Thursday, July 21, 2005

July 21, 2005 Update #9

Table of Contents:
I. Succession Policies
II. Bits & Pieces

Hello everyone.
"And the beat goes on.................."

I. Succession Policies
"Talkin' bout my generation.............."

Wayne Lawson, Executive Director of the Ohio Arts Council and Shelley Cohn, Executive Director of the Arizona Arts Commission (the state agencies) are both retiring after long careers in their posts. Together they have over 50 years of experience at the helm of their respective state arts agencies. Both are as smart, savvy, intelligent and gifted leaders as I have ever met in the field. Both have probably forgotten more about arts administration than I will ever know. Both have served the field well and made innumerable contributions to the arts. We all stand on their shoulders in many ways. Our field has hundreds of such gifted leaders, many of whom are similarly weighing the decision to retire or otherwise exit the field in the near term.

Their decisions to leave their agencies after such long tenures made me think of two related issues -1) succession - how do we transition new leadership; and 2) wisdom - how do we protect the institutional memory and facilitate the maintenance of leadership experience and knowledge?

Wayne will teach at the University level, and Shelley will probably consult. Both will stay involved at some level in the arts. But these new posts won't necessarily take full advantage of their invaluable experience and knowledge, as the number of people who will directly benefit from that experience and storehouse of knowledge will be relatively small.

New blood is a good thing. Leadership transition brings new energy and new ways of looking at things. In any event, it is inevitable. And there are outstanding people in our field moving up. The issue attendant to succession that I am concerned with is how are we best preparing our new leaders and those that will, over time, move to the forefront in our field? What is going on out there that approaches that issue systemically and strategically. Doubtless some organizations have in place plans for succession, and plans for the transfer of knowledge and the mentoring by experienced leaders over time. Is there anything more we ought to be doing that will improve these approaches, and that might widen their application to the benefit of more organizations?

Perhaps even more critical is what might be done to make sure that the knowledge and experience of people like Wayne and Shelley is shared with the widest number of people as they exit the field. Is there some program that might be created to enhance our efforts to make sure that their wisdom is passed on and not lost? So much of one generation's wisdom is often lost in the American system, and in the nonprofit world that sometimes results in us wasting time by continually addressing issues in the same way that have already been addressed.

I remember when I first came to head the California Arts Council. I found, in my office, a box of reports on various conferences on a range of arts issues. I thumbed through one such conference agenda and report on Arts Education, and I noted that it was attended by an 'A' List of experts, and considered the primary issues. The report was replete with excellent analysis of the salient issues in arts education, and included truly outstanding strategies to approach those issues. I thought: "Wow, this was a great conference. How come I wasn't invited to this one?" Then I noted on the cover that this conference had been held thirteen years before. And here we were, discussing the same issues, making the same points, coming to the same conclusions thirteen years later. That is, to some extent, inevitable of course - progress often comes slowly. But, there must be some way that what came before can be part of the education of all of us here now so that we can save some time in re-inventing a wheel that already exists. Many reports from great conferences get lost and are never accessed again, and that seems a mistake.

Somehow we need to manage our knowledge base better and figure out how to transition that knowledge across the board, so we can make better use of our time in continual struggles to address basic priorities.

II. Bits & Pieces:
*Americans for the Arts Action Fund: Have you joined yet? It's only $20 and you get to be part of the arts first national political effort - the success of which will depend on the number of people who get involved. Go to their website:

Two different scenarios (From the Cultural Policy Center newsletter):

*Detroit to close Department of Arts: "The city is booming with talent and amazing cultural gems. Yet, just when communities throughout Michigan are building economic development strategies based on the strengths of vibrant cultural activities, we learn the City of Detroit has decided to close the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism in an attempt to reduce the city's $300-million budget shortfall." The president of ArtServe Michigan argues for the department's reinstatement, citing the educational, community development, quality of life, economic, and other benefits of the arts and culture.

*Wichita saves the arts: "It took some maneuvering, but Wichita city leaders got all the money they wanted for the arts. The city manager's proposed 2006 budget left the arts about $400,000 short. Tuesday, council members made sure it added up to $2.6 million."

Have a great week.
Don't Quit.