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What Do Arts Leaders Really Need?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Last week, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation released a new report showing implications for the nonprofit arts sector as a whole and for individual organizations striving to keep pace with rapid demographic change. Read Hewlett's blog below:


March 14, 2016 — By John McGuirk

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program invests in arts leadership because we believe the vitality of the sector is fundamentally dependent on the quality of its leadership. As part of our commitment to strengthening leadership, we recently commissioned Open Mind Consulting to conduct research—including in-depth interviews with Bay Area, California, and national arts leaders—to help shape our future investments.

Today, we are releasing a new report, “Moving Arts Leadership Forward: A Changing Landscape,” because we believe the findings have implications that go far beyond our grantmaking. They show how different generations experience their work in the arts sector and highlight how the differences affect engagement, innovation, and other factors critical to the success of individual arts organizations and the health of the field as a whole.

Written by my colleague Emiko Ono, who has led this work for the Performing Arts Program, the report explains the research and contains recommendations for the field, as well as more detail on our plans for responding to the findings. It also contains a quiz that we encourage you to take to learn more about your organization’s approach to cross-generational leadership and begin a conversation about what that approach means for your work.

At the heart of the findings is a challenged definition of “leadership.” Members of younger generations often see leadership as the fostering of a culture of connectedness, collaboration, and change—they believe leadership is rooted in the efforts of many. This view is in contrast to the more traditional, hierarchical structures and practices of many arts organizations and funders.

What is at stake in this ongoing conversation about the meaning of leadership? Arts organizations must make the most of their talent, or risk driving away potential leaders who are ready to contribute, reluctant to “wait for their turn,” and who have the entrepreneurial chops to find other ways to realize their ambitions.