Nonprofit Arts Women Rock

Posted by Ms. Mara Walker, Sep 04, 2018 0 comments

Throughout this fall, Americans for the Arts is curating a blog series featuring the voices of women in leadership roles at nonprofit arts organizations. It would be easy to say that we are holding this blog series because of the recent surge in the women’s movement, or because today women are still not paid as much as men for their work and deserve a spotlight, or because it would be sport to call out the men who have abused their power over women. The truth is, we simply felt it would be amazing to lend a microphone to these women to hear their perspectives about what it means to be a woman in an influential role in the arts today.

Full disclosure: I am a woman. More so, I am a woman in a role of authority at a national arts service organization who reports to a man; a good hearted, strategically oriented, contagiously enthusiastic man. A man who understands that we have different jobs and that this work is a partnership. While it is true that the buck stops with Bob, my role is no less. I ensure we are using our resources (human, financial, space, materials, knowledge, etc.) correctly to enact our complex, board-driven strategic plan. I ensure our board, staff, members, stakeholders and funders are connected in our efforts toward making the arts recognized as integral to the lives of all people and essential to healthy, vibrant and equitable communities across the nation.

To that end, I have always thought it is important to give opportunities to both women and men who are invested in making a difference, committed to strengthening the organization, and insistent on learning. It is critical that we take time to understand perspectives different from our own so that we may grow as individuals. These diverse viewpoints also shape the strategies we need to build awareness and support for the arts and expand our understanding of the communities and society in which we work, live, create, play, and pray.

I have been fortunate because I have always worked in the arts where so many women hold leadership and staff roles. I am grateful that so many of them have forged a path for me and our staff, a majority of whom are women, and our board, which is chaired by a woman. I will admit that I can have high expectations of women, expectations that I admittedly do not consistently live up to myself. However, it is always my hope that women are smart as hell, know when they are being manipulated, rise above, and travel on the high road even when people are working to knock them down. I want to work with women who teach me something new and bring forth ideas without fear.

We work in a profession that encourages expression to help us understand each other and share our journeys, experiences, and vulnerabilities. Stories and images are the tools we have to convey our identities, affinities, biases, and compassions. It is through allyship, support, and magnificent storytelling that women can overcome the systemic barriers to success.

I am excited to read the writing of women at the helm of local arts agencies, theatres, state arts advocacy organizations, museums, national arts service organizations, and many other spaces. They have committed their careers to using the arts to initiate dialogue and question norms. These women have not let any male dominated power structure prevent them from success. They have in turn provided opportunities for other women and men to grow and contribute. They too want to make sure that the voices they raise can educate, inform, inspire and do so unapologetically. It is our hope that through these blogs, other women will feel empowered to take on leadership roles and in turn encourage other women to do the same.

Throughout the series, we will hear from the leaders about how they work to advance society through the arts, including how they feel about:

  • What it means to be a woman in a leadership position at an arts nonprofit in today’s world
  • The challenges/obstacles women face and how they overcome them
  • How women encourage other women to become leaders in their organizations or sectors
  • How working in the arts today influences a women’s leadership
  • How the arts empower women to take leadership roles

I hope other women will join in by writing and sharing their own blogs. If you feel inspired to do so, be sure to share them on social media and include #nonprofitartswomenrock so we can stay connected.

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