstanding artistic talent blossoming all throughout New Jersey’s local communities. 

Give More Kids a Voice Through the Arts. Then Listen Up.

Although the average household income in Marin County is high, the income gap in the county is wide. And Marin public schools serving lower income families are as cash-strapped as any in California. Yes, Marin’s pricy private schools offer rich arts experiences. But most of our public-school students receive a haphazard mix of programs hustled together by hardworking PTAs. And in our lowest income communities, where schools often serve predominantly immigrant youth of color, many have no arts at all. During National Arts in Education Week, my organization Youth in Arts and a team of stakeholders will present data illustrating local inequities in arts services before unveiling the first ever Marin Arts Education Plan. This plan offers first steps towards addressing the arts divide and creating a framework for all students to access quality arts learning.

From Diversity to Justice: How One Intern’s Experience Informs Efforts to Diversify the Arts Education Leadership Pipeline

Since the age of five, theater has served as my safe place, my platform, my passion, and my megaphone. It empowers me, strengthens me, and mobilizes me in an ethereal and visceral way that nothing else can. And yet, for the first nine years of my theater career, all my directors and theater teachers were white. Even now, years later, the vast majority of the faculty in my college’s theater department are white. This reality is an injustice. And still, my existence is proof that theater, and more broadly, the arts, shape our notions of what is possible for ourselves and the world around us. Art is restorative. Art is transformative. Art is healing. Art is resistance. It is for this reason, among many others, that arts leadership, and especially arts education leadership, must be representative of those who exist at the intersections of marginalized identities.

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