November 11, 2005

Arts Leadership at a Critical Juncture

As the Baby Boomers move towards retirement GenXers are maturing into mid-careers in arts management. It is a critical juncture in the arts as the founders of organizations, often self-taught managers, consider departure. The question is – what is needed to sustain the leadership of arts organizations?

This next generation of leaders, of which I am one, come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Like the Baby Boomers some of us have evolved into our management positions out of the necessity to present our art. Others of us have specialized graduate and undergraduate degrees in arts administration. There’s also a segment of us who have career transitioned form the corporate sector. Regardless of our career path, area of expertise of region of the country we are facing the same challenges – ensuring that we can successfully transition into arts leaders while sustaining our organizations and excelling in our careers.

Barry Hessenius in his Hessenius Group 3 blog this week convened a panel of Baby Boomers and arts influencers to address the question of how to “hand down” knowledge from the retiring generation to the future leaders who are now mid-career. My concern is that leadership can not be “handed down”. In order to build leadership capacity we mid-career folks need to be mentored, fostered and nurtured. This is a reciprocal relationship, an ongoing conversation. It is also an issue of mutual trust.

There is a growing fear amongst the retiring generation of arts managers and board members, partners in arts leadership. The concern is how to trust the vision of the organization to the next generation? I have witnessed some shocking responses that are destroying organizations.

We can not be reactive. Over the next year I will be exploring this critical juncture.