Navigating Grey Space: The Personal, Professional, and Practice
How does one lead by an example that is still evolving, or in many instances simply doesn’t exist? As a young black woman in the arts, this has proven to be the ongoing topic of many conversations amongst my peers and myself. Decades have been spent sorting through lack of diversity in the arts sector, and people of color pursuing their passions as artists and administrators alike are still faced with a lack of representation and guidance around what the future of these roles look like within the field. Most recently I’ve found myself questioning how to explore my individual path in a way that feels productive and healthy, while also understanding how that impacts my future pursuits and leadership role(s).
Many of my peers, and myself included, are faced with the quandary of what I call the “grey space.” We seek to do our best work alongside juggling the task of being viewed as internal representatives for our communities, an intricacy that causes blurred lines at the intersection of personal and professional. Combined with the attempt to pursue (or reclaim) a creative/artistic practice, it can prove to be a hazy path to traverse.
While I don’t propose to have a one-size fits all solution, I have been able to identify ways that I feel most successful and supported in my position; both through supervisor-driven support and initiatives, in addition to self guided practices. Specifically for those of us engaging in place-based work within very intimate communities, I’ve identified three areas that I’ve often found to be most difficult to separate: personal, professional, and practice. Based upon my experiences, I’d like to offer suggestions for ways that employers can support emerging leaders, especially leaders of color, along with ways that individuals can begin to explore self-care and agency within their institutional structures and everyday lives.
Employers: Know that there are unforeseen battles that your colleagues must often forgo alone, due to the lack of representation in their line of work. There are a number of complexities we must consider when asked to work within community, and one person cannot be labeled as the authority or representative for an entire group. There will be times that we will need to leverage personal relationships and cultural nuances in order to make progress or create points of entry on behalf of our organizations. This contribution should be acknowledged and valued in a way that feels genuine and respectful of a person’s background and experiences.
Self: Affirm for yourself that it is okay (and healthy) to maintain internal/external boundaries as while doing community based work. Be willing to have open, honest dialogue with others so that they clearly understand the underpinnings of what it takes to best perform your role, and ways that you feel supported when working to maintain balance and offer clarity around expectations.
Employers: Encourage and/or provide opportunities for mentorship and development. Investment in diversity doesn’t stop at the hiring process. Know where your capabilities end and workshop ways that added support could be supplemented via outside sources and experiences.
Self: Build. Build. Build! Support systems are key to wellness and your ability to own your role and strengths. Never stop learning about and engaging with peers in the field locally, nationally, and internationally. Kinship and relationship building is the key to sustaining proper representation and cultivating new leaders in our line of work.
Employers: Be aware of your “people power.” While you may not always be able to provide a platform for all of these individual talents to shine through, it is necessary to assess what these individuals bring to your team, outside of the ability to act as community stakeholders and/or gatekeepers. Additionally, work-life harmony is key to long-term sustainability within any setting. Are you able to structure things in a way in which individuals have time within their personal lives to explore their own practices, projects, and interests?
Self: Identify where boundaries and room for flexibility exists. Maintaining a 9-5 in addition to independent projects/businesses/practices is no small feat, and there won’t always be space for the two to co-exist. Given the nature of the work that we do, there will always be an infusion of creativity into day-to-day tasks, but when possible, be unafraid to explore your own interests where the 9 to 5 ends and personal life begins. Shifting between the roles of administrator and practitioner/artist can assist you with staying relevant and informed of what is happening on the ground and in the field through direct participation and involvement. There will also be ebbs and flows in how actively you may or may not engage in that dynamic, and perceived “down times” can often be restorative and used as a space for personal assessment.
This blog is part of the 2016 Emerging Arts Leader Blog Salon. We asked over a dozen emerging leaders to reflect and respond to this year’s Arts Leadership Preconference theme: “Impact Without Burnout: Resilient Arts Leadership from the Inside Out”.
Sharbreon Plummer is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.