Bob Lynch, President & CEO of Americans for the Arts, discusses the recent gathering of the National Arts Policy Roundtable which took place in September at Robert Redford’s Sundance Preserve in Utah. The annual Roundtable brings together top leaders from the arts, philanthropy, business, education and government and this year’s convening focused on the role of the arts in strengthening and inspiring the 21st century global community through cultural exchange and diplomacy.

For more information on the National Arts Policy Roundtable visit our website where you will find the history of the program and reports from the past three years of the convenings. (Note that the 2009 report is still forthcoming).

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A message in my inbox closes with this line: “…I envy your position as an academic so that you can truly provoke these conversations…”  The author concludes by saying she is cheering me [and all of you] on quietly.

The message before that suggests that many young arts professionals—deviously checking in on this blog from the foxholes of their cubicles—are not safe to participate in this discussion.  The author suggests that my position in academia (one of the hats I wear) allows me to be more outspoken than others.  Though my outspokenness is not without consequence, I do acknowledge that this may very well be the case.  I, however, am not the only emerging leader contributing to this conversation, and perhaps if my job were on the line I’d be a little more guarded concerning what I put out in the world.   Read the rest of this entry »

Rather than getting sucked into the vortex of divisive generalizations or defensive justifications, I thought perhaps what I could offer is, well, an intervention.

Could everyone come on over and have a seat in the circle? No, you guys split up… ok, ok, let’s count off by two’s, so we don’t have all the under-40’s over here, and the over 40’s over there… Thanks. Take a minute to introduce yourself to your neighbor. Exchange cards. If you’ve been in the field for some time and would be willing to act as mentor/buddy to someone looking for some guidance or a connection, please write “O2M” (open to mentorship) on your card.

Great! Let’s get “present” for a few minutes here so we might be more able to listen well… we can take a deeeeep breath in….aaaand out.

I’m interested in what it is that brings us here, and that seems to cycle back for more attention. And it’s not about “Arts Leadership,” specifically. There is an interpersonal and intra-professional phenomenon here that I think needs some earnest addressing in order for us to coalesce as a field and do the work together that needs to be done. Read the rest of this entry »

I worked on two of the nation’s largest college campuses for a grand total of thirteen years. At the University of Minnesota, I cut my teeth in residential life, in community arts programming, even working with a data collection group on a research study. At Arizona State University, I continued my work with residential life, only to migrate into teaching English and creative writing, and then managing and helping to grow Phoenix’s largest community-oriented writing center.

Working in academia has its pluses and minuses. All summer long I enjoyed what amounted to a private city, with restaurants empty at lunch time, wide sidewalks and quads free of pushing and shoving and skateboarders, and on-campus services like the gym and library that seemed to be waiting for me to command them into activity. It’s a stark contrast from the other nine months of the year. Throughout the academic year, students swarm the campus like picnic ants. Waiting for Starbucks was more excruciating than waiting for Godot. And food in the union, when it was even available, was like revenge—always cold and never what you were expecting. On a given day, I was once told, the University of Minnesota gathered 75,000 people, making it the fifth-largest city in the state.

I was frequently reminded of Matthew McCaughnahey’s iconic line about high school students from Dazed and Confused: “I keep getting older, but they stay the same age.” While that was a turn on for him, all it succeeded in doing for me was making me feel old.  Like codger-old. Read the rest of this entry »

So when are all of those baby boomers working in the nonprofit arts sector going to retire? I keep reading about the fact that they are all retiring and there will be lots of opportunities for those who are younger, and that in fact, there is going to be a great need for new leaders.

Never mind that:

  • Boomers’ retirement funds lost 30-50% of their value, and the very concept of organizations providing retirement dollars in the nonprofit arts sector wasn’t even thought of by the organizations they worked for then, or now, until they were into their ‘30s;
  • These boomers decided to stay in a profession at lower pay when many of their colleagues quit the nonprofit arts sector in their late ‘30s and ‘40s, so now they don’t think that they will be able to afford retirement;
  • The boomers’ kids are struggling to find work if they have finished college, or are in graduate school, and their younger kids are just starting college;
  • Some boomers who would have become CEO’s lost out when it became fashionable a few years ago to hire people who had retired early from the for profit sector to be the new CEO, rather than an experienced, career professional in the arts;
  • It seems that the only boomers who are able to retire are those who worked in state government or higher education which are part of larger retirement plans – rather than independent nonprofits.

I’m sure the boomers can find a few more items to add to the list.

Why would people want to step aside – when they have bills to pay, passion for their work, and years of productivity ahead? Why would they step aside “when they are,” as Degas said on his deathbed,” just starting to get it” (‘it’ meaning a better salary, the opportunity to do the work they have always dreamed of doing, being able to balance personal and professional time after years of long work weeks, or however you define ‘it’)? Read the rest of this entry »

When I was a little girl I would watch cowboys on TV on Saturday mornings. Besides the dust, the visual images I most remember were that the good guys had white horses and the bad guys wore black hats.

