We Sustain Each Other in Rougher Times

Posted by John Abodeely, Oct 19, 2009 1 comment

It’s a pleasure to be a part of such a great group of folks, discussing such a fascinating (and sometimes polarizing) subject. My name is John and I’m a program manager at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. I work in National Partnerships, serving the national network of state Alliances for Arts Education. I also help to dissemination the Kennedy Center’s suite of teaching artist training programs in arts integration, residency planning, and other areas.

The topic of emerging leadership is near to my professional heart. One of the reasons I stayed in the arts was the network of peers I quickly built from my first job in arts administration. I was working for the Washington State Arts Alliance in Seattle, WA and my boss suggested I get involved with the Emerging Leader Network of Americans for the Arts. I went to a conference, found kindred spirits, and made sure to get to every Americans for the Arts conference until I was honored to be elected to the Emerging Leader Council itself. From there, Americans for the Arts hired me and I moved to DC.

Without that network, I would not have developed the interpersonal connections that solidified my commitment to this field. Were it not for the colleagues and friends—those with whom I had frank and easy conversations, shared language, shared even a style of clothing—I would have easily departed the field for another type of job. We were compatriots, battling scarce funding, personnel challenges, and other issues that weighed on us, professionally. I’m sure this experience is common to any generation or group of any kind. Like likes like. But more than that, we sustain each other in rougher times. These connections do not preclude nor devalue connections made across our differences.

For that reason, it surprises me that an attempt to bring people with commonalities together would bother someone. The idea that the strengthening of one cohort somehow weakens another or weakens the whole seems suspect. It’s not our strengths that create weaknesses, but they may illuminate them.

There’s been talk among the Emerging Leader Network for many years about the need for tiered, generational networks: mid-career, seasoned, retired. There’s also been talk about the need to mix generations to maximize value.

Call me a glutton, but I’ll take it all.

1 responses for We Sustain Each Other in Rougher Times


October 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Me, too, John - Let's take it all! I absolutely agree with you that strengthening one part of the sector strengthens everyone. It is certainly not an either/or choice and we need to realize that we're all working together for a common goal - even if we work for separate organizations. We're all on the same team after all!

I once sat on a panel with another emerging leader in the arts. It was at a regional arts conference that had a much larger ratio of seasoned professionals than those that would be defined as ELs being under 35 or having less than 5 years experience in the field.

In fact, I felt like a HUGE minority and although I was honored to be on the panel I found it a bit odd to have to represent the needs, wants and desires of a whole "generation." I got over this by taking an informal survey through the EL listserv and sharing some of those responses and concerns with the room.

While on the panel we opened up for an extended period of Q&A to foster a dialogue between the panel and the predominately seasoned audience. We engaged in a great conversation but the part I remember the most was a man who complained: "I train someone and invest in them and then they leave my organization. What can I do about that?"

Well, beyond discussing ways to encourage workers, provide more benefits, increase work/life balance, and more opportunities for ELs to take responsibility and ownership of projects I asked the room to consider a different point of view.

Maybe it doesn't matter where the EL is working as long as they stay committed to the sector in some way.

On the other hand, as Executive Director of a young organization I know how he feels. We've had several different staff members work with us for a time and then move on to higher education or to new jobs in the arts and nonprofit sectors. It can be quite a challenge to train and re-train folks for the same job.

However, the way I see it, each person I train is an addition to the nonprofit and arts sectors and improves our sector as a whole. Each one of my staff have continued to volunteer and be involved with my organization and others - just in a different way than before.

Although they don't work on staff for me anymore, I know that they are all now committed to supporting and staying involved in this field and that's good enough for me.

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