Following Young Leaders’ Lead

Posted by Chris Appleton, Apr 27, 2016 0 comments

Like many urban areas across the country, much is booming in Atlanta: real estate, food culture, and a hunger for public transit and public spaces. Along with the renewed investment in Atlanta’s urban core, there is a building momentum around the role arts & culture play in civic life. Of course there’s a downside to the “upswing” as Atlanta faces some of the country’s most pronounced income and wealth inequality gaps. The disparity is real in Atlanta – and the arts are not immune, falling right in line with housing and education disparities, lack of access to healthy foods, and economic immobility.

While some our most conventional cultural institutions are searching for ways to discuss and address the issue of cultural equity, I am inspired by emerging leaders in Atlanta whose core purpose is rooted in cultural equity values.

Why is that emerging leaders, individual artists, and leadership within smaller organizations more consistently do the most powerful and aligned work when it comes to cultural equity? Is this because established leaders and large institutions are dependent upon power structures that widen rather than narrow “the gap?” Whatever the case, it’s clear from the history of social movements that social progress necessitates youth leadership.

As I lead an organization that is maturing from “emerging” to “established,” I cannot help but wrestle with how we will ensure that our work, in purpose and practice, remains committed to advancing progressive social change through the arts. With this in mind, I find it important for me, personally and professionally, to look to young leaders and individual artists for inspiration, knowledge, and accountability measures.

It is my deep desire to practice congruence in my leadership, where my values and my actions are aligned. I’m hopeful that by paying close attention to the values that guide emerging leaders in my community, I will increase the likelihood that my work contributes to a more thriving and equitable Atlanta for all people.

Here are five emerging leaders in Atlanta who identify as artists, arts administrators, and cultural organizers. They also happen to be people who I believe are setting the right examples of how to lead in the arts. I asked them to share with me three values that are important to their leadership.

Alex Acosta, Executive Director, Soul Food Cypher: Respect, responsibility, and knowledge

Jessica Caldas, Artist: Empathy, passion, and vulnerability

Susannah Darrow, Executive Director, ArtsATL: Inclusion, access, and quality

Carlton Mackey, Creator, Beautiful in Every Shade: Authenticity, resilience, and compassion

Matthew Rosenfeld, Program Manager, WonderRoot: Equity (social & economic), openness, and empathy

Chris Appleton is the Executive Director of WonderRoot, an Atlanta-based arts organization with a mission to unite artists and community to inspire positive social change.

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”.

Chris Appleton is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.

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