Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

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

From small talk to code switching…

I recently came across a blog that NPR started earlier this year called “Code Switch” which delves into the frontiers of race, culture, and ethnicity. Code switching, according to their blog, is a linguistics term that encompasses how we mix and meld language and speech patterns. The bloggers, a team of 6 different people, are looking at this phenomenon in its broadest sense in “the different spaces we each inhabit and the tensions of trying to navigate between them.”

I’ve been fascinated by this term ever since I first learned about it in an “Intro to Anthropology” course at college, primarily because it was a light bulb moment of, “Oh yeah! I’ve been doing that for years!” I heard the term a year after I had studied abroad in Ireland. At that time, the US was not viewed so favorably by other countries, and so while in Ireland I often adopted a longer “o” sound and threw in an “eh” at the end of my phrases to sound more Canadian (I’m from MN, so admittedly this wasn’t hard to do). But you know what? It worked! And my consciousness of code switching has only increased since then as the spaces I’ve entered since then–graduate school, a different state, the “arts professional” world, etc.–has grown.  Anyone who has ever been to graduate school knows full well the “academic speak” that you’re forced to adopt and use in order to survive and graduate!

But as an arts educator and someone deeply invested in community engagement, the concept of code switching strikes me as particularly important in how I conduct my day to day business. I work in numerous communities throughout the city of Pittsburgh with people from varying backgrounds and partner with numerous organizations, but I do so in my current position as a representative of a classical art form. A tension arises between how you can maintain the integrity of who you are (or in my case, what I represent–an artistic tradition strongly steeped in the traditions of white European court culture) while at the same time meeting people where they are, with respect to the content of the conversation, vocabulary used, and the patterns and style of my speech when I’m talking. Let me tell you straight up that I speak very differently with my peers at a PEAL Happy Hour when I’m discussing ballet than I do with preschoolers or with older adults who are subscribers to the ballet (noticed how I just code switched there? I feel that you–the nebulous readership of this blog–are my peers. “Straight up” would not enter into the conversation with the other two groups I mentioned!).  The idea of code switching absolutely encompasses race, but also so much more, and I appreciate the bloggers at NPR for their discussion on the topic.

In some ways, we’re talking small talk–how can we interact in the moment with the people who are right in front of us in a way that is authentic to both’s lived experiences? In some ways, we’re talking about situational leadership, a concept drilled into me this past year through the Arts Education Collaborative’s Leadership Academy, whereby you change your style of leadership depending upon who’s in the room in order to affect the most change and meet your objectives. In some ways, code switching is just another name for marketing of ourselves and of our product. In other ways, we’re talking about how we communicate on such a fundamental level, beyond just words, but also our body language. The fact that I stand up tall most of the time–something I’ve worked hard to do to ease the tension in my back–often leads people to believe I’m a ballet dancer, which is flattering and might have been somewhat true 10 years ago, but not so much anymore. I wonder–do those people who remark on my posture take me as more of an “expert” in ballet simply by the way I carry myself? What would happen to their perception of me if I slouched in my chair?

So my questions are this:

  1. How do you code switch–or not–in your personal or professional lives? Why do you choose or not choose to code switch?
  2. How can we as arts managers use the concept of code switching to engage new audiences? In  the art itself? In how we present it (marketing)? In how we teach about what we do?

Alyssa Herzog Melby is the Director of Education and Community Engagement for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Other spheres she navigates: motherhood, young arts professionals, DIY homesteading, and her church community. 

Spotlight on…Amy Garbark

Pittsburgh’s great. Have we mentioned that before?!? This entire month there has been so much energy around celebrating women artists in honor of International Women’s History Month, from the Kelly-Strayhorn’s Sun Star Festival to SWAN Day Pittsburgh 2013 and many other events. We’re going to round out our brief exploration of women artists in Pittsburgh* by spotlighting Amy Garbark, founder/owner/artist behind garbella, a company that specializes in hand screen-printed apparel, accessories, and home decor.  I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Amy for several years now and am in awe of her entrepreneurial spirit and passion. And although she echoes the sentiment that Pittsburgh’s great, I would argue that she–and all of artists we have here in Pittsburgh–make it so.

Portrait of Amy Garbark

Amy Garbark, owner of garbella

1.   Describe your current work with garbella. Why did you decide to start your own business, and how has it grown? I have always been a maker.

I went to school for Art, I worked as an Art Teacher, and then for an Arts-based non-profit. I have always had some kind of creative outlet.  In 2006, I opened an Etsy shop (at the time it was a new online marketplace to sell handmade work).  During that time, I was having so much fun crafting: sewing, making jewelry and clocks out of bicycle parts, buttons, etc.  I didn’t sell much, but it was fun!  I kept making and then decided to make a t-shirt for myself and friends.  I went to an open studio at Artist Image Resource to print it and I was hooked!  I spent a few weeks riding my bike to the Northside with a ton of t-shirts in my messenger bag. After being accepted to Handmade Arcade in 2008, I decided to set up a little screenprinting studio in my basement so that I could prepare without the bike commute.  My husband had just found an old table-top screenprint press that somebody was throwing away; it was perfect.  My DIY studio set-up was not pretty, but it definitely got the job done!

Slowly, but surely, people started buying from me on Etsy and I started traveling to other cities for indie craft shows.  I did this for the next two years while working full-time and the business slowly grew.  In 2010, I had a meeting with a woman who contacted me on Etsy saying she was going to be opening a card and gift shop in Pittsburgh and she’d like to carry my work.  That woman was Rebecca Morris, the store is Wildcard (in Lawrenceville), and that’s how I got my first wholesale account!  Now, I have more than 50 wholesale accounts and this is my full-time job.

It has been fun to see people that I don’t know wearing garbella- It happens with more frequency now and it’s usually people that I don’t know! My brother recently sent me a photo of a guy wearing one of my shirts in San Diego, a friend spotted a Pro Skateboarder wearing a shirt in a Thrasher Magazine video, and my Mom found a discontinued, old garbella design at the Goodwill!

2.   How have the arts helped you become a leader and entrepreneur? What skill sets did you have to acquire?

The arts have helped me to connect with a supportive, vibrant community in Pittsburgh.  As a maker, I connected early on with lots of creative folks in Pittsburgh and developed relationships that have been vital to my success.  I meet with a group of creative small-businesses once a week over early AM coffee to talk about ideas, share experiences and struggles. Having this kind of support from other artists has been essential to my growth as a leader and entrepreneur.  I feel like I am continually needing to learn new skill sets as my business grows, but generally I have had to develop business and marketing skills.  Oh, and how to juggle working a full-time job at a non-profit with a growing business on the side!

3.   How did you become a leader in your field? What has been your greatest success as a leader and entrepreneur?

What has been your biggest challenge?   It’s an honor to be thought of as a leader and I think this has been a slow process.  My greatest successes have come from setting big goals (the kind that scare you) and pursuing them with determination and purpose.  My greatest challenge has been making the time and space to create new work while managing all aspects of my business.  I still struggle with this issue, but am working on it.

 4.   Why is it important for women to create their own opportunities in the arts?

I definitely think it is important to create your own opportunities in the arts because you are your own best advocate.  Pittsburgh is a city in which you can do this and I think that is what makes this city so interesting and exciting.  I love to hear about all of the awesome new projects, collectives, shows and events happening around the city.

Handmade Arcade, I Made It! Market, Wildcard are three local organizations/businesses that really, really helped me get this little business off the ground.  All three have women at the helm that have created their own opportunities while also supporting and creating lots of opportunities for women and men.  There are many others that have helped the business grow and I’m grateful for all of them, but these 3 really were integral to garbella’s growth.

