When I joined the Emerging Leaders Council, I learned that many of my peers, like me, were interested in mentoring.

I realized, though, that my outlook on mentoring was very simplistic and traditional: someone with more experience advises someone with less experience in a formal and formalized relationship.

I wanted to know more. When, where, and why did mentoring start? How has mentoring changed? What makes a mentoring relationship work?

(The image above of Telemachus and Mentor was created by Pablo Fabisch for The Adventures of Telemachus.)

Like a true millennial, I turned to Wikipedia.

I discovered that the term “mentor” has its roots in Greek mythology. When Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War, he entrusts Telemachus, his son, in the hands of friend and confidant Mentor. Later in The Odyssey, Goddess of War Athena, who has a soft spot for Odysseus, takes the shape and voice of Mentor when she urges Telemachus to travel abroad to determine what has happened to his father.

Many, many years later in 1699, French writer François Fénelo penned The Adventures of Telemachus, which fills in gaps in The Odyssey with the tales of Mentor and Telemachus. Think The Adventures of Telemachus is to The Odyssey what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is to Hamlet — but with a decidedly more serious, philosophical tone.

Today’s term “mentor” traces back to Fénelo’s work — a mentor being an advisor, tutor, or counselor.

In developing the Mentorship Tool Kit for the Emerging Leaders Council, I learned that this traditional definition of mentoring is giving way to more informal, but just as effective forms of mentoring.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll be sharing some examples of how Emerging Leaders Networks are making mentoring work in their communities.

In the meantime we’d like to know, what is your definition of mentoring?

First of all, my answer to the question is a definite “NO,” and while I do think my history degree and music background may be part of the reason I didn’t go into business, I do think arts education is vital for producing a creative and competitive workforce.  But today, I read an article on TheAtlantic.com entitled “Liberal Arts and the Bottom Line” where, apparently, following such disasters as the mortgage-backed securities blunder on Wall Street and the recent and ongoing BP oil spill, some business experts are suggesting that (gasp!) there are other things that need to be taken into account (employee quality of life, environmental impact, community health, etc.) other than the bottom line and that a business education should reflect that.  Their proposed solution: including more liberal arts in the curriculum of business students.  That’s right, business experts are suggesting that business curricula include the arts because it will lead to a more well-rounded, and, if you can believe it, more ethical business executive.   From the article:

“On one level, these changes are an effort to assuage society’s concerns about bloodthirsty and uncaring business executives bringing down economies or risking the destruction of an entire coastline in the name of profit. But on another level, they reflect a growing belief that the kind of complex, critical thinking and ability to look at problems in larger contexts and from multiple points of view that a liberal arts education instills (at least in theory) actually leads to better decision-making skills in business executives.”

Sounds reasonable (and slightly encouraging) to me.  But the author goes on to tell what she calls a “cautionary tale” about creating a more well-rounded business exec.  In 1952, Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania offered a 10-month immersion course in the Humanities and Liberal Arts for up-and-coming Bell managers where these managers read the classics, listened to symphonies, toured art museums, and the like.  The result:  Read the rest of this entry »

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Creativity in Business

Posted by admin On July - 10 - 2010No comments yet

Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, interviewed Redford at an event on June 24 at the Philadelphia Theater Company presented by the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia (an affiliate of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce) and professional services company Towers Watson. Redford spoke about his childhood, his business experiences and the importance of creativity in business.

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Last month’s Americans for the Arts Half-Century Summit in Baltimore, MD, was a rousing success on many fronts. Despite economic challenges, a thousand attendees joined us for several days of networking, collaborating, and learning.

In honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary year, this year’s annual convention featured visionary panel sessions, providing the field with an opportunity to listen to, and engage with, leaders in their respective fields to discuss the future. The arts education visionary panel was moderated by Chris Tebben, executive director of Grantmakers for Education, and featured Eric Booth (teaching artist/consultant), Jillian Darwish (vice president of organizational learning and innovation at KnowledgeWorks Foundation), Carrie Fitzsimmons (international director for strategy at ArtScience Labs), and James Shelton (assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education).