This seemed like a great idea to me at the time.  I felt too inexperienced to reach those conclusions on my own, so the fact that someone else decided for me seemed like a great plan. As I acquired more worldly experience I also developed stronger feelings of independence and a much greater desire to reach my own conclusions about everything.

Words, gestures, labels, symbols — their meanings are sometimes so personal that I have no idea what they mean to someone else.  Sometimes they are destructive and other times they become a helpful kind of shorthand. Read the rest of this entry »

Some observations about this set of blog exchanges.

1. Very little heat or disagreement. When Edward introduced 20UNDER40 to a dialogue on NECAP’s (New England Consortium of Arts-Educator Professionals) blog, there was a lot of reactivity against the very notion of the book. It was the most active blog outburst in their history. The anger seemed to come from some over-40 teaching artists who felt under-heard themselves and felt dissed by a book dedicated to younger voices.

Since this AftA blog appears under their Emerging Leaders banner, the participant pool seems much younger, and entirely accepting of Edward’s concept and project. Even the over-40s (I know some of you who are!) who have posted seem in support of the book. This blog-population seems entirely in support of the book.

2. Stephanie Evans at Americans for the Arts has been telling us that the participation in this blog has been extraordinarily high by their norms–not just the number of posts and responses but a huge number of page views that didn’t post messages. Even without controversy or burning issue. This suggests to me that we are looking at a lot of untapped energy around this topic. I have been calling it “a movement” with Edward to try to capture my amazement at the size and quality of the submission response to his call for chapter proposals.

So, young leaders, what are you going to do about it? Read the rest of this entry »

I couldn’t be more excited by the updates from Stephanie noting the record breaking success of this blog event—as well as the onslaught of Facebook friend requests I’ve been receiving from so many of you.  However, another curious thing has been happening in my inbox this week. While the conversation rages on out here in the public blogosphere, I’ve received a couple of emails from emerging arts leaders saying they’d love to participate in this online discussion, but due to internal politics at their organizations—they have to remain in the proverbial closet.

Given the progress we’ve made through forums like this and all of the hullabaloo 20UNDER40 has caused, it saddens me to think that there are still young arts professionals out there who have opinions to express and stories to share—but must maintain their silence literally for fear of losing their jobs. Even worse is the idea that there are people in authority positions who may be trolling this blog right now, making sure their subordinates remain silent—remain subordinate.

The insecurity exercised in this field (though not entirely omnipresent) is oppressive. As tomorrow’s leaders (young and old) begin to reinvent the arts for the future, I’d like to offer a suggestion: that our industry’s inherent lack of confidence and fear-based business models be placed on top of the list of things that must change.

Picturing America is a free initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities that helps teach American history and culture by bringing some of the country’s great art directly to classrooms and libraries. The upcoming webinar on October 27 will demonstrate how the visual arts are an effective tool in teaching history and how educators and arts professionals can extend and expand upon the initiative in their own communities.

The webinar is moderated by Randy Cohen, Vice President of Local Arts Advancement at Americans for the Arts and speakers include: Curtis Carter, PhD. Professor of Philosophy, Marquette University; and Theresa Cameron, Director of Membership, Americans for the Arts and former director, Arts and Humanities Council, Montgomery County, MD.

Picturing America will take place on October 27, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. EST and will be 75 minutes in length. Registration is free and open to the first 290 participants.

Click Here to Register.

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Who is a Leader, Really?

Posted by Michelle Bellino On October - 22 - 20099 COMMENTS

In response to Edward Clapp’s call for papers for 20Under40 and “This is our Emergency” open letter, I invited my brother to co-write a chapter proposal with me. We have been a screenwriting team for over ten years, and though we have had some success in writing for television, we have not had the success we wished for in film. He was the first to point this out to me: what do two people like us have to say about the state of working in film today? I believe we have everything to say, but his skepticism got to me: does not “making it” make us failures?  Does that mean we can’t be leaders, despite our continued attempts to break into the industry?

Like many younger sisters, I have spent my whole life looking up to my brother. He is the funniest person I know. He is able to tell stories visually, concisely, and always pull it off with humor and style. He is a perfectionist in the most devoted and irritating way—he will always push you to make what you have better, to see it a different way, or to entirely abandon it in pursuit of something much edgier and more unique. The thing is, he knows he is all of these things—he knows he is good at what he does. So why does he feel so powerless to speak about his craft? Is it him; is it the film industry specifically; is it the ambiguous state of success in the arts more broadly; or is it, as Edward Clapp and Eric Booth might say, a generational disempowerment perpetuated by an organizational structure borne from a field-wide complex? Read the rest of this entry »

My name is Victoria Saunders and I’ve been following emerging leadership – what I call Next Generation Arts Leadership – issues for more than five years now. It started when I was at the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and talked our Executive Director into letting me plan and host a Creative Conversation. That led to the formation of an Emerging Leaders of Arts and Culture group that lasted for several years. There is a movement to regroup and strengthen the program, but I have moved on to other aspects of young arts leadership. Now an independent consultant, I am often asked to weigh in on various issues related to the next generation of arts leaders and I continue to explore this topic as a result.

