The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Ben Cameron had yet more productive, provocative, and insightful things to say about the present and future of the nonprofit arts in his keynote to the Southern Arts Federation in September [just posted in audio (mp3) and transcript (pdf) form, on the Federation’s web site].
The bulk of the speech engages the challenge of relevancy and responsiveness of cultural organizations to a world that so desperately needs their content (although often in a different way than we’ve traditionally delivered it). But I found a particular perspective extraordinarily relevant to my current work with younger arts professionals and with seasoned leaders who are panicking about leadership succession. Ben described what his foundation had learned on the subject from a recent set of public conversations with the field:
We heard concern about an impending generational transfer of leadership, as a generation of founders retire or depart. And while much of the concern was around where we might find their successors — especially given different expectations from young people around higher compensation, shorter hours, in essence less patience for the sacrificed lives of dignity and the financial masochism that were the givens for so many in my own generation — this conversation brought to my ears, at least, a new strand: the unwillingness of emerging leaders to be mere custodians of organizations they inherit.
“There are plenty of us eager to give ourselves to the arts.” they said, “But unless we are given the same authority to reinvent and reshape organizations as you yourselves were given, we are not interested.” — a point of view that raises far more questions about an organization’s capacity for change than about the identity of an heir apparent.
Yet another indication that the future of our industry is only partly in the practices of our past.
Thanks to Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin for the link!