Sending the Elevator Back Down (from Arts Watch)
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 Createquity.com), 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.
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.
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?