A year ago I was hired to conduct statewide research around emerging arts leadership for The James Irvine Foundation, one of California’s largest philanthropic foundations and one that gives heavily and cares deeply about leadership and arts and culture. Without going into the details of the research or outcomes, I’d like to share a tidbit that resonated with my research partner Dewey Schott and me and continues to do so with me today. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by John Abodeely On October - 22 - 2009No comments yet

Check out my last post for some written histrionics about leadership. Check out this one for some personalized, written histrionics about leadership.

These are the lessons I’ve learned the hard way that contribute to whatever shred of leadership I’ve eked out over my brief and lucky career. Some have corollaries, hence the indented bullets.

1.    Listen.

  • I’ve never been able to do enough of this. My friend once said, “P.A.D.T.H.A.I. People Are Different. They Have Amazing Ideas.” Sometimes people blow my mind.

2.    We need you.

  • They need you. I need you. You need you. Work hard. Do right. It’s the only way to make a positive difference.

3.    Every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want the world to be.

  • If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
  • No one can solve every problem.
  • Balancing these two truths is hard.

4.    Harmony is paramount. All interactions must end in harmony.

  • Do not prioritize your goals above others’ feelings.
  • Do not bully, intimidate, or be mean to get what you want.
  • There will be new goals and new interactions coming soon. Those will be sour from the giddy up, if you do not prioritize harmony now.
  • Mean people probably do not think they are behaving poorly, so don’t encourage them to act more hatefully by fighting with them. Everyone probably knows they’re mean anyway.

5.    There will be another meeting. [I heard this at an Emerging Leader conference!]

  • You might not have made the progress you wanted to, but you did something good. Try to identify what that something was.
  • Ideas take some time to sink in. Try again in a few months or next year and see if the conversation is different.
  • The reason to let go of frustration is because you’re not solely responsible for making something work; other people have a hand in it and sometimes they see it differently.
  • Another reason to let go is because you’ll age poorly, get heart disease, or lose sleep if you don’t let bothersome things go.

My father would be disappointed if I didn’t add this one:

6.    “How do you eat an elephant? … One bite at a time.”

  • Break daunting tasks up into achievable steps.
  • It’s not my strongest suit, but patience is invaluable.

We need a #7! Someone pitch in a #7! Everyone, pitch in a #7!

In response to this particular statement from your last post; “The problem is the field is not allowing room for these individuals to utilize their more complex mental structures. The result is that young leaders experience a disconnect between their mental complexity and their (in)ability to exercise their agency within the field.”  I have to be quite colloquial in my response to your post, Edward— quit already…with the black and white generalizations about my generational cohort.

Wow, that statement is a complete over-generalization and quite an insult to those of us who do give emerging leaders as much space as we can to help them create the viable, on-going, and administratively sound programming they envision. And might I add, through the structures that we created with our own use of our “complex mental structures” or more to the point our 60 hour weeks, agile minds, on-going burn-out and increasing frustration that we can’t do more to bring the exciting new ideas forward..

I have only hired young emerging leaders in the past ten years and have given them full reign to use their “complex mental structures.”  You’re personal experience is in no way how all “old farts,” to quote Eric Booth, approach their work. Furthermore, I have pushed them with my own ‘aged’ ‘complex mental structures’ and sprinkled the much needed dose of wisdom to help their visions become real from the ground up.   Read the rest of this entry »

We spend a great deal of time working to make the case for the power and value of the arts to communities.  That is why it was great to learn that the American Planning Association (APA) is looking at the role of arts in planning. As part of a collaborative project with the RMC Corporation and with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, APA’s Planning and Community Health Research Center is developing a series of briefing papers to illustrate how planners use arts and culture strategies to achieve economic, social, environmental, and community goals. The briefing papers will provide a comprehensive definition and overview of the arts, culture, and creativity field and explore four topic areas: community engagement and participation; community pride; economic development; and cultural values, heritage, and history.

This framework will help support the work of policymakers, planners, and economic development and community development professionals, as well as professionals in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, arts, culture, and creativity in the creation and development of healthy communities. Read the rest of this entry »

There’s No Difference

Posted by Adam Thurman On October - 21 - 20096 COMMENTS

Greeting Emerging Leaders and the women (and men) that love them.

My name is Adam Thurman.  I’m 33.  Been working professionally in the arts since I was 26.  In that time I’ve been the Executive Director of a small theatre, the Marketing Director of a large theatre, a teacher, a consultant, a Board member, a grant panelist, etc.

During my career I’ve had good days, bad days and “want to punch somebody in the face” days, so I can relate to pretty much any emotion you are going through right now. It’s in that spirit that I want to share the single most useful piece of advice I was ever given about a career in the arts:

Stop thinking about it as the arts.

I’ll explain.

Read the rest of this entry »