Visiting with a colleague recently, we got to talking about what would be the THREE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS that a mid-career professional in ANY sort of arts or cultural organizations should be asking.
We further imagined that the process of ANSWERING such questions might serve as some sort of rite of passage for early/mid-career professionals – with the organizations that employ them expecting, supporting and respecting a staff member’s diligent efforts.
Imagine this as a kind of an emerging-leader Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It’s not the ceremony (or party or presents) that would be important but rather the idea of period of voluntary, diligent and independent study committed to planting ideas and cultivating habits destined to be valuable throughout one’s future career in the arts & cultural sector.
For the purposes of inviting further discussion, here’s what we came up with:
- WHERE IS THE CORE OF RELEVANCE? Arts & cultural administrators are most-used to answering this question with a future-focus – often in a strategic planning document where we get to proffer our most noble aspirations. But that’s not what we intend here. Up & coming arts & cultural leaders would be well served to undertake a more detailed and intimate exploration of the facets of meaning of specific arts and cultural experiences. That means connecting with audiences, artists, stakeholders, academics, peers and others in order to discover that relevance is never about what we INTEND. It’s only about the meanings that others DERIVE. We ask this question with the hope that up & coming arts & cultural leaders might discover that the habit of pursing relevance is far more valuable than the determination of any particular answer.
- WHAT IS OUR HISTORY? Every community, every organization and every form of art and cultural experience has a history. It’s not just the dusty textbook history lesson that we are talking about. In our organizations and our communities, we must do a greater job of appreciating the living daily history of people & ambitions – conflicts & disappointments – adventures & accomplishments. Our ambition is not to glorify the past or constrain the future – but rather to honor those efforts and inform future endeavors. What a wonderful “grounding” experience it would be for emerging professionals to be afforded the opportunity to visit with former Board members, fellow artists, emeritus employees, long-standing audience members, community elders, journalists, peer organizations and others for the purpose of tracing the ins & outs of an organization’s or community’s stories.
- WHAT MUST WE DO BETTER? In all of human existence, there may be no more important statement than one that begins with the words, “What if…”. The future vitality of the arts & cultural sector depends more on fostering the creativity and empowerment of new generations of leaders than from any “sustainable” decision made in the present. We live in a wonderful era of possibilities that is served by ever-evolving technologies. It’s time to unleash the full power of new & creative thinking – which means giving up & coming leaders ever-earlier opportunities to exercise their leadership.
Upon reflection, it appears that these 3 questions invite up & coming arts & cultural leaders to address the Present, Past & Future. What wonderful possibilities exist in each!
FINAL NOTE: In drafting this post, I have (uncomfortably) used numerous phrases like “emerging leaders” and “up & coming leaders”. To my ear, they each sound rather, well, patronizing. I’d love to hear better suggestions.
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