Elena Muslar

Elena Muslar

“We have got to diversify our audiences!” How many times can you recall hearing this phrase in meeting after meeting? And yes, of course, the mantra still rings true. But, what are the ways in which target marketing campaigns reach out to those diverse audiences?

“It’s Black History Month! Let’s offer a special on tickets to ‘A Raisin in the Sun’! The Latin show is coming to town; let’s advertise our banners along the streets of East LA.” I could go on, but now is not the time to dwell on past mechanisms of “outreach” done with fairly good intentions. This is the time to go beyond talking about these kinds of basic ideals of promotion and start changing our values towards active relations. It’s the time to chart the future and put models into play that not only shift, but flip, the paradigms set in place that don’t currently reflect expanding communities meant to be served by arts organizations.

As a young woman of mixed race, being half-Black/half-Belizean, I am a product of a community that was just “out of reach”; that desperately needed the “out-reaching”. When more criminals cross the threshold of your apartment complex than high school graduates, you learn early on that you have to be strong enough to stretch your reach further when that reach from the other side doesn’t make it far enough. As a “Next Gen” arts leader, this has been a huge inspiration for me to have a voice that extends beyond my community and into those buildings laden with white walls. I see myself as a bridge between worlds and am committed to paving roads that provide better access to communities resembling mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Abe Flores

Abe Flores

Change is the only constant in life and in art. Demographic shifts, technological leaps, economic cycles, and cultural trends require creative, knowledgeable, and skilled leaders to ensure the relevance and resilience of all art forms. When old ideas, values, and models become obsolete, it takes leaders to chart the future to accommodate the changing reality. Experimentation, risk and failure are inherent in the charting of the future. No one knows if something will really work until they implement it. That is why I am a fan of the term “pilot program” – it tells the world that we are trying something new and it may not work. Younger leaders often take on the role of charting the future and piloting programs because we are the future: demographically diverse, technologically savvy, and more inclusive in our values.

The Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council, a body of fifteen incredibly smart, visionary and engaged young arts professionals, acts as a brain trust informing and advising Americans for the Arts (AFTA) on trends, new ideas, latest models, and the direction of the field in order to assist in developing new programs and resources to promote professional development and networking opportunities for young professionals nationwide. Part of my role at AFTA is liaising with the council and working with them to present and implement their best ideas and strategies. In the couple of months I have been working with them it has become clear that there is much great work yet to be done. I am very excited to see what develops and very thankful to be part of the process. My brain is divided between my immediate daily tasks (blog salon, convention, digital classrooms etc.) and contemplating how we can best serve and advance the field. Read the rest of this entry »

Dreaming Big To Focus

Posted by Nick Dragga On December - 18 - 2013
Nicholas Dragga

Nicholas Dragga

Our production manager had an iron-clad rule, “Do NOT let the artistic director see other Nutcrackers within three weeks of our own.” Don’t get me wrong, we all LOVE the creative process, but when you’ve been working on a production for six months with 150 performers, 30 crew, and hundreds of calls, making drastic changes the last week gets difficult.

Our artistic director, in all her excitement would sometimes say, “I have some great ideas! So, let’s go a whole other direction with those costumes.” Those were the 12 costumes that took 30 hours each to make…

Can anyone relate?

Again, we love the creative process, because as we all know it is through the process that great discoveries happen. We certainly do not want to minimize or squelch the excitement of our artistic director, but want to create an environment that rewards and fosters daring, creative thinking. We firmly believe that if you don’t fail every now and then, you’re not doing it right. Failure is noble. But, poor execution, laziness, or lacking of planning is not.

Creativity is not an excuse for chaos. Creativity is a discipline.

Epiphanies are a myth, or as Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work.”

So what do you do? How do you keep the excitement and freedom necessary for creativity – or simply work with artistic director, who is in fact the boss – but still be practical and give your production team the time and structure to thrive…or survive?

