It’s Time We Get Creative with Our Professional Development (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Stephanie Hanson, Jul 07, 2010 2 comments

A week and a half ago, Americans for the Arts staff were in trains, planes, and loaded down automobiles, headed for Charm City, aka Baltimore, MD, for our Half-Century Summit. Since I work directly with Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders network and our leadership development programs, I spent time participating in Goucher College’s Leadership Symposium, and many of the leadership themed sessions at the Summit.

At the Summit, a recurring conversation in our sessions centered on how we as individuals and organizations could make professional development for our field a larger priority. And by priority, we don’t mean a larger piece of our dwindling budgets. The majority of arts organizations are struggling to figure out how to do more with less, and we need to develop ways to continue making professional development a priority during this tough economy.

In the results from the 2009 Survey to the field of Emerging Arts Leaders, I was shocked to discover that while 70 percent of our current emerging leaders consider arts administration their long term career, only 28.5 percent either strongly agree or agree that there is room for career advancement within their organization.

How will the remaining 41.5 percent of those who want to stay in the field realistically do so when they don’t feel they can grow?

On top of this, only 20 percent  of our respondents indicated that they have one-on-one meetings with senior staff at their organizations to discuss career development.  And only 25 percent participate in mentoring lunches or other one-on-one meetings.

These are FREE opportunities that we can ask for, or that organizations can provide to their employees as a way to support their continued growth and in turn the growth and expansion of the field as a whole.  Why are we not taking advantage of professional development that is easy to put together, practically free to manage, and can have a major impact?

I also believe that emerging and experienced leaders should both have the opportunity to participate in local, regional, and national conferences, and I was happy to see a good mix of faces at our Summit this year.  However, there is so much more we can do at home in our own backyards that will help foster professional development.
If this survey is repeated in three years, I hope the above statistics will improve.  I know there are at least 30 local Emerging Leader Networks out there, which is great and we want to continue strengthening these programs.   But please tell us what else you do!  Do you have a great working model of providing professional development that is taking place in your organization or community?  Or as an individual, how do you seek professional development for yourself without breaking your budget?

2 responses for It’s Time We Get Creative with Our Professional Development (from Arts Watch)


Stephanie Evans says
July 08, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Hi Rachel,

Thank you for your comment and ideas. Volunteering is a great way to give yourself professional and personal development, and I'm glad you mentioned it.

I think one-on-one meetings with individuals within your own organization have to depend on the culture of your organization, and the relationship with your supervisors. However, I've found that in my experience, every supervisor I've had in my career has been very committed to helping me gain the skills I will need or want to develop in order grow. (Perhaps I've just been very lucky!) But I strongly encourage young arts administrators to be open and candid with their supervisors - ask to work on a project that you know will enhance your skills in a certain area. Invite leaders from other departments out to lunch to learn more about what they do.

I also think that we need to change our ideas about staff transition - transition and change is a good and positive thing, and while a supervisor may feel that a staff member's transition would affect them or the organization in a negative way, helping someone grow within the field only supports the sustainability and growth of the arts. Check out the Leadership Green Paper, written by the Emerging Leaders Council, where they talk a lot about this subject!

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July 08, 2010 at 10:25 am

Personally, I consider great work experience to be the best possible form of "professional development." I take jobs which challenge me and enable me to learn new skills.

I also think that volunteering with other organizations is a great way to get professional development. Again, you can learn new skills by volunteering with departments and projects in areas where you need to learn new skills. Also, it can be easier to ask a senior employee at an organization where you're a valued volunteer for some one-on-one career discussion time. They are so grateful for your donated time, most are happy to help you.

In general, I think it's usually better to have one-on-one meetings about career development with people outside your own organization. Those within your organization have a bias - if you left for graduate school or a different job, that would affect them in a negative way. It makes it hard to be objective, even with the best of intentions.

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