Spring is in the air…which means that in Oklahoma the redbuds are in full bloom and one can look forward to the regular chorus of tornado sirens.
Founded in 2008, Leadership Arts, is a professional development program open to 30 class members from across the state of Oklahoma. Now in its fifth year, this program continues to build up a growing statewide network of arts advocates.
Leadership Arts class members represent a diverse and talented mix of individuals from communities both small and large and every corner of the state. The class is generally made up of arts administrators, civic/community leaders, educators, artists, tribal, and cultural representatives.
Each class meets for two days over the course of four months in a different community in Oklahoma. Class curriculum specifically addresses how the arts play a crucial role in the economic impact, education, and quality of life throughout Oklahoma.
Recently I met with Georgia Williams, co-founder of Leadership Arts and former cultural development director for the state arts council, to learn more about how the concept for this program originated.
Georgia: “We looked at some of the issues we discovered in working with communities, asking ourselves; ‘Why can’t some of these communities seem to move forward?’ It was often a lack of leadership capacity or maybe they were lacking the knowledge about what to do with their talents. This was usually combined with a lack of ability on how to articulate the value of the arts in the community. We also addressed arts organizations—how can they see the big picture rather than just their own organization’s needs? Bottom line: if we can’t talk about our worth and why the arts are important, how can we expect others to support and fund us?”
Utilizing models from both the Asset Based Community Development Institute (John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann) and Civic Change, Inc. (Suzanne Morse), the class curriculum was designed to empower arts leaders with the tools needed to articulate the value of their work.
Georgia: “The concept was centered on asset-based development and the philosophy that all people from all backgrounds have the same ability to be leaders. That includes working class and middle class people. The focus for class selection has not been about selecting members who are seeking career development or social status.”
In the short time that Leadership Arts has been in place, many alumni have gone on to implement the training directly into the work they are doing to improve their communities. Several are members of the ONEAL Network for Oklahoma’s New and Emerging Arts Leaders and the newly formed arts advocacy organization Oklahomans for the Arts. Class members also convene at the annual Oklahoma Arts Conference, and several have hosted their own community arts forums to reach new leaders.
Georgia: “There is an elevated level of arts advocacy as well as strong interests in developing community art centers and cultural arts districts. The classes also become their own resource. There is a lot of talent there. Good relationships are formed, and you can really see how some communities have grown after having representatives attend the class over the years.”