I have finally found some time to go through my conference notes from the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) Convention earlier this month. This was my first time attending the convention and I must say it was completely overwhelming: especially the amount of information shared, number of panel options, and the size of the opening reception! I found that sitting down with the conference schedule and a list of career goals was the only way to decide what panels to attend. So, what did I want to get out of this conference?
As an emerging leader I have found that continued learning is important to building my knowledge base and creating new pathways for professional growth. I want to learn to facilitate creative thinking, create a collaborative learning experience at any organization, and not be afraid of the ambiguity that comes with trying to build a career in the arts field. My goal for this conference was to enrich my theoretical background as an arts administrator while picking up some practical tips related to arts funding and advocacy. I have summed up my experience in three words: Innovation and Learning and Logic Models! Oh my!
One entire panel was based on a new program through EmcArts that focuses on giving organizations a safe space to innovate. The New Pathways for the Arts Initiative offers grants that allow organizations the chance to develop innovative strategies and strengthen their adaptability without being afraid of breaking the bank. Understanding that innovation is relative is key to the success of this program and important for how we think about innovation. Knowing that everyone comes from a different background and has had different experiences is important when evaluating the success of an idea or program. This idea is also critical for innovative leaders.
Both Rosetta Thurman, author of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar, and Richard Evans, EmcArts, shared their thoughts of innovative leadership and professional development throughout the weekend. Leaders today need to be adaptable, facilitative, and collaborative: we cannot just lead and hope everyone will follow. It was also pointed out that anyone can be a leader within an organization. I have already gone through EmcArts’ Ten Actions Typical of Highly Innovative Leaders and will be picking up Thurman’s book soon, because I am interested in the new leadership paradigm and how I can work to be an innovative leader throughout my career.
Yes, I know a conference is all about learning, but one particular thought sparked my interest: creating an organizational culture of learning. Multiple panels discussed lifelong learning as a tool for staff and board members. EmcArts’ handout (above) mentions that effective innovators are constantly looking at external influences and scanning the field for good ideas. Continued learning can ensure arts organizations do not re-invent the wheel and creates connections to other organizations around the world.
One-on-one mentoring is also another way that learning can happen. Both as a personal and organizational tool, mentoring is successful when the pair trusts and respects each other. Many mentoring programs are formal ways of sharing information, but mentoring does not have to be formalized. As an informal mentee myself, I have learned so much from our conversations and the opportunities I have been given. Mentoring should never be a chore; it should always be about sharing your ideas and thoughts for mutual growth.
Please excuse my moment of geek here, but I have to share the work being done by ArtsWave in Cinncinnati, OH and Ian David Moss, Research Director for Fractured Atlas. Formerly known as the Fine Arts Fund, ArtsWave has reinvented the way they give grants to ensure organizations are creating a vibrant community by bringing more people together around art. The steering committee for this project included community members from many diverse backgrounds to discuss and create a plan that ensured the entire Cincinnati community access to the arts. The logic model that was created to help guide the plan is amazing to look over and think about. So click here to see ArtsWave’s Program Theory logic model.
(P.S. Moss wrote a great post yesterday defending logic models that you can check out here.)
Whew! Conferences can make you tired just thinking about them. Well I guess I have a book to pick up and read this summer, but at least I can do it by the pool!