5.   What advice would you give to emerging women (or of both genders) artists and arts administrators?

Work hard. Do your best to figure out what makes you feel fulfilled and then pursue that with passion.  Create a community and network of supporters: support others and let yourself be supported.   Set some big goals and take some risks. Whether you succeed or fail, you will be better for it.  “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”


From start to finish, all products are drawn, designed, and  hand screen-printed by Amy Garbark in Pittsburgh, PA.   She studied Fine Art at Alfred University and spent a few years as a Public school Art Teacher, followed by several years as a Program Director for an arts-based non-profit.  During this time, she set up a screen-printing studio to work on personal projects and quickly developed a passion for printing.  Since 2008, Amy Garbark has been exhibiting at retail shows across the United States, developing new lines, and creating long-lasting relationships with customers and retail stores. When not working in the studio, Amy can be found connecting with youth and community through teaching, cooking, renovating her house, riding bikes, hanging with Steevo, and traveling to indie craft shows across the United States.

*Our spotlight on women artist in Pittsburgh was very very brief…please forgive us for not being able to do more. But hey–if you’ve got a suggestion for someone to spotlight in the future, let us know!

Spotlight on…Tressa Glover

In honor of International Women’s History Month, PEAL is spotlighting a few women around town who are making things happen. First up is Tressa Glover, Producing Artistic Director of No Name Players and co-founder of SWAN Day Pittsburgh.

Describe your current work with No Name Players and SWAN Day. Why did you start SWAN Day Pittsburgh, and how has it grown over the years?
I’ve been Producing Artistic Director of No Name Players since 2005. When I first learned about SWAN Day, I knew No Name Players needed to produce an event in celebration of it because of its importance to both women and the arts as a whole.  Artistic Director Don DiGiulio and I decided that, in addition to theatre artists, we wanted our SWAN Day event to include artists of multiple disciplines.  SWAN Day Pittsburgh 2013 will mark our 5th annual SWAN Day event.

Having been born and raised in Pittsburgh and having worked as an actor here, I was well aware of the large number of amazingly talented women artists who make Pittsburgh their home.  And I was also aware that there were, across the board, less working female artists in the city than male artists. Creating a SWAN Day Pittsburgh event would be one way to bring attention to these women artists and hopefully increase awareness of, and generate a larger following for, every female artist in Pittsburgh.

Our first SWAN Day Pittsburgh event involved 37 local artists and 2 crew members. It featured both world premiere and existing works.  SWAN Day Pittsburgh 2013 will involve 92 local artists, 9 crew members and all of the pieces will be world premieres inspired by interviews with girls and women from the Pittsburgh area. In 2012, we were honored to be named an International SWAN Day partner alongside producers in Kenya, Bulgaria, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida.

How have the arts helped you become a leader? What skill sets did you have to acquire?
My training as an actor has given me a greater awareness of others as well as myself and an appreciation for different points of view.  It also requires compassion, strong listening skills, creativity, and focus. Being a producer has required organization, determination, attention to detail, and confidence. I believe these qualities and skills are vital for a leader.

How did you become a leader in your field? What has been your greatest success as a leader? What has been your biggest challenge?
Hard work and determination. I consider my greatest success thus far to be when No Name Players was named an international SWAN Day partner by SWAN Day Co-founder Martha Richards. I’m also very proud of the fact that we’re about to produce our 8th season of theatre here in Pittsburgh.  The greatest challenge has been building and maintaining a stable audience base.

Why is it important for women to become active leaders at all levels (emerging, established, etc) in the arts? Why do you think there is such a disparate lack of representation of women at the higher levels of arts administration?
Though all women are individuals, there is a unique female point of view that we all possess that needs to be represented . Our strengths, talents, thoughts, and voices are essential to every discussion at all levels so that we may learn from and mentor each other, as well as our male counterparts.  In addition, it’s important for younger girls to see women in leadership positions; it gives those girls the confidence to become leaders themselves.
I honestly don’t know why there’s a lack of representation of women at the higher level of arts administration, other than to say that it’s that way in most fields, and the arts are unfortunately following suit. I do believe that change is happening, that there is now a greater awareness of this lack of female representation and that it is unacceptable. But I think this change will be a slow process.