The discussion on the current outlook and future of arts education was lively and engaging, but it was Mr. Shelton who sparked concern from many in the audience. Among his remarks, Mr. Shelton described the collection of research supporting arts education as, “loose” and, in another instance, he appeared to suggest that future arts education policy efforts should be more focused on out-of-school activities.

As hosts of the panel, we quickly found out that news of his remarks were spreading around the country as attendees shared the comments with their colleagues, who then shared them with others, etc.

After returning to D.C., Americans for the Arts Director of Federal Affairs Narric Rome sent a letter to Mr. Shelton, providing him the opportunity to publicly clarify what he meant, and reassure the arts education community that the department’s effort to strengthen arts education through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and elsewhere, remained a priority.

Mr. Shelton responded with a detailed letter clarifying those comments and reiterating the Department of Education’s support for arts education. Read the rest of this entry »

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created by the New York Neo-Futurists

No Flash? Watch here on iPhone or iPad.

When I first started working with the New York Neo-Futurists, our artists-in-residence for the 2010 Americans for the Arts Half-Century Summit, I had no idea what to expect from their culminating performance on Sunday, June 27. I was familiar with the structure of their work from seeing “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” a couple of times, and knew about ordering of the “menu” of short plays. I even anticipated some on-stage chaos. But It was the content I was worried about.

The Neos were tasked with synthesizing thousands of voices, opinions and ideas bounced around over the course of three days in Baltimore into 10 short plays crammed into a 20 minute window. And I wanted at least some of the plays to be a meaningful reflection on the future of the arts (in line with the conference theme). That was a big challenge to place on anyone’s shoulders, even six young, hilarious theatre gurus who create small plays to perform at random order on a weekly basis.

It all had me a little nervous. Read the rest of this entry »

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Summer school is in full swing – and I wonder how many kids are being encouraged to use their imaginations as a part of their learning. My daughter was “promoted” from fifth grade this June and a speech made by the fifth-grade student association president, Zane, was recited at the promotion ceremony. All 90 or so fifth graders dressed their best, boys in actual shoes that for kids in southern California are quite an anomaly (flip flops and sneakers are daily wear) as well as their over-sized jackets on their frames that remain small especially compared to the girls, many of whom tower over the boys and who look very much like developing teenagers.

The two weeks prior to their promotion, boys and girls were separated from each other for a course in “human growth and development.” I got a phone call during the session that my daughter had a stomach ache. As it turns out, my daughter was not alone: “Liana did complain today of an upset stomach,” wrote her teacher in an e-mail. “However, it seems to be going around right now. It became an ‘epidemic’ during Human Growth and Development when all the girls had to learn about the boy parts. It was actually quite comical. That might have had a little to do with her extra nausea at the end of the day. I hope she is feeling better.” Read the rest of this entry »

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A week and a half ago, Americans for the Arts staff were in trains, planes, and loaded down automobiles, headed for Charm City, aka Baltimore, MD, for our Half-Century Summit. Since I work directly with Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders network and our leadership development programs, I spent time participating in Goucher College’s Leadership Symposium, and many of the leadership themed sessions at the Summit.

At the Summit, a recurring conversation in our sessions centered on how we as individuals and organizations could make professional development for our field a larger priority. And by priority, we don’t mean a larger piece of our dwindling budgets. The majority of arts organizations are struggling to figure out how to do more with less, and we need to develop ways to continue making professional development a priority during this tough economy.

In the results from the 2009 Survey to the field of Emerging Arts Leaders, I was shocked to discover that while 70 percent of our current emerging leaders consider arts administration their long term career, only 28.5 percent either strongly agree or agree that there is room for career advancement within their organization.

How will the remaining 41.5 percent of those who want to stay in the field realistically do so when they don’t feel they can grow? Read the rest of this entry »

Know Better, Learn Faster

Posted by Lex Leifheit On July - 7 - 20101 COMMENT

Lex Leifheit

“And I need you to be better than me

And you need me to do better than you.”

