Editor's Note: In 2010, the Hewlett and Irvine foundations partnered to support organizations that are cultivating the next generation of California arts leaders through professional development, networking, and mentorship. At the time, our CEO Jim Canales posted this letter describing our interest in supporting next generation leaders. As we share an independent assessment of that initiative, we thought we'd bring the assessment to life with reflections from two initiative participants.
I know I am going to sound like an old man, but back in 2007, the idea of an emerging leader was barely a blip on the arts radar. After the idea of "next generation leadership" was introduced at a meeting at the Hewlett Foundation, I asked seven of my friends who worked in the arts to explore what we could do. I was motivated by a few different things:
It turned into a project that was even larger and more effective than I imagined. The genARTS group in Silicon Valley was invited to be part of the first Next Gen Arts Leadership Initiative in 2010, funded and supported by the Hewlett and Irvine foundations, joining networks in LA, San Francisco and San Diego.
That brought a level of credibility we never could have achieved on our own, a sense of connectedness that I never imagined, and it introduced me to the concept of professional development, which was never offered through my organization or mentioned by leadership.
I’ll admit I have had some doubts along the way about my long-term and even short-term future working in the arts. But I have persevered and here I am – the Executive Vice President of one of the largest nonprofit arts service organizations in California. I can say without hesitation that genARTS and my involvement in the Next Gen Arts Leadership Initiative was the primary catalyst for my career path and growth. Confidence. Access. Visibility. Connections. Real experience. We achieved what we set out to do when the eight of us were sitting around a table seven years ago wondering how we could further our own careers and help our arts peers.
As I look back specifically on my four years as the leader of genARTS, I absolutely loved being the face of the network. But I realized that staying in the leadership role was actually doing a disservice to everyone else on our steering committee and those waiting in the pipeline. Leadership is learned by doing. Sometimes you need to know when to move aside to let the next person lead. That is what leaders do.
Josh Russell is the Executive Vice President of Silicon Valley Creates, the former board chair of the San Jose Leadership Council, a sports and arts blogger, and the founder of genARTS Silicon Valley.
My tenure as co-chair of genARTS Silicon Valley helped lead to the organic development of the network into a horizontally structured, startup-like organization.
Prior to becoming co-chair, my experience on the steering committee was limited. I attended all the steering and marketing subcommittee meetings but was not yet fully engaged. My experience wasn’t uncommon among other steering committee members. The leadership was highly engaged in the work but those of us new to the network, or in sub-committees, were less so.
When Lisa Ellsworth and I began as co-chairs we realized that we wanted to ensure everyone was engaged, that work and information was shared, and that we were welcoming of a wide range of emerging professionals. With some restructuring we had formed a horizontal and participatory steering committee. This graphic indicates that creating more opportunities to participate was effective, since those network members who participated more often also seemed to get more value out of the network.
According to the assessment of the initiative, “While theory and observation are helpful, they are no substitute for the real-world experience of having to make difficult decisions and being held accountable for them.” Our new structure had done just that, brought accountability to a transitory and voluntary organization.
My own participation in the network has had a direct impact on my career in the arts and growth as a professional in general; genARTS provided the tether to the area’s arts community that I was sorely missing. I made connections and networked with peers and established leaders, almost from the start. That networking led to my new job at Silicon Valley Creates and the advancement of my passion project, PLSTK.com. As co-chair, I was required to think critically, speak publicly and act locally on a level that my job alone could not provide.
Implications for the Future
As more emerging arts professionals engage with our network and we continue to provide quality content, I really see genARTS as a platform for the newest, most cutting edge organizational, programmatic, and thematic experimentation. It is my goal to remain flexible to new ideas and open to new programming so that we can serve as a place from where the future of the arts is continuously being built.
Ben Daniels is the Communications Manager at Silicon Valley Creates where he manages social media, promotions and communications for both SV Creates and LiveSV.com.