What advice would you give to emerging artists and arts administrators?
Don’t give up. Remember that your voice and your specific talent are substantial and valuable and are unique to this world. Learn from others as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask – you never know what the answer might be.

Tressa Glover’s first venture with No Name Players came when she appeared as Thyona in its 2004 production of Big Love. She became Producing Artistic Director of the company in 2005. Tressa has worked as an actor in New York and Chicago and has appeared locally with Pittsburgh Public Theater, Quantum Theatre, City Theatre, Bricolage, Pittsburgh Playwrights, Thank You Felix Productions, The Theatre Factory, Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, Microscopic Opera Company, Off the Wall Productions, and The Summer Company, among others. Tressa is also an Acting Instructor at Act One Theatre School in the North Hills and a Teaching Artist for City Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival.

Women in the Arts

This month, PEAL will be celebrating and honoring women artists in recognition of International Women’s History Month. Subscribe to our blog to read all about it!

In the style of Jane Eyre…

Dear Reader,

I am increasingly perplexed by a conundrum that I encounter daily in my work as a woman in the arts: where oh where are the women leaders? Well, scratch that. There are plenty of them. I need only look to our very own Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Steering Committee to see that there are plenty of women leaders. But as noted, they are emerging. Look towards the lists of established leaders (and you may decide for yourself what that means–I deduce that it’s any person with significant–read: 15+ years–of experience) and that number becomes quite small. Why oh why??

I had the pleasure of facilitating a conversation around this very subject this past Saturday at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on the art form that I currently work in (classical dance) and am delighted to be sitting on a panel tomorrow, Thursday, March 7, at 6:30 pm the Alloy Studios about this topic. People are talking about this problem–and I frankly do see it as a problem in our field. For instance, Victoria Morgan from the Cincinnati Ballet noted while researching in preparation for creating a mixed repertory production comprised of exclusively female choreographers that of all the 290 ballets being produced by ballet companies with a budget greater than $5 million dollars, 25–read: twenty five or 11.6%–were choreographed by women. And that’s for an art form that has one of the highest percentages of women artists within its ranks. The SWAN Day website lists many more resources specific to different art forms that tell a similar story.

But if in fact there is no dearth of women leaders in the arts, particularly at the emerging level, how can we, dear reader, nurture women leaders in the arts–both artists and managers–to bring them to that next level, whatever that might be?

We’ll be exploring this question all month, but if you have any thoughts–please share!



Alyssa Herzog Melby is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Accessibility is an Asset–Part 2

Some of you may have read my first post on Accessibility from August. But even if you didn’t, I thought now is the perfect time to revisit the subject, especially since Pittsburgh had the pleasure of hosting Betty Siegel, Director of the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) from the Kennedy Center on February 13 for the first workshop in this spring’s “Adventures in Accessibility: A Journey toward Inclusion” series from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Betty made her case for why accessibility is an asset to a group of over 60 people from various arts and cultural organizations in Pittsburgh. Her presentation started off with going over the various models of thinking about disability, and she posited that the United States is in the midst of transitioning from the medical to the rights model, a model encapsulated in its model “Nothing about us without us.” Then she presented a historical scope of the laws that govern the civil rights of people with disability and the implications of those laws for us non-profit organizations. Vanessa Braun, the Accessibility Consultant and Educational Liaison for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, also spoke about the Trust’s and other arts organizations’ strides in accessibility in the past year–and there were many many examples she cited.

Some of the attendees who heard her presentation were at the highest level of decision making power–board members, executive directors, and senior staff. Others were individuals who would be on the front line of making accessibility happen–marketing,ticketing, and community engagement personnel. Still others were simply just interested in the topic and wanted to learn more about it. And then there were some organizations who brought many–upwards of 10-15 people–to the event.

This wide make-up of attendees hits at the heart of her presentation and begins to help us define the crux of her argument: good accessibility is good for everyone. How? Accessibility within an organization cannot be achieved by just one person alone. It can be started that way, but it requires many hands to sustain and grow the services and accommodations you provide. Does this sound familiar? Like any change in organizational culture, it takes many and it takes time. To see such a wide variety of people there shows that this topic means something for not just those people who need or request the services, and not just those people who are passionate about inclusion, but everyone.

I personally was so excited and heartened to see such a large group in attendance, and I know I wasn’t the only one. Betty even pointed out how the community of Pittsburgh is primed and poised to become a national model for accessibility and inclusion in the arts. She remarked more than once on how we’re coming together in ways that she has never seen a community do before. So once again–accessibility isn’t only an asset to each of our organizations, but our community as a whole. It’s a great time to be living and working in the arts in Pittsburgh!!

I hope to see more of you at the upcoming workshops that GPAC is hosting this spring. 

Alyssa Herzog Melby is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. 

The Next Generation of Arts Leaders

Since the world didn’t end today (yeah!), we thought it was time to look forward. Katherine Schouten from the Masters of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University is our guest blogger today. Pittsburgh is blessed to have such a fantastic program to train the next generation of, well, us! Here’s more about what she has to say about the program and the exciting things they are bringing to Pittsburgh’s art scene:

Final exams are done. Grades are all submitted. Students have dispersed to home towns and countries for the winter holidays. Hamburg Hall is conspicuously quiet. The fall semester of the Master of Arts Management (MAM) program at Carnegie Mellon University has reached its end, giving faculty and students alike a chance to relax and reflect on what has been, for all, several eventful months.

August saw the introduction of the 25th incoming class to the MAM program. As an academic discipline, arts management is still a relatively young field, so that the MAM program is celebrating its silver anniversary is a major milestone indeed. Only a handful of programs in the country are older, and only the MAM program at CMU combines rigorous quantitative training, managerial skills, and practical experience to prepare its graduate students to serve in this nation’s next generation of nonprofit leaders. Those new to the program (myself included) learned to flex analytical muscles around a host of current challenges and trends in the arts industry, a practice that will be deepened in coming courses. Those in the second year of the program undertook in-depth systems projects, working with regional clients to tackle an issue specific to their organization, and most importantly, to propose a solution.

Together we listened to esteemed professionals as part of the monthly MAM Speaker Series, including Terre Jones, CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, and Rick Lester, Founder & CEO of TRG Arts. And in collaboration with MAM alumni, faculty, Pittsburgh-area arts managers, and keynote speaker Doug McLennan (Founder & Editor of ArtsJournal), we launched the first annual Symposium on Arts Management and Innovation. The day-long event explored questions of audience and community engagement, technological innovations, communications strategies, and artist contracts.

Integral to the MAM program are the remarkable relationships we are privileged to have with Pittsburgh’s robust cultural community. As we look ahead to 2013, we endeavor to connect with more of our fellow emerging arts leaders in Pittsburgh and beyond. To that end, we invite all PEAL participants to join the MAM program at future MAM Speaker Series events (next up: Max Wagner, January 18); watch videos of this year’s Symposium panels; save the date for the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Pre-Conference in June; and follow us on Twitter (@CMU_MAM). Our hope is that by intermingling the knowledge, experiences, resources, and insights among us, we will all be better equipped to boldly and creatively lead.

To register for Max Wagner’s lecture on January 18 or for future speakers, visit Heinz College Events.

Are you, an intern, or colleague are interested in furthering your arts management education? Applications for the 2013–2013 academic year are due on January 10. For more information, see Heinz College Application Process.


Musings on Traditions in the Arts

The Nutcracker at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, my place of employment.  A Musical Christmas Carol at the Pittsburgh CLO.  The Chief at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.  The Holiday Pops at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Holiday Unwrapped at Attack Theatre. Whether we who work in the arts like it or not, as with everything else that comes with the holiday season, performing arts organizations in particular seem to have their own traditions that they celebrate. Traditions in the arts allow us to celebrate our artistic past in the contemporary present, but at what expense and to what end? Or, if looked at from a positive perspective, why are these holiday traditions important to keep (if some may feel otherwise)?