We get more creative. We dream bigger. We dream big, huge – almost impossibly big…to focus the artistic directors. Read the rest of this entry »

On “Emerging”

Posted by Lindsay Sheridan On December - 13 - 2013
Lindsay Sheridan

Lindsay Sheridan

If I had to compress my identity into just a few words, I guess I’d go with “emerging arts leader.” That’s the popular phrase for what I am, right? A 20-something, fresh-out-of-college, five-years-or-less-of-experience young arts professional. What am I emerging to? Unclear (and impossible to predict).

What I do know for certain is this: I am called to work in this field because I believe passionately in the arts’ ability to contribute uniquely to a community’s sense of identity – to provide local, intimate, authentic experiences. I am called to this work because the arts have always been central to my own life, and it never really occurred to me to dedicate my career to anything else.

Certain artistic moments have evoked inexplicable emotions: sitting among an audience entranced by a cello and dancer duet in a warm, intimate venue. Taking in a favorite song by a folk-rocker on a perfect summer night in the grass at Wolf Trap’s amphitheater. Looking up to see my conductor’s smirk of pride in the middle of our Rachmaninoff-composed lyrical viola soli. These snapshots are more than just pleasant memories – they are some of the most important markers on my life’s timeline. This work is my vocation: I’ll do whatever it takes to allow individuals and communities to encounter these intangible, powerful experiences.

All this emotion aside, I am currently an unemployed emerging arts leader. When my internship in DC ended in mid-August, I felt like I was in great shape. The summer had brought about several interviews, and I arrived back in the Midwest with a job offer (hooray!). After much internal debate, I made the somewhat foolish decision to turn down two offers. A job that I really wanted needed a couple weeks to complete their decision-making process and I thought I might get it. I didn’t. After a few more road trips across the Midwest and second place results, I had to reevaluate. If I didn’t want to wait around for the right job in a familiar geographic location, it was time to throw caution to the wind and apply for positions in such foreign lands as Ohio, Massachusetts, and Missouri. Read the rest of this entry »

A Degree in the Arts: Perspectives from Postgraduates

Posted by Alexandra Milak On October - 30 - 2013
Alexandra Malik

Alexandra Malik

I remember when I applied to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). My high school experience was not ideal, and I had always dreamed of pursuing something in the arts. Sophmore year of high school I tried out for the fall drama production, and there was no going back from there. I worked hard to keep my grades up and fill my resume with impressive extracurriculars; I applied to nine different schools, really only wanting to attend NYU. The day I was accepted was probably the most memorable day of my life. It signified a turning point: I was about to embark on the journey of my dreams.

Looking back, I don’t doubt that it was the most worthwhile choice I’ve ever made (which is lucky, because I, as most high schoolers are, was pressured to make that decision when I was only seventeen years old). I learned so much about myself as a performer and a human being, and became an instrument through which characters could live, breathe, and have their stories told. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and an experience which I will never forget. That being said, during my time at NYU, I wasn’t completely honest with myself about the realities that lay ahead of me once I graduated. It was hard to keep questions about the future clear in my head because things were so uncertain post-graduation. Still I wondered, was pursuing a degree in the arts worth it? Read the rest of this entry »

Partnering with Eileen Fisher (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Katy Rubin On October - 17 - 2013
Katy Rubin

Katy Rubin

Today I’m writing from my desk in Brooklyn, as the founder and artistic director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC). TONYC, 2+ years old and growing, partners with local communities including homeless adults, immigrants and LGBTQ homeless youth to create and tour original plays inspired by real‐life struggles. Our interactive performances engage audiences in creative problem‐solving and transformative action.

Back in the summer of 2010, I was working as a freelance teaching artist. One of my employers, a girls leadership initiative, was funded in part by Eileen Fisher, the women’s clothing company. All I knew then about EF was that zen-looking women wore flowy clothes in the NY Times ads that my mother and I had always admired. Then I got a call asking if I’d come up to Westchester, where EF’s headquarters are located. The EF Community Foundation had heard that the Theatre of the Oppressed course was very popular down in the city, and invited me to teach in their pilot Leadership Institute, modeled after the same program they funded in NYC. I immediately noticed a special vibe; the first day I walked into the EF headquarters, the janitor whispered to me: “I love working here: shhh, don’t tell anyone.”

