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As baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, Amy Kweskin Duncan explores what the USA is doing to ensure arts leadership in the future, and the parallels with developments in the UK.

Leadership development is a critical concern for American arts and culture organisations, as a generation of seasoned professionals moves towards retirement. The aging of the baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) will require the growth of 640,000 new senior managers across the non-profit sector over the next ten years. In response, emerging and mid-career arts professionals are seeking experiential learning opportunities through coaching and mentoring networks to ready themselves for leadership succession.

The 1960s and 70s saw significant growth in the American arts and culture sector. Low cost of living, liberal arts educations, ample leisure time and the peace movement encouraged baby boomers to progress their social conscience through creative ventures. In his pivotal article ‘Leverage Lost: The Nonprofit Arts in the Post-Ford Era’ (In Motion magazine, 1996), John Kreidler, Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, also credits the proliferation of arts organisations from 1957 to 1976 to the Ford Foundation’s investment of $400m into the sector. This was the origin of national grantmaking in the arts to create “new regional non-profit arts organisations to decentralise the arts beyond New York, the formation and advancement of arts service organisations, and the enhancements of conservatories and visual art schools to generate a labour supply”.

Generation shift

The baby boomers are now looking for their successors. Thomas J. Tierney explored this issue in his article ‘The Leadership Deficit’, published in 2006 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “The story told by demographics isn’t exactly encouraging, because a much smaller cohort stands behind the baby boomers.” He adds “Non-profits will have to work on retaining their best leaders, providing them with opportunities for career development and advancement, both within individual organisations and across the sector.”

In January 2008 Barry Hessenius, former Director of the California Arts Council, hosted an online discussion in Barry’s blog, asking non-profit arts leaders what the key issues are for the coming year. Gary Steuer, Vice President of Private-Sector Affairs/Executive Director, Arts & Business Council of Americans for the Arts, responded ,“the much-touted ‘crisis’ of a growing leadership gap in the nonprofit arts will recede as an issue in 2008, as it becomes clear we have an extraordinary cohort of smart, dedicated young leaders eager to contribute to the field. Demographically, there may be fewer Gen X-ers [born in the 60s and 70s] than Boomers and Gen Y-ers [born in the 80s and 90s], but the challenge may be solved by more openness on the part of boards and senior leadership to give leadership opportunities at younger ages. It will also be a challenge for the field to adjust to a new generation of leaders who will lead in different ways, and will radically reshape the field and the organisations they are leading.”

Emerging and mid-career

Responding to requests from the next generation of arts leaders for experiential learning opportunities, Americans for the Arts launched the Emerging Leaders Network in 1999. Emerging leaders are defined by this national membership organisation as being new to the field with up to five years’ experience, or aged 35 or younger. Emerging Leaders Network member Autumn Schaefer, Director of Marketing and Communications, United Arts of Central Florida, states the benefits, “Networking is the best way for both artists and administrators to grow. Workshops and classes are a great way to pick up specific skills, but knowing where to go when you don’t have the answers is what really helps.”

In August 2006, I conducted a national research study on behalf of Americans for the Arts to explore the leadership development needs of mid-career professionals who have “aged-out” of the Emerging Leader designation. Research indicates that mid-career is when professionals ask themselves the tough questions about continuing in the field. They credit this concern to flat organisational structures, which result in narrow skill development and limited career growth opportunities. In response, a mass migration is occurring as mid-career professionals move between organisations, frequently relocating across the country in pursuit of senior posts.

Significantly, mid-career is the point when many are tempted to leave the arts sector in pursuit of greater compensation and life-work balance as their families grow and they incur mortgages. Career paths are further complicated by the notion that ‘Director’ is the only viable leadership post. And yet for those reaching Director, tenure is short lived. National research and professional development organisation CompassPoint Nonprofit Services cited in their ‘Daring to Lead 2006’ report that “three quarters of nonprofit directors do not plan to be in their current jobs five years from now.”

Furthering research into mid-career leadership development, Victoria J. Saunders, an arts management consultant based in San Diego, conducted a national online survey in 2007. She discovered that 73% of mid-career arts managers would like a new or expanded local peer network they can meet face to face, while another 49% were interested in a virtual peer network meeting online, on the phone or through email connections. Saunders probed survey participants about coaching as an approach to experiential leadership development. Thirty-five per cent of respondents were familiar with coaching and wanted to learn more, while 23% are currently in a coaching relationship.

Incorporating coaching into their intergenerational dialogue is the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC). Its Peer Coaching TeleCircles for Executive Directors and its Leadership Institute are opportunities for reflection and networking with peers. Andrea Grover, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Aurora Picture Show in Houston found that participation in the Leadership Institute benefited her organisation’s leadership transition: “Bringing our entire staff to the Leadership Institute was priceless. Instead of one staff member coming back rejuvenated, we all shared the experience and grew together, which helped launch our succession planning process.”

Parallels in the UK

Vanessa Rawlings-Jackson, Chief Executive of Cultivate, an organisational development agency for the cultural sector, was introduced to the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Network while attending the 2007 National Arts Marketing Conference in Miami. Meeting network participants sparked her interest in replicating the initiative in her region of the UK as a way of offering experiential leadership learning for emerging and mid-career professionals. Rawlings-Jackson explains that she is “in discussions with my board about developing this idea and looking at ways of connecting it to the US Emerging Leaders Network.”

Searching out a peer support network to develop his leadership skills, UK arts professional Niki Russell joined the New Work Network’s action learning network funded by the Cultural Leadership Programme: “This network is a way of avoiding burnout when you’re feeling like you’re on a treadmill doing the same thing over and over and sometimes making the same mistakes.” He sees the benefit as the level of trust and sharing of best practice between participants “as a network we have a shared voice to speak for change across the field”.

profit business development and leadership coaching. In 2006 she was a Fellow with Americans for the Arts researching mid-career leadership development.
t: 07818 065570;
e: amy@artsmanagementconsulting.com;
w: http://www.artsmanagementconsulting.com;


Leverage Lost: The Nonprofit Arts in the Post-Ford Era: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/lost.html
Stanford Social Innovation Review: http://www.ssireview.org/
The Leadership Deficit: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_leadership_deficit/
Barry’s blog: http://www.westaf.org/blog/
Americans for the Arts: http://www.artsusa.org
NAMAC: http://www.namac.org/
CompassPoint Nonprofit Services: http://www.compasspoint.org/
Daring to Lead 2006: http://www.compasspoint.org/daringtolead2006
Cultivate: http://www.cultivate-em.com
National Arts Marketing Conference: http://www.artsmarketing.org
New Work Network: http://www.newworknetwork.org.uk/
Cultural Leadership Programme: http://www.culturalleadership.org.uk

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