My “Leadership in the Creative and Cultural Industries” course has met twice now and we are making progress toward understanding that leadership and management are not the same, that leadership can happen anywhere in an organization, and that authentic leadership results from the outward manifestation of our personal values.
Who better to guide an exercise in leading through space, time, and energy than Liz Lerman and her collaborator John Borstel? They asked the students (including me) to embody leading and following first by pairing us up, having one partner close their eyes and the other leading us on a walk around the room and adjacent hallway; then we switched. But what really hit home was the second half of the exercise. Leader led the sightless follower on a walk and then stopped and left them. The follower waiting until they were approached and then led by another participant. We proceeded in this way, with participants given agency to switch between sighted and sightless when paused, for about five minutes. As we debriefed, students talked about how they needed to feel empathy as both leader and follower, the importance of trust, and the sense of love in the room. These were personal values that had been ranked highly by the students in the previous class session’s “value cards” exercise in our first session. Experiencing these values – and that leadership is itself fluid and not necessarily tied to “rank” or “office” – was itself in-valuable. Also invaluable is the notion that learning good “followership” is as important as learning good “leadership.”
Thank you, Liz and John!
(“The Blind,” Pieter van der Heyden, public domain)
Because this past Sunday was “Purple Heart Day,” I had occasion to look at my father’s purple heart as well as his good conduct medal, inscribed with the words “fidelity,” “efficiency,” and “honor.” These are leadership values that are not unique to the military. They are also not unique to people of high rank; my father earned this medal while serving as a private (first class). Rank does not necessarily equate with leadership.
In preparation for the first session of my new course, “Leadership in the Creative and Cultural Industries,” I am reviewing my own values and preparing for my students to do the same in a values inventory exercise we’ll do in our first class session. In this exercise, each student gets a stack of 30-40 “values cards” and is asked to pull out their top ten from the deck. They are then asked to choose their top five and rank them, to consciously consider the values that drive their decision-making as leaders. I do this exercise myself at least once a year. “Honesty” has always been my top-ranked value, but this year, “empathy” took the top spot. It seems that we are in a time when empathy is more important than ever. When listening leads to understanding, discourse can lead to genuine collaboration, and collaboration to innovation.
Just a thought to start the school year…
Zelda Fichandler, who passed away last week at age 91, was a woman who knew a lot about infrastructure for the arts. She was a leader in the regional/resident theatre movement that built the institutional infrastructure of nonprofit theatres across the US; she led Arena Stage in Washington DC, creating the physical infrastructure for playwrights, directors, designers, and actors that lives on today. But here I share a personal story, a story about how Zelda helped me understand what was needed for my own creative infrastructure.
As many of you will know, Zelda Fichandler was one of the most influential theatre leaders of the 20th century. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we would not have a regional theatre without her. She had a profound effect on me personally – and not in the context one might think. In the summer of 1984, I took a job waiting tables at an Indonesian BBQ joint called “Chicken and Burger World,” (classy, right?) on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street in New York City. Little did I know it was Zelda’s go-to lunch spot. When I took her order, I was surprised that she recognized me as an NYU Design student – but she did. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “Paying my rent.” “You shouldn’t be here – you should be out designing somewhere!” She was right of course, and a couple of weeks into my Chicken and Burger World tenure, I got a call from Michael Kahn, who was running the Chautauqua Theatre Company at the time, to head up there and be the resident LD for the season. I never worked food service again. I don’t know if she had anything directly to do with getting me the job, but everything to do with helping me understand professional priorities; and understanding one’s professional priorities is a key component of our personal creative infrastructure. Thank you, Zelda! You were a force of nature.
(photo: Zelda Fichandler is welcomed to the Oval Office by President Gerald Ford, May 1975, upon receipt of her International Woman of the Year Award. Photo by White House Photographic Office, public domain.)
Creative Infrastructure is back, recharged, with a new look and a renewed focus on “thoughts and ideas about infrastructure for the arts.” Infrastructure for the arts is physical (the art studio, the rehearsal room), institutional (organizations, norms, systems), and personal (education, self-care). In its public policy and planning usage, “infrastructure,” refers to the roads, bridges, or power grids that make human interaction – and commerce – possible. In the 21st century, “infrastructure” includes digital infrastructure too: the fiber optics, cell towers, and servers that make it possible for you to read this blog on a handheld device. Just as the infrastructure required for communication has evolved from telegraph to telephone to wireless, so too infrastructure for the arts evolves over time – and across all of three dimensions of that infrastructure. Over the next several months, I’ll be posting about these evolutionary changes in our physical, personal, and institutional infrastructure environment and practices (and, occasionally, cooking).
