What does it mean to be a woman leader in the arts world? Hmmm … I’m not sure how to answer that.
What does it mean to be a woman in a leadership position at an arts nonprofit in today’s world?
Hmmmm … I’m not really sure how to answer or even how to begin to think about this. I can think of many questions with complicated or unknown answers: Does being a woman influence the way I lead? How much has my career path been influenced by my being a woman? Would I have done things differently if I was a man (no way to know that, of course!)? Of course, the world is different for today’s generation of woman leaders. My twenties were in a time when women were starting off in careers of importance in much greater numbers than my mother’s generation, but the influences of that previous generation were very present (at least in my world). Now, although there are still tangible and intangible systems in place that affect women, it is the norm that young women feel and know that they can lead in the arts or any other sector.
What challenges/obstacles have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I can’t claim to have had real challenges or obstacles in my life, because I’m a baby boomer who had the benefit of a loving family and a comfortable upbringing. But, I was raised to expect a life as a wife and mother as my destiny. My parents, of the generation born during the Depression, coming of age during WWII, and benefitting from the post-war American Dream as the first members of their families to go to college, followed the “rules” of their time and did what was expected of them. My mother, especially, did what she was told. She was a teacher because my grandfather said she should be a teacher. She taught, she had children, and then was a stay-at-home suburban mom in part because my father said, “No wife of mine is going to have to work.” (I marvel that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born only two years after my mother and had such a different life story. What strength it took for her to blaze that trail—plus, it must be said, the good fortune of having a uniquely supportive husband for the era.)
My parents were wonderful people who gave me a solid value system. They also provided the message that I should conform. I was not encouraged to be adventurous. It was expected that I would work for a few years after college and then find a husband to take care of me so I wouldn’t have to work. When I wasn’t married (nor had any prospects in the foreseeable future) by my mid-twenties, and had no clear career path, my parents worried. I worried as well, since I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t have a career or any clue about what kind of career I could have. I tried things, mostly failed, and then tried something else without a lot of thought. I didn’t know at that age that I could decide for myself what I wanted to do with my life. I am sorry that I didn’t have the confidence or courage to do something wild like join the Peace Corps and at least have some adventures while I was in that clueless twenty-something phase. At 26 I finally made a decision for myself and moved half way across the country to begin to forge my own path. I learned over time that my involvement in the arts and my interest in people made the community arts world the right path. Of course, in many ways, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and, there’s so much I still want to do in my life and work.
How do you encourage other women to become leaders in their organizations or sectors?
I am in awe of the young women I see making their way in the arts these days. They are so cool, so interesting, so confident, and so adventuresome. They expect—even demand—a lot more than I did in my younger years. They know they can change the world and set boldly forth to do it.
I’ve had many young women as assistants and interns and have learned so much from each. I always meet with and counsel (if my advice is worth anything) young women who want to know about my career path and think about directions for the future. I relish that role as an “elder” in the arts world ☺
How does working in the arts today influence your leadership?
My work is my passion: to promote the arts as essential to economic vitality, education for the 21st century, healthy and vibrant communities, engaged residents. That passion influences everything else in my life, including my leadership style. I’m always seeking more creativity, flexibility, and imagination as a leader and advocate.
How can the arts empower other women to take leadership roles?
Much of the time, I feel that young women are leading and we older women have to be available for counsel if needed, but mostly we have to get out of the way.
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