White Horses, Black Hats and Emerging Leaders

Posted by Ramona Baker On October - 22 - 2009

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 »

Observations About the Emerging Leaders Salon on ARTSblog

Posted by Eric Booth On October - 22 - 2009

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 »

Emerging Leaders in the Closet—Don’t Worry, I Won’t Out You

Posted by Edward Clapp On October - 22 - 2009

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.

Who is a Leader, Really?

Posted by Michelle Bellino On October - 22 - 2009

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 »

A Lonely Place to Be

Posted by Victoria Plettner-Saunders On October - 22 - 2009

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 - 2009

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!

Generalizations Don’t Help and a Little Personal Responsibility Does

Posted by Mary Sutton On October - 22 - 2009

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 »

There’s No Difference

Posted by Adam Thurman On October - 21 - 2009

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 »

Where Has the Loyalty Gone?

Posted by Ruby Harper On October - 21 - 2009

John Elliot posted a response to my blog post “Ask me what I don’t bring.” He said, “What’s going to keep us from being set in our ways, and help us build and refine organizations to a point where the ‘lack of loyalty’ is a thing of the past?”

Upon reflection, I find the answer is not as rose-colored as I would like it to be. I think that loyalty is a victim of economy. Unfortunately, we are for the foreseeable future in a decline, and until the economy rights itself, it will be difficult to reinvigorate a sense of loyalty. Emerging Leaders have watched our grandparents lose their pensions after 20-30+ years of service to an organization.  We have watched our parents get downsized. We have watched our friends hover in limbo unable to find jobs.  We have watched fresh faced students fighting with former Executive Directors vying for jobs at Barnes & Noble.  It is a sad state we are in…

Now, how do we make a change?  Two big ideas that come to mind:

1. Better work/life balance – Offer better benefits. I don’t mean tangible benefits (not to downplay the importance of good health insurance and paid time off), but little things like paid lunch hours, flex time, telecommuting, onsite services, volunteer opportunities, which add value to the worker’s quality of life.  Maybe it’s a better time off policy for new fathers, maybe it is a innovative use of the 4/10 workweek model, maybe it is a communal hierarchy versus the standard business model of management, maybe it’s being able to bring your baby or dog to work. Just offer something – ANYTHING – that makes us feel like we aren’t going to be tossed aside like yesterday’s trash when the tough times squeeze the organizations we love and to which we want – truly WANT – to be devoted. Read the rest of this entry »

Ivy League Waitress

Posted by Michelle Bellino On October - 21 - 2009

I graduated at the top of my class at a top university. On graduation day, I sat next to my friends who had clear paths to their next steps. Emily was going into banking and had a job lined up in Chicago. Rob planned to work in a medical research lab for two years while applying to medical school. Ross and Jeff were off to law school in the fall. David was working in hotel management and had already looked into opening his own hotel. They knew where they were going next, and they were relieved and excited to be done with a chapter of their lives that they felt they were growing out of.

I sat on the roof of my college apartment in a panic for the weeks before graduation, looking down at College Ave, wishing I could start over. This time I would do it right, take relevant classes, market myself. I wondered why I was the only one so apprehensive about moving on. Did I just love college more than my friends did? Did I need school structure to feel direction? Grades to feel purpose? One of my writing teachers asked what my post-graduation plans were. I told her I was moving back home with my parents to finish the novel I began in her class, until it was time to pay back student loans. “Great, but what are you going to do?” I froze. All the books I had read about writing said you needed to give yourself time and commit to it like a job, and I expected her to be pleased with my dedication to my craft.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about working to support myself—of course I had.  But I expected that whatever job I chose would be a form of permission to continue my creative work. What I did not expect was the discomfort of not having a clear professional path, the confusion about what kind of job best suited the creative lifestyle, and the guilt about holding onto a dream that felt less and less important each time I heard about Emily’s promotions, Rob’s med school acceptances, and David’s new hotel. They weren’t just on a path—they were making it happen. They were adults. I was a kid. I was stuck in my college memories, and they had work friends and business suits. I could not get a job as an unpaid intern at a magazine, and they had 501Ks and health insurance.  Read the rest of this entry »

What I Do Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was an Emerging Leader

Posted by Ramona Baker On October - 21 - 2009

As I thought about this blog, I began to think about what I wished someone had told me when I was an emerging leader.  Here’s my list so far:

•    Most people are doing the best they can do at any given moment. What they are doing may not be OK with you. It may not meet your standards. It may not be something that you want in your life or your arts organization, and you don’t have to agree with or support their actions — but it’s my observation that no one gets up in the morning asking themselves how they can screw up.

•    People who don’t have any appreciation for the arts in any form aren’t wrong. They aren’t bad. They aren’t stupid. They don’t need to be scolded, shot, or stamped out. They just don’t share your opinion. Allow room in the world for wonderful people who don’t appreciate the arts the way that you do.

This was a hard lesson for me. And the more passion I had about something, the more I pushed. Many years ago a board member took me aside after an advocacy meeting and shared his observation that when people disagreed with me, I raised the volume of my voice and repeated myself.  “It’s not that they didn’t hear you, Ramona. They heard you.  They just didn’t agree with you.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Career Path

Posted by Jessica Guzman On October - 21 - 2009

As I read through the many posts that have already flooded the blog this week, I feel reassured.  I, like others asked to discuss this topic of “emerging leader” feel that I may have fallen into the role.  I went to undergrad for painting.  The entire four years I was there, I knew that I didn’t want to attempt the profession of “studio artist.”  I always knew I would be an administrator but didn’t really know what that entailed.