I was excited about the work Eileen was doing around girls’ and women’s leadership (being an emerging leader myself, as well as a young woman). The company was similarly excited by the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology I brought, and how it connected the young women to each other and to their communities, through identifying and transforming collective challenges. At the performance I facilitated that summer, Eileen spoke about the importance of investing in the confidence and creativity of young women, sparked by the challenges she faced when starting the company 30 years before. I didn’t know yet that I’d soon be running a growing arts-and-social-justice nonprofit, and that I would sometimes struggle to find my own confidence as a young, female leader. Read the rest of this entry »

Collaborations with Local Businesses, or Doing Business with…?

Posted by Nick Dragga On October - 16 - 2013
Nicholas Dragga

Nicholas Dragga

I have a love/hate relationship with collaborations. On the one hand, I think they are the greatest thing- the key to our future. They offer opportunities to further Ballet Lubbock’s mission through unique and hopefully unexpected projects to diverse audiences, act as a gateway to more arts participation on all levels, and ideally, bring in some much needed cash. When everything aligns properly, we can create something that truly is greater than the sum of our parts- something that neither we nor our collaborator could ever do alone.

On the other hand, I often wonder, “is this worth it?” This “collaboration” is a LOT of time and energy. I have to jump through so many hoops for this corporate “partner,” compromise my product, and take the time of my dancers, artists, and staff to ultimately help this business sell their products…and all for $500…or maybe even $5,000.  Ugh.

If money is what I’m after, then spending time with individual donors would be more fruitful. If engagement is what I’m after, than bringing OUR uncompromised product to the community would be easier, and often times, more meaningful. Sometimes I think these “new faces” brought in by our business collaborator see us as the hired entertainment – which may possibly do more harm than good in building our brand.

But, the flaw in my logic seems obvious. There is a distinct disconnect between my objectives and my strategies and outcomes. I was not collaborating; I was doing business with people. Of course doing business with people is a great and wonderful thing, but different than collaborating. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Barriers and Embracing Change: A History of the Apollo Theater

Posted by Aryana Anderson On October - 9 - 2013
Aryana Anderson

Aryana Anderson

Before the Apollo Theater opened for its inaugural performance on January 26 1934, Harlem’s 125th street was a shopping center for residents in the mostly white upper-middle class neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, Barnard, and the City College. The theater that became the Apollo was erected in 1914, designed by a prominent architect whose projects included the Belasco and later the Selwyn (now known as the American Airlines) Theaters. From 1914 to 1934, the theater served as a venue for burlesque and vaudeville performances. In the early 1900’s developers had invested substantially in the Harlem community in anticipation of the 1904 opening of an elevated subway line connecting uptown with downtown. By the early 30’s 125th street had become a substantial commercial and entertainment center. At the time that the Theater was re-christened as the Apollo, the real estate bubble brought on by the prospect of growth in upper-Manhattan had burst. White New Yorkers did not move to Central Harlem in the numbers anticipated by developers leaving many newly constructed residences empty. Rather than lose out on their investments owners then rented their properties to African-Americans who had been living in the area of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lincoln Square and Hell Kitchen neighborhoods, and who were arriving in New York from the South and Caribbean. This took place over the period of time known as the Great Migration.

Looking back on this period of history, it is apparent that waves of change we face today echo the challenges of generations past. Whether the changes are social, technological, or physical, the only thing leaders are guaranteed to face over time is change. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning to Reside in Quadrant II

Posted by Ken Busby On September - 27 - 2013

I just had the most wonderful opportunity to participate in the Executive Leadership Forum with Americans for the Arts.  Eighteen executive directors of Local Arts Agencies from Alaska to Florida spent four days at Sundance Resort discussing all manner of topics, including diversity, cultural districts, the art of healing, and navigating change.

We bonded quickly, and shared information that might be difficult for any of us to share aloud in our respective communities.  Here, we had the opportunity to discuss issues openly and honestly with a goal toward resolution and developing a way forward.