Thomas Cott from “You’ve Cott Mail” sent out in his daily wrap up from December 6 five separate pieces all tackling this issue. A tension seemed to exist in these articles regarding the necessity of appreciating these traditions and the desire to find a new tradition or at the very least something refreshing.  But won’t that new tradition ultimately become the same staid tradition that so many seem to simultaneously enjoy and despise? And since when did something or someone ever set out to become a “tradition?” I’m not really sure we have the power to control that. But traditions—as they should be—provide a backbone, a stabilizing force, in the seas of change that non-profits constantly find themselves in.

Let us not forget, too, the ever important factor that money plays in this whole game as well. With such “valued” traditions comes with a certain responsibility of organizations to uphold, maintain, and build upon this perceived cultural value—whether or not it advances the art form. And let’s be honest—as a few of the articles from You’ve Cott Mail pointed out—these holiday traditions help keep the doors open.

Certainly, these traditions are for many their first introduction to a particular art form, something that entices them back to another production or event. Perhaps we need to think of these traditions as “gateway drugs.” Or if nothing else a sugar high that the consumer will hopefully remember a few days from now.

But then there are the traditions internal to our art forms. Whether it’s the obligatory “break a leg” in theatre or “merde” in dance before a performance, small thank you gifts that actors leave one another in theatre, the shuffling of the feet for applause that occurs in symphonies, or the flowers that are given to the principal ballerina’s at the end of every performance, there are traditions that even those of us who might balk at the “traditional holiday performances” still participate in. Superstitious? Perhaps. Obligation? That might be part of it. Or is it that we feel a responsibility to others in our professions to partake in these traditions, whether or not we find value in them, because they have become meaningful to the art form and reinforce our artistic communities?

And then what to do with those things coined as new “traditions”—Midnight Radio at Bricolage Production Company, for instance (and yes—someone from the organization mentioned a review describing Midnight Radio as ‘a fun fall theater tradition’)? Is something so edgy and artistically innovative as Midnight Radio diminished or enhanced by thinking about it as a “tradition?” Innovative and traditional are two adjectives I would not immediately put together, and yet there they are.

Readers, what are your musings about traditions in the arts during this whirlwind holiday season? And what other holiday art traditions am I  missing that are also important (especially among visual, literary, and media arts–help me out!)?

GPAC Annual Meeting Takeaways

This morning I had the pleasure of sitting in the theatre of the August Wilson Center with almost 400 of my fellow arts leaders from the Pittsburgh community at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s annual meeting. The energy in the room was palpable (likely from the gigantic pastries they were serving us for breakfast and the large vats of coffee they had available. Trust me–not complaining, but just a simple observation. I digress…), and from the updates from GPAC staff and board members to the down-to-earth, quite funny keynote from Americans for the Arts CEO Robert L. Lynch, the meeting left me feeling motivated and rejuvenated to continue doing what I’m doing. That’s always a good thing 🙂 Kudos to GPAC for putting together a great meeting of the minds!

The meeting contained many salient takeaways for me.

  • Coming out of a recession (or still in one, depending upon your viewpoint), GPAC has managed to increase their artist opportunity maximum grant awards from $1500 to $2500. How cool is that??? Of course, they couldn’t do it without the pretty amazing foundation community we have in Pittsburgh. Doubly cool!
  • We need to be loud and we need to be proud of what we do as artists for the communities we live in. We have economic impact. We have social impact. We have emotional impact. We have political impact (thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, Senator Costa!). We have personal impact. And we have larger community impact. Let’s celebrate this–and be loud when we do it! Thanks for the reminder, Bob. This especially was the kind of  positive statement that I needed to hear.
  • Pittsburgh’s got it going on. 7 different arts-related national conventions coming to town this year. Our Cultural District serving as a national model for urban revitalization and renewal. The support of local foundations and corporations is immense (see bullet #1). And of course–we have the art! All kinds, all sizes, everywhere–in our theatres, in our galleries, in our streets, and in our homes. This is not something that everyone is so fortunate to have in their communities. We have art!

And there’s sooo many more points from the meeting I could talk about, but I want to hear from you. What were your favorite points or takeaways from today’s GPAC annual meeting??

Established Leaders: the Arts Education Collaborative

The topic has come up numerous times at our PEAL steering committee meetings, our Happy Hours, and our larger events that we, as emerging leaders, have so much to learn from established leaders in our field. This interview is the first in a series where we do just that. Watch the blog for more interviews to come throughout the year, and if you have a recommendation for an established leader we should interview, let us know by dropping us an email at PghEALNetwork@gmail.com.

Our first interview in the series is with two women I have had the honor and privilege of getting to know over the past year, Dr. Sarah Tambucci, Director, and Jamie Kasper, Associate Director, of the Arts Education Collaborative (AEC). AEC states this as their mission: “We strengthen education by making the arts central to learning through collaboration, research, and advocacy,” but I can tell you from personal experience that they do so much more in practice beyond this very succinct description! I have had the wonderful experience of participating in their Leadership Academy (along with our fearless PEAL leader, Jen Macasek), and I encourage any arts educator from an arts and cultural organization to take advantage of this year-long, low-cost (only $100!!!) professional development opportunity with AEC. Learn more about everything they do by visiting their website.

So Sarah and Jamie, tell us about a formative, learning experience when you were an “emerging leader.”

Sarah: When I was President-Elect of the National Art Education Association, the Executive Director, Tom Hatfield, asked me what my platform would be for my presidency in two years.  I really hadn’t thought about it.  But now the expectation for me to actually be prepared to lead was laid out in front of me.  I spent the next two years listening, watching and learning so that I understood the environment for art education and could do not what I wanted to do, but serve the organization in developing a shared vision for my term.

Jamie: When I started at the PA Department of Education, I was fresh out of the classroom with little formal leadership experience. I clearly remember sitting in my first staff meeting at the Department and not understanding about 75% of what was being said. Instead of asking questions (and looking even more clueless than I felt), I noted all the things I didn’t understand and either followed up with my colleagues later or researched until I found the answers I needed. That helped me build relationships with my fellow curriculum specialists.

Describe a challenge in leadership that you have encountered and how you overcame that.

Sarah: I believe that mastering situational leadership has been a challenge.  Each situation calls for a different approach to leading.  I think that being a better listener has been key to developing some skill in applying situational leadership.  Asking good questions then follows.  What is he really saying?  What is she really asking?  Where is the opportunity in this initiative?

Jamie: When I was tasked with getting together the team to write the curriculum frameworks for the Standards Aligned System, I purposely chose people who didn’t agree with me because they brought different ideas to the work. However, that meant that I had to make sure there were ample opportunities for team members’ voices to be heard while still keeping the goals in sight. In the end, I think it was important to carefully plan and anticipate places where there could be difficulty. As Sarah said, this was about applying situational leadership and knowing when to use different strategies; at any particular moment, did I need to deal with a difficult person, provide leadership in the content, or just provide logistical support so the team could work?

How did you know that you had become an established leader in your field?

Sarah: One definition of leadership is service.  When I have opportunities to serve, I am most satisfied.

Jamie: I’m not sure that I would call myself an established leader in our field, but it’s nice when you’re asked for an opinion or contacted because an established leader suggested you.

What personal qualities would you suggest to our emerging arts leaders that they should cultivate?

Sarah: Listening is an important skill.  We learn much by listening and ‘reading’ non-verbal cues.  Reflecting is an imperative.  Taking the time to think about what just happened in a meeting, lesson, or interaction can help one to dissect and analyze.

Jamie: Believe it or not, Sarah and I answered this question separately yet both identified listening as an important skill. In fact, listening is the most important skill to me: not listening while formulating what will come out of my mouth next, but listening carefully and trying to connect what I’m hearing to things I already know.

Another important quality is integrity. I think it’s so important, in a time when we have access to so much personal information, that everything I share publicly represents the way I want to be viewed, even if I’m sharing only with friends. In an article I was reading last week, an educational technologist talked about teaching children that they don’t leave digital footprints; they leave digital tattoos. Our digital tattoos should reflect our professionalism as well as our personality.

