Monday, August 30, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………………………..”

This year I again asked 60 leaders from all parts of our sector and all parts of the country – from large and small organizations – national, regional and local – and from every discipline and demographic to send me their nominations for the most powerful and influential leaders in our field. As was the case last year, one third of these nominators participated in last year’s process, while two-thirds were new invitee nominators. The process was anonymous and none of the nominators knew the identity of any of the other nominators. All were free to nominate anyone they thought qualified, including themselves the only caveat being that this was about arts administration and organizational leadership, and so I asked that we leave artists off this list (that’s a whole other ranking). I know some of you out there think this list is incomplete and inaccurate without the inclusion of artists, but this ranking is principally about arts administration and the business behind the scenes. As such, you are, of course, right – it is, at best, incomplete.

This is, I believe, important because these people largely determine how the debates in our sector are framed and what the agendas will be. They are the people who control much, if not most of the money, and decide where the funding goes (at least in broad swatches), what issues should be on the front burner, and what we talk about when we meet. They influence our goals and objectives, our priorities and the positions we take – and even the way we do things. In large part, they are our most experienced and knowledgeable people -- our trend-setters, taste-makers, best thinkers, and established power brokers.

Nominees could come from any area within our field. Their power and influence could come from their position, who they are, what they have done, how long they have been in the field, how highly they are respected, the fact that they control purse strings (or grants in our case) or whatever criteria the nominator choose.

Each nominee was expected to have the capacity to exert influence in, and on, our field (either as a whole or on some distinct section therein) – how we arrive at policy, what agendas are set, who is considered an expert or not, what research is important, where money is spent, how we fundraise and market etc. etc. etc. Some nominees may be universally highly respected, others may have more than their share of detractors – the criteria is power and influence – not popularity. This really wasn’t a beauty contest. Nominators might strongly disagree with someone but still recognize that the person is powerful and influential.

The rankings reflect an attempt at balancing the actions, power and influence of leaders over the course of the past year, and prospectively for the coming year. Some of those ranked in the higher numbers may be nearing the end of their tenure in the position they currently occupy, for others the activities that pushed them to the forefront may have passed and they may now be receding into a lower profile. The power and influence of others may be on the rise as they assume new posts, are thrust into the center of new projects or otherwise see their stars rising. Still others may be in transition.

This year 55 of those I asked for names responded and while this was by no means anything other than a subjective exercise, there was a fair representation of our sector in terms of who responded. Not really surprising, as in the past two years , there seems again to be a disproportionate number of people on the list whose sphere is national, and who, in one way or another, are connected with the control of pools of funds. While scores of names of local discipline based organization leaders were submitted, most were recognized primarily within their local venue or discipline and not nationally. As in the pst, those on the list nearer the bottom very likely are somewhat the product of who the nominators were this year.

This list is, of course, incomplete and flawed. It is just an attempt to identify those perceived as being powerful within our small world. No insult is meant to anyone whose name is not on the list, and I am sure there are many people whose names should be on the list. While I personally agree with most of the final selections, there are some I find very surprising. I am also confused by the omission of others that I would have thought would have been consensus inclusions. And while there are many repeats from last year, there are also many new names this year. Some climbed the list; others fell downward in their ranking. This is likely nothing more than a snapshot at one point in time.

Neither I nor any employee at WESTAF (which distributes this blog) was eligible for inclusion on this list.

Here then is this year’s Rankings:


1. Rocco Landesman - Chair, National Endowment for the Arts.
Visible and active, he’s begun to position the Endowment at the forefront in facilitating national conversations on critical issues in the arts – a role that has been absent from the agency’s agenda for some time, and which has begun to engage and excite the field. He has the agency making strides in reaching out to other federal agencies for arts support. His basic learning curve period over, he is beginning to show increased leadership and he not only has ideas as to what he wants to do, but he is clearly enjoying himself. As one nominator put it: “He gets #1 because he doesn't just HAVE power, he's actually USING it.”

2. Michael Kaiser – Executive Director, Kennedy Center for the Arts; author
Fresh off his 50 state tour, he continues to press the flesh more than any other national arts leader and is addressing issues and providing advice & counsel to individual arts organizations all across the country and winning friends and admirers in the process. Singlehandedly making professional development and training for arts administrators a major issue. One of my nominators put it this way: “No one is doling out more advice and technical assistance to nonprofit cultural organizations, and no one is listened to more by arts groups and funders. Even when his pronouncements are not particularly new, they are embraced by the field. I think he stands head and shoulders above anyone else when it comes to influence.”

3. Janet Brown – Executive Director, Grantmakers in the Arts
Beginning to change the GIA culture and move the organization to the forefront in power and influence by redefining everything from its mission and approach, to its focus and priorities, to its processes and protocols. She is on everyone’s Top Ten list as one of the sector’s most influential leaders. Moving up fast, she was number one on a lot of lists. Smart, street savvy, diplomatic, tireless. Has a vision, knows what she hopes to do and is well on her way to doing it.

4. Ben Cameron – Program Director for the Arts, Doris Duke Foundation
He continues to be in great demand for his keen insight and oratory skills. If there is a preferred public face for the sector, he remains it. No one better expresses the field’s thoughts and ideas or fears and hopes better than he does. But it is also his strategic grant making at the Doris Duke Foundation that earns him a Top Ten spot.

5. Bob Lynch – President, Americans for the Arts.
While health reasons have forced him to cut back on an onerous travel schedule and his role in what has become the single most dominant national service organization in the entire sector (one created by his vision and strategic acumen), he nonetheless remains one of the most influential national leaders. Eyes will be on him as his vision guides the transition of this organization to its future.

6. Bill Ivey / Steven Tepper – (former Chair of the NEA under Clinton); author; Director of the Curb Center of Art, Enterprise & Public Policy / Associate Director – Curb Center
Still the single most influential duo when it comes to cultural policy considerations, Ivey & Tepper have kept alive and continue to move forward intelligent dialogue and consideration of national cultural policy, the intersections between non profit and for profit arts and artists, and the big issues that impact creativity in America – from both a scholarly and a practical perspective. Tepper’s influence on arts education issues continues to grow with his body of work in the area.

7. Alan Brown – Wolf / Brown consultants
Nobody in the field has more influence in audience development theory and approaches than Brown. His research is not only sought out and embraced, but continues to form the core of how the sector thinks about performing arts issues.

8. Adam Huttler - Executive Director, Fractured Atlas –
As one nominator put it: Fractured Atlas “delivers a fresh look at what it should mean to be a service organization, and has created a business model that is largely earned income in a field where this is very hard to do.” Huttler presides over one of the fastest growing, forward thinking service groups to emerge in the past two decades, and his challenge of the field’s past rhetoric on mission trumping business reality is resonating widely – particularly with emerging generations. His thinking on the critical importance of earned income and being a “business” is gaining traction in many corners of the sector. Definitely one to watch.

9. Doug McLennan – Publisher, The Arts Journal
Passionate, articulate and insightful publisher of Arts Journal -- which continues to grow in size, reach and influence. McLennan frames larger issues better than almost anyone. Increasingly sought after as a speaker and for his advice and opinion on a wide variety of issues, he has been everywhere in the past year.

10. Joan Shikegawa, Deputy Director, NEA
As one person noted:  “Already a major national arts leader from her years at the Rockefeller Foundation, Joan is in many ways the architect behind Rocco's vision.”

11. Jean Cook – Director of Programs, Future of Music Coalition
Gaining wide respect for ground breaking policy ideas on community engagement, diversity, advocacy and entrepreneurship, she just may be in the forefront of the model for the future -- bridging the nonprofit, academic, and even for profit sector policy makers.

Marion Godfrey - Senior Director, Cultural Initiatives, The Pew Foundation–
The Cultural Data Project continues to expand and engage, and Marion continues to hit the road to share the wealth of her experience and perspective.

John McGuirk – Program Director, Performing Arts, Hewlett Foundation
Having travelled all of California for the Irvine Foundation, now back at Hewlett, he is simply the most powerful and influential funder in a state that still ranks last in per capita state support, and where, as a consequence, foundation support is king. Just beginning to craft his own agenda. One to watch.

Daniel Windham – Director of Arts, The Wallace Foundation
Despite Wallace Foundation cutbacks and a reduced staff, he continues to criss-cross the country and the Wallace research and re-granting initiatives remain critically important in a large number of venues.