For me, and I actually think for all my colleagues, probably the most impactful session came near the very beginning of our Forum.  David Grant, former President and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, led us on a journey of, “Thinking Past Urgent:  Organizational Assessment, Decision Making, and Change.” What David showed us was a number of “mental models” that help diagram how we approach our jobs, work with our boards, engage staff, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Reframing the Relationship: Community, Arts, and Engagement

Posted by Ryan Hurley On September - 13 - 2013
Ryan Hurley

Ryan Hurley

It is a beautiful Saturday morning in April. Students from a local high school are hosting a public art-based bus tour they developed in connection to Milwaukee’s civil rights movement of the 1960s. As with any “optional” program (held on a Saturday morning nonetheless) we are a little nervous about how many students will show up. As the bus pulls up to the meeting spot the lead teacher climbs out with a smile on her face and tells me “every student is here.”

Engagement is often an ambiguous word in community arts education. We talk about “engaging” families, “engaging” students, “engaging” community – but we are rarely exact in our definition. What does engagement look like? How do we do it? The terms “civic engagement” and “youth engagement” emerge in nearly every conversation around community arts, from marketing strategies to program development.

I found a pretty good definition of community engagement in the arts on the National Guild for Arts Education website.

“What is community engagement? Community describes the people and organizations that are related to a community arts education provider’s mission: students, parents, families, artists, partner organizations, schools, government agencies, and so on. Engagement describes an active, two-way process in which one party motivates another to get involved or take action—and both parties experience change. Mutual activity and involvement are the keys to community engagement. Sometimes organizations interpret community engagement as collaboration, marketing to diverse audiences, or developing programs for underserved groups. While those are all worthy and necessary activities, an engaged community arts education provider does more. It promotes consistent community interaction that is a step beyond conventional programmatic partnerships. Consistent community engagement is not program based; it is part of organizational culture” (2013).

I like this definition for two reasons:

1) It describes engagement as a two-way process. I interpret this as an environment in which an organization has a strong enough relationship with a community where the community feels comfortable engaging the organization. This flips the dynamic of what we typically think about when we refer to community engagement.

2) It asks for more than an initiative or program. Community engagement needs to be an inherent part of the culture of the organization. Over time, some organizations and institutions have created cultural barriers through a service-based model; today many of those same entities are asking how to engage with that same community they serve. I think we need to start by reframing the relationship dynamic between “organization” or “artist” and “community.” Community isn’t some vague entity for whom we provide services; community is a group of people who are our active partners in programming. Read the rest of this entry »

The Emerging Leader Vision of Moving Communities to the Next Level

Posted by Sara Bateman On April - 19 - 2013
Sara Bateman

Sara Bateman

Having been engaged with the Emerging Leaders Network for several years now, I remain thoroughly impressed with those whom this network connects me to. These individuals represent a group of next generation leaders filled with great capacity, innovative approaches, and a strong vision for how to strengthen their organizations, the arts field, and their communities.

Over the course of the Emerging Leaders Blog Salon these past five days, we had the privilege to meet 22 more of these arts leaders, each filled with insightful and passionate approaches to what they feel would make where they live a better place or bring it to the next level.

In a time where we are both witnesses and participants to massive change on local and global scales—both in the arts & culture field and in the general landscape of our communities—we as arts administrators need to be ready to tackle the challenge of using art as a catalyst for the betterment of the places and the people we belong to.

And after reading through these posts this week, I’d say we’re up for the challenge.

We’ve heard a wide range of ideas, including incentivizing an arts district and cultural planning; the challenge of making an arts and culture identity known when it sits in the shadow of a major city or a large tourism industry; and ideas on how we can create social bridges, claim public space, and enable the ability of a community to tell their own story. Read the rest of this entry »

Reduce Crime & SCURVY in Your Town – Grow Public Fruit!

Posted by Janet Owen Driggs On April - 19 - 2013
Janet Owen Driggs

Janet Owen Driggs

My headline was intended to be something of an eye-catcher—who can resist a story about crime and scurvy, right?

