Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

Connecting emerging arts managers with skill-building and leadership development resources.

Showing Gratitude as an Arts Leader

As someone with a theatre/performance background, when I think of ‘gratitude’ many small moments come to mind – the little notes and gifts that sometimes appear on opening night, flowers, mush notes in the program to friends and family. Alyssa and I have spoken about gratitude traditions in ballet and I am sure there are others in other fields (the book dedication comes to mind, as well).

However, as arts leaders we may be called to express gratitude to those with whom we work, and in some cases to those who work FOR us. What are best practices in that arena?

Well, I’ve asked around – and would love to hear more from fellow emerging arts leaders – because the general info I’ve got seems that there’s not a lot of gratitude explicitly expressed. This may tie in a bit more to the too-much-work, not-enough-time mentality with which many nonprofits constantly struggle. A successful opening, fundraising campaign, office move, or even mass mailing: these are all instances with a definite end point, offering an opportunity to acknowledge everyone’s hard work. In the day-to-day, however, it’s likely more tricky. And as we are in the arts, I gather there’s a bit more pressure to arrange something ‘creative’ whether or not the brainspace or dexterity or budget exists!

In my own career, I’ve had experiences of fantastically good and fantastically bad expressions of gratitude from higher-ups: The ‘thank-you’ speech that starts out strong and meanders all over the map before petering off, finally, twenty minutes later, having not actually named all those who deserves to be named (bad); the 45-minute all-staff email acknowledging the departure of a colleague with high praise (good); the cheapo fake-crocodile shoulder bag – clearly a re-gift (bad – although I do actually still use the computer sleeve that was in side the bag – so maybe not all bad??); the night out where the drinks & nibbles flowed all night (good – nothing like free food & drink to endear one’s self to one’s staff!). This can be an interesting little mind-exercise to undertake as the holiday season approaches and the office party rears its beribonned, punchbowled head.

In my experience, however, nothing beats someone looking me in the eye and a simple ‘Well done. Thank you for all your hard work.’ (when it’s deserved, of course!) It’s a helpful place to start, anyhow!

What have been the best and worst expressions of gratitude you’ve received or made?

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