Olive Mosier - Director, Arts & Culture Program, The William Penn Foundation
Despite the Penn Foundation’s limitation of funding to Philadelphia, Mosier’s choices in the allocation of a quite large budget and her unassuming and quiet demeanor have won her admirers in many quarters.

Justin Laing, Program Officer, Arts and Culture, Heinz Endowments
As one nominator pointed out: “Justin has successfully led the Heinz Endowments into the difficult conversations about race and class in arts learning and generously shared that experience with many in the field. Under the title “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”, support from the Heinz Endowments is testing theories in arts learning that will most likely find their way into the broader fields work in the coming years.”

13. Randy Cohen – Vice-President, Local Arts Advancement, Americans for the Arts
In many ways the architect of the “value of the arts” research movement, and pioneer of some of the creative indices / economic prosperity / arts vitality research projects. As one nominator observed: “Randy can keep pace with prize-winning economists, and clearly and effectively communicate the results of these studies to non-arts people throughout the nation." Now standing-in more for Bob Lynch as AFTA’s on-the-road ambassador, he ‘s added local arts agencies to his growing portfolio. Growing influence and perhaps a candidate for the top spot when Bob does finally decide to step down.

Margy Waller, Vice President, Fine Arts Fund
Cincinnati's Fine Arts Fund recently published an important study on arts advocacy strategies, "The Arts Ripple Effect," and Waller has been its chief spokesperson. As one admirer noted: “Waller is a canny communications strategist; she knows how to pick a winning frame and sell it. She's helping to give the Fine Arts Fund a national presence and in the process is setting numerous examples for her peer organizations.”

Anne Markusen - Ph.D., Humphrey Institute for Public Policy, Univ. of Minnesota –
Here’s how one of the nominators described her: “although not an "arts person" per se, Professor Markusen is hands-down the most esteemed and influential researcher to increase the public value and profile of artists in the United States. She's responsible for establishing the "artistic dividend" concept in business, academic and urban planning circles - her voice is making a difference!”

15. Richard Kessler – Executive Director, The Center for Arts Education
No one is more outspoken, and right on the money, in his no-nonsense observations and comments about the state of arts education in America than Kessler is. Those who follow his blog regard his insights as invaluable. As one person commented: “He is an experienced, knowledgeable, dynamic thinker who pushes the envelope.”

16. Andrew Taylor – Director - Bolz Center for Arts Administration / University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Business
Still the major domo of the university based arts administration programs field, and one of the most widely read, and respected bloggers in the whole sector. Cuts to the chase and brings a different, fresh perspective to old issues and ways of thinking. If there was a national nonprofit arts brain trust, he would be on the team.

17. Sandra Gibson – Executive Director, Association for Performing Arts Presenters
You can’t consider performing arts in America and not consider the role and power of the Presenting Community. Despite this field’s wide disparity and sometimes internal disagreements, she remains their national spokesperson and champion.

18. Adrian Ellis, President and CEO, Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Described as “Just all round really smart”, Ellis is a provocative writer and speaker who can tame complex issues and bring clarity and context to their discussion.

19. Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director, Los Angeles Philharmonic
The new conductor of the LA Phil “has the enthusiasm and passion to elevate symphonic music and arts education to a national level. “ A member of the President’s Committee he is an artist / activist for the new century.

Alex Aldrich, Executive Director, Vermont Arts Council.
As one person said: “If you want to look for really creative examples of an arts agency engaging its community, look no further than Vermont”

Bob Booker - Executive Director Arizona State Arts Commission
One of the now senior state arts agency leaders, Booker continues to develop new strategies and tools to survive the bad times and keep Arizona’s arts field alive. People seek his advice and want him on their panels.

Philip Horn – Executive Director, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
Another state leader with long term experience, Horn is one of the go-to people in the NASAA membership. As one contributor noted: “He is kind of quiet. But man, does he know his stuff and always is there to help others.”

David Fraher - Executive Director – Arts Midwest.
Power broker within the Regional Arts Organization network, he is also a major player in developing international arts organization partnerships. He knows how to serve his nine state client base and understands how to apply the value arguments to local needs.

Alan Cooper – Executive Director - Mid-Atlantic Arts:
Excellent nuts & bolts programs in support of touring & presenting, Cooper, like Fraher, is also involved in the international arts scene.