Thao With The Get Down Stay Down, “Know Better, Learn Faster”

Over a week has passed since the 50th Anniversary Summit, and what a whirlwind week it was. Back at SOMArts Cultural Center we closed out an amazing turnaround year. We more than doubled our gallery attendance, revived our intern and volunteer programming, launched a website, renovated our lobby and office spaces, invested in long-overdue equipment upgrades, fought to protect our city funding, and lived to tell about it.  And yet, in many ways we are just catching up. There’s so much to do and it feels like the more we succeed, the more people we connect to who have urgent needs and high expectations.  Such is the life of a thriving nonprofit.

At convention, I connected with peers who had similar stories. We’re all exhausted. So we sat in the audience and listened to panels talk about new models, veering between skepticism and hope.

I came to convention still stubbornly hanging on to the idea that a “new model” was a structure I could study and apply to my organization—that magical combination of for-profit innovation, technology application and nonprofit altruism.

I left convention having reached the conclusion that we need to stop treating “new model” like a noun, in panels or anywhere else, when what we’re talking about is changing the system. We’re asking how we can achieve dramatic organizational change necessitated by the factors mentioned above, but succeeding via thoughtful communication and a process of enrolling (vs. influencing) stakeholders in one’s vision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jennie Smith-Peers

I’m thrilled to be serving as an Ambassador for National Center for Creative Aging Green Paper on Aging Creatively in the 21st Century. It is my intention to use this paper as a catalyst for discussion around ideas of what it means to be creative as we grow older and the impact it has on our lives; and so, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback.

My hope is that this dialogue will foster discussions around the latest ideas on aging and creativity, the challenges we face, and strategies to address and perhaps overcome these obstacles. 

So dig in – read the paper, add to the discussion, and share with me your ideas of what it means to remain creatively engaged while growing older. What does it look like? How can we reinvent – with compassion, dignity, and creativity – the face of aging through the arts?

Also, be sure to subscribe to the blog, through the RSS feed, so you can stay up to date on the most current entries. And finally, resources have been posted in the resources section, so please be sure to visit this list.

In the history of the community arts movement in America, July 3 stands as a notable day.  On this day, we celebrate the birthday of one giant, Robert Gard, born in 1910 and the passing of another, Ralph Burgard, in 2008. Gard and Burgard each created processes and pathways to creative engagement for individuals and communities.  Each advanced the idea and value of community arts development through direct community work and the creation of infrastructure to promote community arts development and grow a movement. Each worked tirelessly to advance the right to creative expression for residents in every Americans city, town, and hamlet in America.  This makes the juxtaposition to the 4th of July, a day when we celebrate our freedoms, just – sweet! Read the rest of this entry »

Ian David Moss

On Friday afternoon, I sat in on one of the AFTA Summit’s Visionary Panels, “New and Emerging Business Models.”  Moderated by Adrian Ellis of Jazz at Lincoln Center and AEA Consulting, the high-powered panel also featured Adam Huttler of Fractured Atlas (aka my boss), Clara Miller of Nonprofit Finance Fund, and Terence McFarland of LA Stage Alliance. (Ben Cameron and Shay Wafer were originally scheduled to appear, but could not make it; McFarland sat in for them instead.)

The panelists each brought a somewhat different perspective to the concept of “new models.” Ellis emphasized a separation between means and ends, defining a new model as an alternative way to accomplish one’s core mission (which presumably remains the same). Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Miller cited high fixed costs as the bane of many nonprofits’ existence and drew a laugh from the audience when she defined a new business model – the only one, in fact – as “reliable revenue that is greater than expenses. Any questions?” Huttler quoted the University of Wisconsin’s Andrew Taylor in describing Fractured Atlas’s model as “mission-oriented around sunk costs, profit-oriented around marginal costs.” Put another way, Fractured Atlas will seek grant funds and other contributed revenue to help pay for one-time expenses such as start-up capital, but always with the expectation that any new program or activity will eventually be able to sustain itself through earned income. McFarland described his organization’s historical reliance on earned income, noting that when he took the leadership reins the proportion of revenue that fell into that category was an astonishing 95%. While that percentage has since fallen somewhat, LA Stage Alliance still employs novel strategies such as marketing its connections with member theaters to interested parties in the private sector (such as newspapers). Despite the economy, LA Stage ended last year with a six-figure surplus.

Sparks began to fly a bit during the next exchange, when Huttler pointed to the contributed-income model (in which the people using the product or service – the customers – are not the same as the people paying for the product or service – the donors) as being inherently problematic. In his view, though the sector is likely stuck with it to some extent, this arrangement can distort programming because those holding the financial cards have a disproportionate amount of power to direct outcomes. Ellis responded that this is in fact what distinguishes the nonprofit sector from the private sector — why would we change our mission in response to the market instead of changing how we accomplish our mission? Read the rest of this entry »

At 2:05pm on Sunday, June 27th the New York Neo Futurists were preparing to take the stage to perform 10 new plays to celebrate the culmination of the 50th Anniversary Summit. That’s right—a total of 10 brand new original short plays based on dozens of interviews with attendees and the group’s experience as the Artists in Residency at the 2010 Summit. I was fortunate to not only be interviewed by the New York Neo-Futurists (henceforth the Neos) but also to participate in their “re-charging movement-based activities” during the Networking Break on Saturday.

I jumped at the opportunity to interact with this group of dynamic performers by scheduling an interview. I know of the Chicago Neo Futurists from an episode in 2003 of the radio program This American Life, which adapted the idea of performing 30 plays in 60 minutes from the Neos’ show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (Although the radio broadcast only included 20 acts in 60 minutes.)

The Neo Futurists opened at the Stage Left Theater in Chicago on December 2, 1988. Written and performed by the eight-person ensemble, the Neos were first conceived and directed by Greg Allen. The New York version debuted in 1995 but after two years took a hiatus. Resurrected in their current form in 2004, the New York Neos and are now going strong performing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind at the Kraine Theater (85 East Fourth Street).

Drawing from their namesake, the Italian Futurists, the Neos come from a rich tradition of performance artist history ranging from the Dadaists and Happenings in 1960s to low-tech participatory theatre in the 1980s. Eschewing the ideas of conventional theatre performances: character, setting, plot, and the separation of audience and performer, the Neos thrive on audience interaction. Attendee interviews were just one way that the Neos facilitated this in Baltimore. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative thinking when it comes to funding the arts, and especially when it comes to my home discipline of music, specifically string and orchestral music.  After all, as our Green Paper states, part of our vision is to “protect these programs from economic uncertainty.”  But this one caught even me off guard!

FORD CREEK, IN, June 24, 2010 – Officials and board members with the Culver County School System have devised a way to save the system’s threatened strings program without cutting services to students.  “After a great deal of discussion, we have come up with solutions that we feel will allow us to continue to offer the strings program in our schools, and at the same time will address the current economic concerns of the system,” stated Culver County Superintendent of Schools Paul LaCosta. Read the rest of this entry »

We are all advocates of the arts.  If you are in the profession in any way – educator, administrator, creator, or all of the above – you are, by nature, an arts advocate.  And all of us agree that one of the key points in arts advocacy is making arts education a priority.  But did you know that it’s not just a priority, but according to the federal government, it’s a part of the core curriculum?

In the session “Beyond Liking It: Prioritizing Arts Education,” Laurie Lock and Lynn Tuttle talked about the things that can do as arts education advocates to ensure the future of arts programs in our school, whether we are addressing continuing funding in difficult times or trying to establish funding for new programs.  Some thoughts from the session: Read the rest of this entry »

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Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, addresses how the arts and culture fit into our society, communications, and information sharing. In a world where technology can bridge the gap between cultures, online tools that pull together different voices and communities are increasingly vital. The Huffington Post is a prime example.

No Flash? Watch here on iPhone or iPad – http://vimeo.com/12876851.