Sending the Elevator Back Down (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Stephanie Hanson, Apr 06, 2011 3 comments

Stephanie Evans

Stephanie Evans

On Sunday, April 3, I was excited to participate in the 4th Annual Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium hosted by American University.

This event is timed each year to correspond with Arts Advocacy Day, and it’s a fantastic way for emerging arts leaders across the country to come together, network, and participate in professional development prior to the advocacy activities taking place.

This year, I spoke on the What Makes a Good Arts Leader panel, along with Ian David Moss (Fractured Atlas and, Jamie Bennett (National Endowment for the Arts), and Michael Bobbitt (Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, MD), and moderated by Michael Wilkerson (American University).

As a 2008 graduate of American University’s Arts Management program, and the staff liaison at Americans for the Arts to the national Emerging Leaders Network and Council, I was excited to be part of this conversation.

At the beginning of the panel, I spoke very briefly on what I’ve learned about leadership since I graduated from American University, and I wanted to expand a bit on those ideas in this blog post.  


As an arts administrator, I’ve learned it’s incredibly important to be flexible about your career. When I first started my MA degree at AU, I was very focused on directing my learning towards a job in cultural policy and international cultural exchange.

After interning (and eventually working) at Americans for the Arts, I found that there were so many other paths that my career could take. I like thinking of myself as a generalist, and have slowly been picking up skills I know I need to grow and develop.

While I do have ideas about how I see myself expanding in my career, I am open to what opportunities present themselves (both within my full time job and in a volunteer capacity). A job may not always be what you initially expected, but if you have a flexible attitude, you may pick up new skills that will contribute to helping you be a well-rounded arts administrator.

As arts organizations change and adapt to what may be a new normal in fundraising, audience development, and business models, we need arts leaders that are flexible and can change with the times.

Decisions, Decisions

Whether you’re an emerging arts leader with your first job at an arts organization, an executive director, or a board member, I’ve learned that it’s so important to understand how decisions are made at your organization, and then determine how you can affect those decisions.

At Americans for the Arts, I’m grateful to our senior leaders for allowing all staff to have a voice in the development of new projects and long term strategies. From my point of view, decisions here are top down/bottom up. I quickly learned that lesson as an intern, and have utilized it to impact the work I do with the Emerging Leaders Network and other Local Arts Advancement programs.

Endlessly Emerging

I don’t subscribe to the belief that we stop emerging in this field once we hit a certain age, skill level, or years of experience. I know I will always be learning, and will need to spend time developing required skills.

To improve my understanding of a local arts agency and grant writing, I began volunteering to serve on grants panels in my community. I’m also in the process of looking at board positions to develop my governance experience. I’ve learned how to communicate with my supervisors and colleagues about projects that I’d like to be involved in, even if it’s outside of my normal responsibilities and tasks.

I hope these lessons I’ve learned are helpful to arts administrators who are either just starting out in their career, or even to those of you who have been in the field for quite some time.

Sending the Elevator Back Down

When Kevin Spacey spoke this week at the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, he told touching stories about his mentor, Jack Lemmon.

He paraphrased Lemmon’s commitment to “sending the elevator back down” to nurture and develop the careers of those just now coming into the field.

My elevator has not reached a very high floor yet, but I have had many mentors and friends in this field who have graciously sent their elevator back down for me. We have all learned lessons about leadership, whether we’ve been in the field for 6 months or 60 years.

What are some of your lessons about leadership that you have learned along the way? Have you sent the elevator back down for someone else?

3 responses for Sending the Elevator Back Down (from Arts Watch)


Stephanie Evans says
April 11, 2011 at 10:55 am

Hey Letitia,

Thanks for the comment! The rest of the panel led to a very insightful conversation, and I wish we had more time to really explore all the issues that everyone was touching on. We talked about the importance of follower-ship vs. leadership, and how to lead from a support position. Jamie Bennett (NEA) pointed out that in his experience - all leaders are working for someone. EDs are working for their boards, elected officials are working for their constituents, etc. Michael Bobbitt (Adventure Theatre) talked about his role as ED, and how he worked to partner with organizations outside of the arts to further his own mission. Ian David Moss told the story of his blog, and encouraged ELs to speak up in meetings that they were a part of. Symposium participants had great questions as well, and we discussed the question about whether to go to graduate school or not, how to work with a difficult board, and talked about how as a field, we need to make a committment to diversity - in our staff, audience, boards, etc.

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April 09, 2011 at 10:14 am

Wonderful Stephanie. What were some of the other points/characteristics shared by the panel? The concept of "sending the elevator down" is an interesting one. I don't know if I've experienced that, but have certainly enjoyed a former-boss who struck a perfect balance of model and mentor, entrusting me with leadership that, at the time, made me uneasy, but for which I am now hugely grateful. As an emerging leader, I think that it's important to seek positions (work or volunteer) under supervisors who take the time to, as Spacey puts it, bring the elevator down and who model outstanding leadership.

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Kim Bergeron says
April 06, 2011 at 9:02 pm

There are many who are content with enjoying the views of success from the top floor. Then there are those like Jack Lemmon--and Kevin Spacey--who believe that success is not defined by that view, but by how many you have shared that opportunity with--via "sending the elevator back down" or even riding it down and bringing others up with you. One of the greatest qualities of the arts is that everyone--regardless of which "floor" they are on--has the power to impact someone else's life through the arts. Some miss the opportunity. Others embrace it. The latter of the two are the truly successful.

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