Unique Leaders, Common Characteristics: Who We Are (Part One)

Posted by Jaclyn Johnson Tidwell On April - 2 - 2012

Jaclyn Johnson

I write from Nashville, TN, a nationally recognized music city and a burgeoning arts town.

As an actor, community arts project manager, theatre producer, and staff member of an arts service organization, my days bustle with arts leaders, new and seasoned. They provide the spark for the city’s growth. And those stepping forward as new leaders will define the future of the creative sector.

When I look around at my ensemble and community, I see common characteristics that will weave through our individual impact as emerging leaders.

In this blog series I will explore three of those characteristics: who we are, how we will work in the arts and why we will dedicate so much of our hearts to it.

Who are we?

We are artists first and manager-janitors out of necessity. We are arts entrepreneurs.

From crowdfunding to self-publishing, it is becoming increasingly easy to take this do-it-yourself approach to making art.

“Film is an ever more do it yourself word,” said Coke Sams at a recent Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville seminar on alternative funding options for art projects. Coke is a producer at Nashville-based Ruckus Films and part of the team for the Blue Like Jazz film, the most successful film project in Kickstarter history raising over $345,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Emerging Leaders Networks: Leveraging Impact for the Future

Posted by Stephanie Hanson On April - 2 - 2012
Stephanie Hanson

Stephanie Hanson

Coming up with the theme for a blog salon is always a challenge.

For the past few years that I’ve been working with our Emerging Leaders Council committee to develop our blog salons, we usually have a kernel of an idea for what to focus on. It’s ideal when the initial inspiration comes from the council, because then it’s truly coming from the field. After all, the point of our blog is to facilitate online discussion about big picture issues in the arts that we feel need to be addressed.

When thinking about this year’s salon, the council knew they wanted to feature the Local Emerging Leaders Networks around the country. Great. Love it. Easy. Done.

But what should we have them talk about?

We already talked about emerging ideas in the field last year. What’s next?

We began to think about HOW those emerging ideas get implemented. In many cases, in order for a new idea to thrive, we as individuals, organizations, the community, and the field as a whole may need to change at a very fundamental level.

Perhaps we need to change our definition of success; how our organizations are structured; how we interact with our communities; and how we make art.

Then, we read Diane Ragsdale’s February 14 blog post; If Our Goal is Simply to Preserve Our Current Reality, Why Pursue It?, where she writes about innovation and arts sector reform.  Diane’s thesis can be summed up in these sentences: Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica Wilt

In part one of our two-part post, Alex Sarian and I asked an important question:

In trying to keep up with for-profit ‘heavy-hitters’ that arguably boast of greater resources than the average nonprofit, from which of the three areas (quality, engagement, and partnerships), if at all, do you find yourself most cutting corners?

In light of a very recent and rather candid op-ed in The New York Times, we chose to spin our question to incorporate the story of Greg Smith, who this week boldly resigned from his position as executive director at Goldman Sachs after making startling connections between the “success” and the “community” of an organization; a connection that, in many ways, affects all of us who are surrounded by a culture in which we are asked to do more with less.

Smith writes:

“…culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.” Read the rest of this entry »

Where We Are & Where We Ought to be Going

Posted by Jane Remer On March - 14 - 2012

Jane Remer

In my first post, I suggested we needed definitions of quality, engagement, and partnership. I offered my thoughts on these three issues and left a “tentative conclusion” saying we probably ought to decide whether we as a group want to deal with the three “topics” together, or separately.

The posts from the other bloggers do both and so I have decided it’s best to follow my own train and offer a short list of where I see the field still stuck for answers.

I have no idea whether or how this will clarify or motivate collaborative thinking among us (a disparate group with very different agendas), but here goes…

In random order, here are some of the issues that have stymied us for decades:

1. Without committed classroom teachers and specialist arts educators as well as principals and their assistants, we (arts organizations, artists, consultants, et al) have no solid validity as partners in the arts as education.

2. Without the district’s or state’s education office heavily engaged, represented and fiscally invested, we have no chance, whatsoever, to build a growing and sustained constituency for the arts as education.

3. Without strong leadership and some attempt at unity and dialogue among the schools and the arts and cultural organization, we will continue to face the rather vast chasm between them as “them” and “us. Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting the Past with the Future

Posted by Roger Vacovsky On January - 18 - 2012

Roger Vacovsky

Last week, I renewed my membership for my alma mater’s alumni association. I understand now, more than ever, that my participation in the program contributes to not only the future success of my university, but also to my own past experiences.

Since my graduation, I have enjoyed watching the University of Houston (UH) flourish, albeit from afar, receiving periodic email updates regarding the upgrades to the campus. This includes the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, a tremendous effort by the university to combine five arts-based departments into one collaborative arts force. Although I am just one alumnus contributing to my university’s growth, I feel as though I played a part in making these improvements possible.

I was even eager to experience the progress of the Houston Cougar football team in 2011—which I had absolutely no part in during my time in school—as it set records for a fierce offense and toppled another, much more storied (and recently infamous) football program in a bowl appearance this year in Dallas.

