The Power of Local Arts Leadership

Posted by Ursula Kuhar, Apr 19, 2012 1 comment

Ursula Kuhar

Local. Public. Value. Arts.

Try creating a cohesive, comprehensive sentence that reflects our field using these four words.

These simple words that occupy so much complexity within our industry, and an entire day of dialogue at the first Americans for the Arts Executive Directors & Board Member Symposium held on April 15.

It was an exhilarating experience to participate in a peer exchange with diverse leaders from organizations around the country including Americans for the Arts President & CEO Bob Lynch, Jonathan Katz of the National Association of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), and Mary McCullogh-Hudson of ArtsWave.

In order to frame our work as arts leaders forging into a “new normal” in the industry, Bob shared the history and context of the local arts movement in America, rooted in the discovery of the Americas to the first established arts council in 1947 by George Irwin in Illinois, to the evolution of today’s local arts enabling organization that provide cultural programming, funding, community cultural planning, and of course, advocacy activities.

Jonathan Katz broadened our horizons on how to apply public administration models of public value into our mission and Mary shared a case study of how her organization became a force of community building within the greater Cincinnati region.

The unifying idea of this leadership symposium focused on community—not only our organizations and the community of artists throughout the country, but our neighborhoods, our civic leaders, and our constituents.

This is being put into practice in Allegany County, MD, where Andy Vick and the Allegany Arts Council are engaging in the community through thriving and bustling arts and entertainment districts. In San Jose, CA, diversity has become a pivotal point of civic pride and innovation in public art and cultural celebration. Abel Lopez of GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington, DC, emphasized the importance of access within our neighborhoods by providing opportunities to our audiences as a vehicle for civic engagement and stimulating dialogue.

My learning from the day’s events can be applied three-fold—administrator, artist, and educator:

  • As an administrator, I further realized the importance of harnessing local arts in our organizations and the phenomenal power of partnership with peer organizations and civic leaders. The advancement of our organizations is not just about us anymore, it’s about collaboration.
  • As an artist, I realize my work as a musician is a factor in the public value equation and is a responsibility I take seriously.
  • As an educator, the information I acquired enriches my teaching and scholarship. We are charged with expanding the knowledge of arts policy for future arts administrators to propel them and the field into greater accomplishments.

Since the end of the symposium, those four little words mentioned previously have been constantly reeling in my head.

They compose an equation for the future of our organizations, and with hope and hard work, will provide answers for arts to be a sustainable, engaged, and valued part of the fabric of our communities.

1 responses for The Power of Local Arts Leadership


April 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I'd love to get before that same audience and urge them, inspire them prepare them to run for local office in 2014. Arts and cultural leaders have been coming together in meetings and forums for decades - and every since we lost the first two rounds of the Culture Wars I've felt it a huge missed opportunity that these sorts of meets never talk about power and politics. America's nonprofit leaders - including her cultural workers need to organize for political leadership and take their passion, values and expertise into the public sector. Funding and support for culture in America would benefit - but the real winners would be those communities that these creative public servants would be serving and solving. PLEASE, I've been begging Americans for the Arts for over 20 years to take a leadership role in inspiring, preparing and helping our creative workers to stand for local public office.

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