Following college, I got lucky enough to be hired as a gallery assistant at a new gallery with a growing reputation for quality.  This allowed me to network with older colleagues in the field and pretend I knew what I was doing administratively.  Unfortunately, the gallery closed and I had to find another job – quick!  It just so happened that a fantastic community arts center was looking to hire an Exhibition Manager to coordinate for their two gallery spaces.  Again, I somehow convinced them that I knew what I was doing and learned on the job.

After two years, I decided it was time to drop everything I was doing and return to school.  I didn’t want to be in a gallery, I wanted more from the arts.  The problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted.  My writing sample for my grad application was basically a statement such as this – “The arts are where I need to be.  In what form?  I have no idea.  I want to be in your Arts Management program so that I have the opportunity to dabble in a couple of areas.” Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Blah-Blah-Blahing…

Posted by Mary Sutton On October - 21 - 2009

In the last year we’ve had five teen suicides. They threw themselves in front of the commuter train that runs through Palo Alto and alongside the Stanford campus. In this kind of crisis where our kids are literally jumping like lemmings to their deaths what comes to mind is Jason Alexander’s keynote speech at a conference of theatre educators—he proclaimed, more than once…Art is the Intervention.

Art is the intervention—think on that–that is the context we must never loose sight of as we struggle to make sense out of the immediate changes descending upon all of us!

We are here for a greater purpose and working in the arts for me is about service. It is not because I am a failed artist, it was a conscious transition for me. I want to have a deep impact on a more intimate level than performing ever gave me.  In arts education I found my north star. Read the rest of this entry »

Together and Apart: Strategies for Leadership Development

Posted by Kathi R. Levin On October - 21 - 2009

Networking, however each of us defines it, is an essential part of developing a career in any field. But what kind of networking is best for helping each of us maximize the value of the personal connections we make and sustain in our profession?  Depends on what you are looking for.

There isn’t one right way to build a career and there certainly isn’t one right way to approach networking. I do think that consciously investing in one’s own professional development, which sometimes means paying our own way to conferences or covering the membership dues for joining professional associations, is something we each need to take responsibility for throughout our careers.

But for those program planners who seek to create networking experiences for the next generation of arts professionals, I would pose that both “generation alike” and “open to all” networking events are important to consider.

  • What is best accomplished by having emerging leaders meet together?
  • What is best accomplished by having emerging leaders interact with people at all points of experience (and all roles) in the field?

Yes, one can argue that there are different professional needs at different points in a career.
But networking meetings by generation – i.e. “emerging leaders’ receptions” – are only one aspect of building a networking portfolio. What are the unique opportunities that this type of forum presents for a relatively new arts professional?  Is it a “safe place” to try out networking skills? Is there professional development content that is specific to this phase in a career? Is it a social opportunity for people perceived to be in the same age group?

I’ve never seen a formal “veteran leaders’ reception.” (But, perhaps those take place by invitation in more informal settings.) What types of opportunities for intergenerational connections can be encouraged by convening events that intentionally bring together those from across generations? Learning from each other works at all levels. Or at least it should.

If we only meet with those in the same generation, or we only meet at conferences with people we already know, we never get into the unexpected, unanticipated opportunity for making new connections – and isn’t that what networking is all about? As a long term arts professional I try to make it a point to meet new people at any event I attend. And that increasingly means seeking out those who are new to the profession because we have a lot to learn from one another. I’m also impressed with the individual stories that Americans for the Arts is posting on its site about the work of emerging leaders.

And if we only meet people within our industry, are we selling both ourselves and our industry short? Of late I’ve also been attending select networking events where I find that I’m the only person there who is working in the arts or arts education. Interesting, because it is very clear that a lot of marketing, finance, legal, IT, medical, and entrepreneurial people of all ages are renewing their efforts to attend networking events. But often the arts, arts education, and education communities are not at these events. With unemployment, reduced employment, and transportation gridlock enabling more of us to create new ways of working, networking both within and beyond the nonprofit arts sector is worth consideration.When you put yourself into networking situations with people in different industries, you find yourself in the room with people who don’t know anything about us. The arts are simply not part of their universe. What does that mean for our collective future, and how can we use our networking skills to further both our personal and collective agendas?

A bigger challenge for all of us who care about the profession (the essential jobs that support and drive the nonprofit arts sector in addition to what is generally thought of as the work “behind the scenes”), is how do we manage the kind of intergenerational work force that would be seamless, values all professionals along the continuum, and gradually moves the nonprofit arts sector into the next phase of leadership?  It would seem that finding ways to network – as much together as apart – has a role to play in securing that vision.

Many of the emails I have received from veteran leaders have confused the issue of 20UNDER40 promoting a take over in the arts in the fashion of “out with the old and in with the new.” Quite the inverse! It is my belief that the energy and ideas of the young are at a great loss without the wisdom and knowledge of those who have been working away at the arts for the past few decades. In this sense, no one is usurping the authority of anyone else, instead, there is a role for everyone—but these roles are changing.

It is well documented in the literature on generational differences that individuals from different age cohorts make meaning of their experiences in unique ways based on the events different groups experienced during their adolescent years.

While the events we experienced as teenagers have largely sculpted our approach to the world, my research on this instance in leadership transformation also considers theories of constructive development that deal with addressing issues of increasing mental complexity. Read the rest of this entry »