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.