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I’m a little tired of hearing about the “Arts Leadership Void”

29 Mar

When I started reading this article from Charles McNulty in The Los Angeles Times, I was more than a little afraid that it was yet another cry of hopelessness around this seeming lack of anyone fit to fill the shoes of the geniuses that began the regional theatre movement.  (It turned out to be a wonderfully written article with a lot of things to think about, in fact, I will probably refer back to it again tomorrow.  But the first paragraph set me off and I feel the need to voice my thoughts.)  Don’t get me wrong, the founders of our major (and some minor) regional theatres across the nation deserve the praise that they receive; they cut a new path and created a new way to produce theatre.  Many of us owe our ability to pay our bills through work in the theatre to these trailblazers.

However, to say that no one is ready to take the reins, or that those who are out there are woefully unskilled or under-qualified for the job is ludicrous.  Look around (you don’t have to look too hard).  We are the artistic directors, associate artistic directors and managing directors at small and midsize theatres; we are the regional theatre directors working at your theatres, or your peer theatres, for over a decade; we are the marketing and development directors within your own organizations who volunteer their time to serve on the boards of other nonprofits.  We are here and we are more qualified than you think.  Those years at smaller organizations have given us concrete knowledge of the same things that you learned as you grew your organizations into the multi-million dollar institutions that they are today.  The time we spend on these other boards have taught us to look at the big picture and developed our skills in board leadership.  We are passionate about the field and the mission-driven work.  We are more likely to take calculated risks that reaffirm that mission than the corporate folks your boards seems so enamoured with over the past few years. 

Worried about the lack of institutional knowledge?  Perhaps that isn’t what the organization requires right now.  We bring a new perspective, one that is sorely needed.  One that puts aside the things you may still only be doing because you’ve always done them and can run honest analysis of multiple options without the baggage of history.  A perspective that honors why you built this theatre in the first place: to create great art.  The financial and production history we can easily learn. We can read financial statements and examine budgets with a new eye.  We can also debate the finer points of the voice (or lack thereof) the organization is using on social media sites.

We may or may not be attending the fantastic Emerging Arts Leaders meetings that Americans for the Arts and local arts advocacy organizations facilitate across the nation.  We may not see ourselves as “emerging” at all, but rather fully present and arrived.  We may not be of your generation, your race, or your gender, but we are here and we are ready.

—————-

Side note to those leaders who are emerging: if you look to take the reins yourself one day and currently see gaps in your skills, take action now.  Check our the emerging arts leaders groups, here’s the link for more info about the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition’s meetings. There are fantastic classes that can teach you the knowledge base, but, also, get yourself onto the board of an organization you love.  Your skill set will grow and your perspective will broaden in ways you can only imagine.  Set yourself up for success.  Your passion will take you the rest of the way.

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4 responses to “I’m a little tired of hearing about the “Arts Leadership Void”

  1. Lindsey

    March 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Great read Amy! Question: how do those of us who are emerging arts leaders go about getting onto the board of an organization? If we’re still working our way up the “ladder” and we don’t have a lot of financial resources, what is the next step?

     
    • Amy Wratchford

      March 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

      Lindsey, start with a smaller company as you look to join a board. Most smaller organizations don’t have a formal give-or-get and, even if they do, will make allowances for sweat equity. You have skills that they may be lacking. Begin by volunteering for the organization so you know that the culture and mission are a good fit for you, then approach a member of the staff to show your interest in learning about board membership. At the interview/meeting it is important to make sure that both your’s and the company’s needs will be filled by the partnership. If you don’t know it already, check out the Board Life Matters blog: http://boardlifematters.org/. It is all about getting younger generations and emerging professionals into board service. Good luck!

       
  2. Kate

    March 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I’m ready to stop emerging and just come out now!

     

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