How have you continued to grow as a leader?

Sarah: When I admire and respect someone else’s approach or way of thinking or working, I try to take the best from the model.  Right now, I am working on being less judgmental and constantly trying to see things from multiple perspectives.  This is getting harder for me, not easier.  I think that the older or more experienced one becomes, we have a tendency to be more confident about our own judgments.  It is important to never be too confident.  In my world, any asset taken to extremes becomes a liability.  Too much confidence is a dangerous thing.

Jamie: I read, probably too much: blogs, articles, books, Facebook wall posts, tweets, ingredients on the shampoo bottle, pretty much anything. For me, it’s not so much about being a leader, but being informed and having an opinion on the important issues in our field…and apparently on issues not at all related to arts education.

Any last advice to emerging leaders?

Jamie: I think I have a wish for emerging leaders more than advice. I hope that you find an established leader who is willing to share what they know with you as readily as Sarah has shared with me. And maybe the advice is this: if you don’t have that person in your life right now, go out and find him or her, even if you have to look outside of our field.

Here’s a bit more about each of our interviewees:

Dr. Sarah Tambucci

Dr. Sarah Tambucci is Director of the Arts Education Collaborative. Her experience as a visual arts teacher, department chair, and principal provides her with extensive experience in education and the arts. In addition, Dr. Tambucci has been an adjunct faculty member at Carlow University, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. Among her most noteworthy leadership positions is Past President of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) and Past President of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association (PAEA). She is the author of numerous articles on issues related to leadership and policy influencing. Dr. Tambucci serves on advisory boards and committees that support arts and education throughout the region, state, and nation. Among many tributes, she is the 2006 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Leadership in Arts Education. She is a passionate advocate for the role of the arts as part of a comprehensive education.

Jamie KasperJamie Kasper is Associate Director of the Arts Education Collaborative.  She began her career as a music educator in the Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  She returned to her home state in 2002 to work as a music educator in the Bermudian Springs School District in Adams County, Pennsylvania.  Ms. Kasper took the position of Fine Arts and Humanities Advisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 2007.  She came to the Arts Education Collaborative in 2010.

I want to thank Sarah and Jamie so much for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. As with every encounter with them, I learn something new. Here are a few of my take aways:

  • Listen openly, then ask questions (and don’t be afraid to ask questions.)
  • More of a question for further exploration, but how we can best maintain our professional integrity amidst the world of “digital tattoos” (love that term!). P.S. I applaud Jamie for her picture. While it might forever be a digital tattoo of hers, we have to remember to still have fun. 🙂
  • Never be too confident–always be ready to learn from your experiences and from others
  • Leadership is service (such an important thing to remember!)
  • Find a mentor…or two…or maybe even three. Speaking of bullet #4, perhaps this is a way PEAL could be of service to other emerging arts leaders in Pittsburgh, by establishing a mentor program for emerging arts leaders??? Thoughts??

Diversity in the arts is ____________

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported last night’s Creative Conversation on “Cultivating Diversity” at the Union Project! We know there was a lot going on last night, but it was clear by our large crowd of 46 participants that this was a topic of great importance to our local arts community. I was honored to be on the panel with such smart, impressive people–Joseph Hall, Bee Schindler, and Alecia Shipman–and facilitated by our own local expert on the issue, Chase Patterson.

As an educator, I’m big on takeaways, or what people are taking away from the event. I totally want to hear what your takeaways from the night are, and to get the conversation started, here are some “big ideas” that I left with:

Diversity in the arts is _________

  • Inclusion
  • Relevant (and relevancy)
  • Intentional
  • not a “one night stand” marketing push
  • finding bridges and advocates
  • from the top-down in leadership
  • all about the programming, both of the art and the value-added pieces
  • recognition and acknowledgement of your gaps
  • action
  • practicing what  you preach

What is your answer to the statement, “Diversity in the arts is ________”?

What ideas or questions are still percolating?

What topics or issues weren’t addressed last night that you wish we would have touched upon?

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