Rise to the Occasion: Emerging Leaders Networks Can be Catalysts for Change

Posted by Whitney Roux, Apr 14, 2015 0 comments

David Bowie said “The future belongs to those that hear it coming.” As the arts sectors faces challenges of shrinking funding, aging audiences and wavering government support, professional groups, like Rising Arts Leaders of San Diego (RALSD), offer hubs of new ideas, fresh faces, and unjaded ambition. Leveraging our emerging leaders’ passion and talent, we can start to make real impact on our communities and the sustainability of the arts. But we have to act now!

Guided by Rising Arts Leader’s vision to Make San Diego an innovative, inspiring, world-class arts leader, the network took practicing leadership to a new level by creating solutions to the challenges that face our sector. Our steering committee started with a listening campaign; doing short surveys at networking happy hours, hosting workshops that brought together admin, funders and constituents, and through our annual Creative Conversation event, defined the five biggest hurdles in our city.

The pressing challenges that discussed were:

1) Critics Wanted: San Diego suffers from a severe lack of serious critical arts journalism. If quality critical review continues to be unattainable in San Diego, it will lead to a disincentive for artists to continue working here, which in turn will make the branding of San Diego as a creative economy even harder.

2) Plugging the Brain Drain: let's talk about why so many of our best and brightest keep getting lured away to what they perceive (or may actually be) greener pastures in other cities. We want and how to keep them working in and bettering San Diego.

3) We Are More Than Our Weather: While our weather does indeed attract a certain kind of tourist, we believe additional demographics could be brought to San Diego, along with their dollars, if there was more of an effort to brand the city as an arts and culture destination, not just a hot and sunny one.

4) Stop Begging, Start Earning: how do we diversify our funding sources in the 21st century away from the same small pool of philanthropists, major gifts, and grants? New and innovative ways to operate with dignity are all out on the table.

5) Your Target Demographic Is Deceased: Pale, stale, and male is how another famously characterized the monochromatic patronage so many institutions rely on. Token gestures have been made to court new audiences, but are they effective and genuine or just Taco Tuesday for one-percenters? How do we stop paying lip service to diversification and actually create art for everyone?

All along the way, we repeated this off-color refrain to ourselves and our constituents: these are not a “bitch sessions”, this is where real solutions stemming from popular consensus can be determined and referred to going forward. We challenged our emerging and established leaders to create both a To-Do List and a Cease and Desist list, with action items for both.

Here’s just a taste of what was thought up for Plugging the Brain Drain (pdf).

Rising Arts Leaders wanted to create a roadmap for success, a plan that elevated the opinions of doers and innovators while telling people to check their complaints at the door. And… it worked.

What came out of this was innovative, exciting and manageable evolution. RALSD’s network was able to accomplish what foundations and civic leaders have been venting about and throwing money at for ages - studies, reports, surveys- with dedicated volunteers and resourcefully planning. By engendering hands on leadership opportunities, creative and critical thinking RALSD has stayed on mission while being a force for good.

The research is making waves in San Diego’s complacent sector; well respected leaders were calling and emailing RALSD saying what an important event this was and that we had to keep the conversation going. We proved that emerging leader’s networks are spearheading innovation and as a diversion from the traditional “do what’s worked in the past model” we are a new catalyst for change.

A handful of RALSD Members synthesized the conversation and Rising Arts Leaders is currently publishing a white paper memo on how we can become a thriving, progressive arts community. We have scheduled meetings with local arts commissioners, have a communications plan for sharing it out and will get it into the hands of all the decision makers in our city. While Rising Arts Leaders will never abandon our commitment to high quality professional development and strong network creation, we know we need to do more. Member of emerging leader’s networks will be the ones managing the sector ten years from now, so they need to get involved now in shaping the future.

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