There are many good reasons why we become members of our graduating university’s alumni association. As I had mentioned before, we begin giving back to the institution that helped us prepare for a successful career. We want to enhance the experience of the future generation of students so that they can go on to achieve greatness.

Believe it or not, the continued success of your alma mater retroactively increases the worth of your degree. By becoming a member of your alumni association, your membership dues help your university realize the success it consistently fights to achieve. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy New Year from Americans for the Arts!

Posted by admin On January - 5 - 2012

Happy New Year 2012

In 2012, Americans for the Arts resolves to invigorate political discourse and the nation by continuing to spotlight the importance of the arts in America. Artists, teachers, arts managers and professionals, lawmakers, administrators, and advocates are integral to this mission.

This election year, the urgency is growing to have political candidates and office holders understand how arts are vital to our communities. We ask that you make your own resolutions this year by responding to this question:

How can the arts energize the political dialogue in your community this election year?

Here are some insightful responses to get you thinking. Add yours in the comments below! Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership Genesis: It’s In Our Best Interest

Posted by Jeanie Duncan On December - 12 - 2011

Jeanie Duncan

Do you recall your first formal leadership development experience? Mine was in 2000 — I was sponsored by a foundation to participate in the Leadership Development Program at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). I was 30, and I had been working for nine years, building a career in the nonprofit sector.

In the early years of my career, I received leadership training from various bosses, mentors, and other seasoned professionals in the form of advice, best practices, and – most often – “in the moment” life lessons. My ‘classroom’ occurred while wearing many hats, trying new things, taking risks, and making my best efforts to exhibit courage in the face of fear. Progress and discoveries came as much by failure as by success.

Today, universities have more formally developed student leadership offerings; many are requirements for undergraduate study. Students graduating and entering the for-profit workplace often begin on a development track and are exposed early on to corporate leadership training, assessments, and coaches.

These kinds of critical opportunities, while assumed and plentiful in the corporate environment, are glaringly absent in the nonprofit sector. And even if available, many leadership programs are cost-prohibitive for many small to medium-sized organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Speaking of Leadership: Michael Spring

Posted by admin On December - 12 - 2011
Michael Spring

Michael Spring

Michael Spring has been pretty busy these days; even more so than usual. Not only does he oversee a half billion dollar capital project budget with the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, but Spring recently came off of a five-month stint as an assistant county manager while Miami-Dade searched for its new mayor.

“I accepted the challenge,” Spring says, “on three conditions: that I would not get the office, that I wouldn’t get the parking space and that I wouldn’t get the title; I really wanted it to be an interim responsibility.” Since 1990, Michael Spring has served as Director of his department, and 21 years later, he still just wants to be nothing but a “director of a great local arts agency”.

With the appointment of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in July 2011, Spring sees great promise for his community: “Our new mayor is a ‘progressive arts supporter’” and in realigning much of the county government, he “took all of the cultural facilities that were being managed by the parks department and transferred them to my department”.

When asked about this ‘added responsibility’, Spring says, “Organizationally speaking it’s the right thing to do. Practically speaking these facilities have been starved for years in the Parks Department. They come with enormous challenges. They are underfunded, understaffed, and in desperate need of capital improvements” In align with his Department’s mission, he resolves, “We’ll have to dig in and figure out a way to make them great. But that’s the job, right?” Read the rest of this entry »

A Network Changes Everything

Posted by Jennifer Armstrong On December - 5 - 2011
Jennifer Armstrong

Jennifer Armstrong

At our statewide arts conference this year, held un-ironically in Normal, IL, our theme was The Creative Breakthrough. We wanted to acknowledge that there is no ‘normal’ to pinpoint right now, but that it will be the creative who will break through to sketch out a new normal.

The gathering was a unique opportunity for arts leaders from across the state to come together and break through old ways of thinking, spark new ideas and connections, and to leave with the affirmation that we have the power and resources to break through if we use the force within ourselves, our communities, our sector, and the creative collective.

Our keynote speaker Bruce Mau of Bruce Mau Design and Massive Change Network, posed a theory that the only way to break through the noise is to come together. His key takeaway was – a network changes everything.

According to our post-conference survey, what leaders need most in order to have more breakthroughs is a sounding board, mixing open-mindedness, and institutional knowledge. Our Illinois Local Arts Network (LAN) provides for this and more for local arts agency leaders, and it wouldn’t be possible without the collaboration of two statewide institutions and a core team of Local Arts Agency (LAA) leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

Time for New Thinking & Being in Our Business Schools

Posted by Tom Tresser On November - 15 - 2011

Have American business schools failed America? I think they have.

Have these very expensive and prestigious institutions taught our best and brightest the wrong things? Have they placed too much emphasis and focused our appreciation of value in the wrong place? I think they have.

But it’s not just me. Harvard Business School scholars Srikat Datar, David Garvin, and Patrick Cullen have written a book, Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education At A Crossroads. And the conclusions are grim.