Marc Vogl – Program Officer – Performing Arts, The Hewlett Foundation.
THE single most influential driving force behind the traction of the last couple of years in the Emerging Leaders arena. One of the “brains” and the one with the passion behind the major joint effort of the Irvine and Hewlett Foundations in California to support the professional development and growth of Emerging Leader networks up and down the state. Before he got involved, Emerging Leaders were a once a year meeting at a couple of conferences. He put the “there” there.

Ian Moss – Research Director – Fractured Atlas.
Unquestionably one of the most widely followed and respected new bloggers, Moss is an increasingly frequent panelist and speaker – highly sought after and generally regarded as a “comer”. Yale graduate, relentlessly inquisitive, very bright. Lots of eyes on him.

Edward Clapp – Author.
The Harvard doctoral candidate author and tireless self-promoter of the soon to be published book: “Twenty Under Forty” – a collection of essays by younger generations on issues for the sector, Clapp has been touring the country talking about real issues for Millennials. Growing influence with bright ideas and genuine respect for the next generation. Another one to watch.

22. Municipal Leaders:
Gary Steuer – Chief Cultural Officer, City of Philadelphia
Gary has moved to fill the very difficult leadership void with Peggy Amsterdam’s passing, and is now the city’s principal arts executive. Increasingly thought of as a regional and national arts leader, he is helping bring stability and vision to the greater Philadelphia cultural landscape. He writes an increasingly popular blog.

• Laura Zucker – Executive Director, Los Angeles County Commission on Arts & Culture
She continues to keep the LA Arts Commission at the top of its game despite increasing budget and political challenges. Has added the Directorship of the School of Arts & Humanities / Drucker School of Arts Management at Claremont Graduate University to her already crowded portfolio.

Victoria Hamilton – Executive Director, San Diego Office of Arts & Culture
As host of next year’s AFTA 51st Conference, and having survived assaults on the San Diego arts scene, she continues to play a national leadership role.

Michael Spring – Director Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs
Highly regarded as a national leader and innovative thinker, he continues to grow the Miami arts community. As one observer noted: “His recent Knight-funded program to create an arts review wire service as a vehicle for solving the problem of declining media coverage of the arts, is an example of his innovative thinking.”

23. Jonathan Katz – Executive Director – National Association of State Arts Agencies
NASAA fortunes continue to slide as state agencies continue to struggle, but Katz remains indefatigable as he travels tirelessly across the country sharing insights, lessons learned and keen observations about what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Those who actually listen to him benefit enormously - he knows what he is talking about.

24. Claudine Brown –Director of Education, Smithsonian Institution (former Nathan Cummings Arts Program OfficerShe continues a sphere of influence particularly (as one nominator noted) for her “thoughtful, deep work on social justice and the arts.” Plugged in with PCAH and Obama administration.

25. The Mom & Pop Multicultural Arts Executive Director and Staff – the unheralded, unsung, and far too often still ignored multi-cultural arts leaders of the small arts organizations across the country are the future of the field. While they remain sometimes invisible and without clout, they are out there and the reality of changing demographics will perhaps as soon as five years, but not longer than a decade, empower them in ways wholly unimagined today. It is unfortunate, and regrettable, that not more multicultural leaders were part of this Top 25. But time is on their side.

Jim Canales – President, The James Irvine Foundation
While it is unusual to include a major foundation president in the ranking of arts leaders, Canales has for years taken a more direct and involved role in support for the arts than any other senior foundation CEO in the country. As a nominator noted: “This might be an unconventional nomination, but he has consistently exerted leadership on behalf of the arts in the philanthropic sector, and in cities across California, on issues of arts funding, arts policy and engagement, and next generation leadership. A mighty pulpit and clearly a friend of the (arts) court.”

Mara Walker – COO, Americans for the Arts
Mara ‘s no-nonsense business approach (not to mention her organization skills) is what has enabled Bob Lynch to grow his empire over the past five years. As one person told me: “She is one hell of a business woman.”

Ra Joy – Executive Director, Illinois Arts Alliance
One of the most experienced and smartest arts advocates in the country.

Russel Willis Taylor – President & CEO, National Arts Strategies
Insightful thinker and provider of excellent services in the capacity building arena, she can see the big picture and make sense of it.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.