Best of all, my claim is true. The thinking goes something like this:

  • Scurvy, the clinical manifestation of vitamin C deficiency, is on the rise in developed nations. In the United Kingdom, for example, reported cases of childhood scurvy rose 57% between 2005–2008.
  • Public health studies indicate that poverty is driving the re-emergence of the disease.
  • Access to free, fresh, vitamin-c rich foods will reduce incidents of scurvy.

Ergo: planting fruit trees and vegetables in public spaces will reduce scurvy.

And what about crime, I hear you ask? Well, since 2008, a project in Todmorden, UK, has been growing fruits and vegetables in seventy public beds dotted around the town.

The produce is free to whoever chooses to pick it, and, as Incredible Edible co-founder Pam Warhurst explains: “The police have told us that, year on year, there has been a reduction in vandalism since we started.” She continues: “If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalise it.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Community That Values Its Own Commitment to the Local Arts!

Posted by Susan Appe, PhD On April - 19 - 2013
Susan Appe, PhD

Susan Appe, PhD

What would make where I live a better place?

I want Broome Country, upstate New York to value its own commitment to the local arts. Own it! That is, I don’t want to have to have to feel the need to convince my graduate students and other community members—friends and colleagues—that the arts in Broome County, are diverse, vibrant and, yes, cutting edge.

The evidence is out there. In practice, the community—my students included—of Broome County supports and attends arts and cultural experiences and events, but I am finding we don’t always value this commitment we have for the local arts. Let me explain.

I first started noticing this with my students. I teach a nonprofit administration graduate class in a Masters in Public Administration program. In the class we emphasize capacity for community-based practice and discuss various policy areas such as social services, work development and yes, the arts. When I asked my students who had recently (in the last two weeks) attended an arts and cultural event, all—every single one of my students—confirmed they had. Activities and events shouted out were attending a local history museum, participating in the city’s monthly Art Walk, going to a local theatre production, screening an independent film at a local nonprofit organization.

While certainly not a representative, scientific sample, it surprised me. It surprised me because I consistently feel I need to convince my students of the cultural aliveness of our community. As I am trying to convince my students, they brush me off as being just easily excitable. Meanwhile they are actively participating in this cultural aliveness and don’t even realize. They don’t value the arts community that they are creating. Essentially they don’t value what they value. Read the rest of this entry »

A City, and an Artist, Finding Their Authentic Creative Voice

Posted by Christy Bors On April - 19 - 2013
Christy Bors

Christy Bors

It was during my third year as an undergraduate art student (Go Slugs!) that I met Frank, my abstract painting professor.

I’d never been more frustrated with a syllabus or a teacher in my whole life as I’d been with Frank. He gave us rules by having none. “Paint like you mean it,” he would say. “But don’t think about it. And don’t really mean it.”

The careful, thoughtful, planner inside me cringed every day in that studio. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do, so I constantly monitored what everyone else was doing and followed instructed suit.

The bi-product: A six-foot tall canvas spread wildly with a cake frosting texture of Alizarin Crimson and Flake White oils. It took me over a month to create and countless two a.m. sessions to perfect.

I hated it. Truly—I gutturally despised it. It didn’t get better when I squinted my eyes. Or when I turned it upside-down. Frank loved it the moment he laid his eyes on it. “This is the best thing I’ve seen this year,” he gushed, hands literally clasped to his cheeks.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing Backstage Onstage with Social Media

Posted by Kelly Page On April - 18 - 2013
Kelly Page

Kelly Page

Imagine, if we saw social media more like an artist’s studio or cafe and less like a marketing channel?

While walking through the exhibit, Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects at the Arts Institute Chicago last November, I felt like I was seeing into the private design space of the architect.

The exhibit was an installation of an architect’s studio with concept drawings, full-scale project mockups, material samples, and photographs of completed work that now form part of the Chicago city skyline. This exhibit was a celebration of the work of the artist behind their city stage.

The work of the artist backstage, however, many don’t experience. The space is unorganized and cluttered; the work in progress, being constructed, deconstructed, is unpredictable and incomplete. This is why many artists and arts managers do not openly bring backstage onstage and into the public eye—because it is messy.

Imagine for a moment, however, if we did?  Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.