Here’s how Paul Barrett, an an assistant managing editor at Bloomberg BusinessWeek interpreted their findings:

“After studying the nation’s most prestigious business schools, the authors conclude that an excessive emphasis on quantitative and theoretical analysis has contributed to the making of too many wonky wizards.” Read the rest of this entry »

One Organization’s Journey to Connect Art & Business

Posted by Kelly Lamb Pollock On November - 14 - 2011
Kelly Lamb Pollock

Kelly Lamb Pollock

It’s no secret that innovation is valued, even revered, in today’s society. The recent passing of Steve Jobs put into perspective the deep impact even one individual’s revolutionary creativity can have on our world.

Some say Steve Jobs, thankfully for us, was a pioneer.

No matter what you call him, if he is the ideal, shouldn’t we determine how to inject his brand of thinking into that of more of our business leaders?

Yes, becoming more innovative can, and should, begin with arts education and access to the arts at an early age, as my colleague Ken Busby said in his blog post in honor of Jobs.

However, I’m such an optimist that I believe that all is not lost for those GenXers or even, gasp, the Baby Boomers already in the workforce.

It was this thinking that led COCA (Center of Creative Arts) in St. Louis to explore how we could help to foster productive innovation in business through the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Empowering Youth Toward Community Leadership

Posted by Sara Bateman On November - 9 - 2011

One the community gardens operated by the Norris Square Neighborhood Project. (Photo Courtesy of Norris Square Neighborhood Project)

Throughout the first half of the Animating Democracy Blog Salon, several have spoken to the powerful potential of creative placemaking for igniting engagement and change at the local level.

By capitalizing on community assets, placemaking can aid in elevating the potential of a neighborhood’s space, reinvigorating both the physical and the psyche of the local environment.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to wander through Las Parcelas, one of the six community gardens operated by the Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP) in Philadelphia.

Consisting of over three dozen plots and coming alive through the vibrant colors found within bird houses, benches, garden ornaments, murals, and a rural Puerto Rican casita, the garden has breathed life back into a community historically plagued by low-income levels, high drop-out rates, and a deadly drug culture.

Las Parcelas has created an important third space for Norris Square youth and neighbors alike to embrace their heritage and celebrate the identity of the neighborhood through gardening, community gatherings, and educational programming. Read the rest of this entry »

The Post-Jerk Era

Posted by Lex Leifheit On November - 8 - 2011

Lex Leifheit

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about jerks.

Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good For Him. writes Forbes contributor Gene Marks.

Al Davis, all-time great a**hole, was Slate editor Jeremy Stahl’s take on the passing of the infamous owner of the Oakland Raiders.

Marks wonders if embracing his inner jerk would make him more successful. Stahl asks, “What do we do when a legendary figure who was also kind of a jerk dies?”

As an arts worker, I frequently fantasize about a Post-Jerk Era. One only needs to read a newspaper or favorite blog to see that a “jerk” model of leadership and programming is still embraced in the arts.


  • Jerks are dictatorial…and so is a lot of our programming. Seasons and exhibitions are decided by one curator or artistic director. Community initiatives are sidelined rather than central to marketing, programming and education.
  • Jerks are narcissistic. They put their name and image on everything and emphasize the importance of their vision. This is true for many of our most influential arts leaders.
  • Jerks sensationalize whatever they are selling you with words like “premier,” “best,” and “new.” In the arts, we are experiencing a moment where some funders are putting innovation (new!) and physical expansion ahead of community impact. Read the rest of this entry »

What Arts Managers Can Learn from Steve Jobs

Posted by Jeff Scott On November - 4 - 2011

Jeff Scott

With the recent release of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and several other bios scheduled to come out in the near future, there’s a lot of discussion on what kind of a manager Jobs was.

While the management of a publicly-traded tech company and that of a nonprofit arts organization may seem worlds apart, there are some basic kernels that arts leaders can take from Steve Jobs’ career.

We’ve heard a lot about Jobs’ so-called “reality distortion field.” He pushed his employees to the max, believing that work that normally would take a month could be done in a few days. While the pressure was too much for many employees, others said it caused them to do some of the best work of their careers.

For arts managers working with limited resources in terms of people, time, and money, the notion of a reality distortion field is probably a familiar one. So many times we find ourselves making something out of almost nothing and hopefully that something is a brilliant work of art. But what is perhaps more significant is how Jobs handled his employees. Not only did he believe that a particular task could get done a certain way in a certain time frame, he believed that his people would be able to accomplish it. Read the rest of this entry »

Help Us Help the Field: Serve on an Advisory Council

Posted by Tim Mikulski On October - 6 - 2011

Four Americans for the Arts Advisory Councils — the Arts Education Council, Emerging Leader Council, Private Sector Council, and the Public Art Network Council — are currently seeking nominations for new council members to serve three-year terms from January 1, 2012 through December 30, 2014.

Americans for the Arts asks, first and foremost, that the councils advise our staff on programs and services that will build a deeper connection to the field and their network members.

This gives council members the opportunity to be spotlighted as national leaders and to give back to the field by connecting the national work of Americans for the Arts to the local level.

Here are quotes from current leadership council members on the value of serving in that role:

“Having people from across the country serve on the council gives Americans for the Arts insight into the unique challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. It helps connect ELs at a very grassroots level by connecting networks and creates a web of resources and support for ELs.” – Ruby Harper, Emerging Leader Council Read the rest of this entry »