Restoration…(something you do to inanimate furniture)
I like that. Recharging sounds active, although recharging is something our brains do automatically while we sleep. According to some new and developing research, taking time to recharge well makes us more resilient and supports creativity. So in the interest of running at fully powered and resilient creativity and curiosity, I’ll be taking some time to recharge. I encourage you to take the recharge time you need too. Happy summer!
My morning coffee was upset by an article in the NY Times that reported on a phenomenon I knew anecdotally to be true: gender-neutral tenure clock extensions for childbirth benefit men but harm women in their bids for tenure; there’s now empirical data to prove it. Let’s face it, as one business school dean put it, “giving birth is not a gender-neutral event.” Neither, I might add, is carrying a child or nursing her.
If my breakfast was moderately upset by an article affirming something I already knew, my stomach positively lurched when I read Porsche McGovern’s inventory of LORT design hiring. It is appalling that in 2016, 72.6% of all design positions are held by men and if we discount the costume design category, well over 80% of all design positions are held by men. Correlation does not mean causation, but it’s interesting to note that the numbers are slightly, but only very slightly, better when there is a female director than a male director (by “better” I mean closer to 50/50). What really makes me mad about these statistics isn’t only that they paint a skewed picture today, but that they are roughly the same – or slightly worse – than the statistics I uncovered about lighting designers over 10 years ago.
Ten years = no progress
In the recent important (and overdue) conversations about cultural equity and inclusion in the arts, the significant problem of gender inequity has gone largely unexamined except insofar as it relates to Queer and Trans people. Perhaps we mistakenly take for granted that in the arts, women have already achieved equity and inclusion. HAH! When only 19% of set design positions go to women and only 15% of lighting design positions (down from about 20% at the beginning of the century) we cannot pretend that women have achieved equity in the workplace.
It took some time for the theatre community to realize that “color-blind” casting was not the road to greater equality on our stages. We similarly need to realize, in both higher ed and in professional theater, that “gender-neutral” hiring and retention policies are not the road to achieving equality for women in academic and theatrical workplaces. We need to make affirmative choices about putting women into positions from the sound booth to the artistic director’s office. And, while you’re at it, consider that we can put a woman in the White House too, who just so happens to be the most qualified candidate for the job.
(original coffee image by Ahlram Anashri, CC 4.0; Vera Project photo by Joe Mabel)
CJ Hendry’s artwork in flight. Photo by Darren McDonald
I’ve been a bit distracted lately from my core focus of writing about “thoughts and ideas about infrastructure for the arts.” First, there was the hideousness and chaos of the current presidential race; then the tragedy of the Orlando massacre; followed by a surge of hope about a Senate vote on sensible gun legislation that quickly became acute disappointment; and then hope again as House members occupy the floor for a day (they are still there as I write this). But is this really a distraction? Or is it the context for art-making in 2016?
After the mass shooting in Tucson that killed 6 and wounded 12 others, I paused for a moment of silence, posting a blank page here. After Newtown, I paused again, at first at a loss for words, but then pleading for the arts sector to lead a culture of love and empathy. There have been over 1000 mass shootings since then – including the recent and most deadly in Orlando: 50 dead, including the shooter. Now, along with building a culture of love and empathy, the arts community needs to take action. Every community needs to take action. We need political change at the local level, at the state level, and eventually at the federal level.
I can’t get on a plane without showing ID, emptying my pockets, and taking off my shoes, but I can go to the corner store and buy ammunition for a semi-automatic rifle. Like a line from The World Turned Upside Down, made famous again by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but which laments the removal of charity from the celebration of Christmas: “Kill a thousand men, or a Town regain, we will give thanks and praise amain.” Bring back charity, empathy, love – act now to stop the killing. And if you’re an artist, make your art matter now, when we really really need it – this is the context we live in. Make it big like CJ Hendry, or make it small in your neighborhood, but make it, tweet it, call your congressman.
Here are some arts action against gun violence websites, articles, and other info: