July 3, 2017 | By Christopher Stuessy | Back to blog

Over the past six months, the 1st year (now 2nd year!) students of the Bolz Center had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with consulting and program evaluation thanks to an amazing partnership with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) as part of their Dawson Research Initiative. After attending the annual APAP|NYC conference in January where we had our first interaction with the organization and the members of their Leadership Fellows Program (LFP), we were tasked with surveying the LFP Fellows in order to prepare a formal evaluation of the execution and the impact of the program to the participants and to the broader industry.

In addition to the consulting work during the regular school year, APAP also generously welcomes a Bolz Fellow to continue the evaluation over the summer in their Washington D.C. office. Having engaged with the LFP evaluation since the beginning of the year, I began my time this summer with certain expectations and beliefs on how the LFP functioned. However, it wasn’t until being able to attend the on-site element of the program, held on the campus of the University of Southern California, that I truly understood what makes this program stand out among the wealth of leadership programs out there.

The LFP Experience

When asked about the intent for the program back when it started in 2015, co-founder Ken Foster stated, “We want them to be shaken out of their usual way of thinking and doing, and then reassess and apply that to their work.”

Going into the 5-week intensive with the newest cohort of Fellows, I expected this to mean we would have rousing discussions about the state of the industry, brainstorming sessions on new business models, and deep conversations around how arts organizations can adapt to survive and thrive in a changing world. While those conversations are important (and were all eventually brought forth), I quickly realized that the intent of the LFP is not to simply empower the next generation of arts leadership, but to holistically create effective arts leadership by focusing on the person, not their profession.

At the start of the program, the new Fellows participate in a 5-day intensive, a chance to step out of their day-to-day roles as arts administrators, providing them a space where they can spend time reflecting and sharing amidst a group of mid-career arts professionals. With featured facilitators such as Liz Lerman and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, creators and innovators in the arts, the Fellows dived deep within themselves to evaluate their role in the world and how they wish to bring their unique viewpoints and passions to their own artistic endeavors.

A session with Carmen Morgan of artEquity allowed for discussions of diversity, privilege, and intersectionality, focusing on how when one can be honest about their place in the world are they then able to help affect change in their communities. The intensive wrapped up with Ken Foster, director of the Arts Leadership Program at USC, bringing the intensive’s more introspective moments to a broader industry perspective, using a lens of resiliency and building sustainability into the work that arts leaders will need to do moving forward.

While the intensive is very much an exercise in individual building, the reunion of the members of the current cohort (who started their work at a similar intensive one year previously) is about bringing the work of the individuals back together to focus more on industry-building. After presenting to each other the work they had been engaging in for the past year, the group recognized common themes among the projects they had undertaken and are now looking toward ways in which their own work can help to bring forth new industry knowledge. The members of the reunion were also treated to an amazing experience when they ventured to Santa Monica to engage in performance art with Tim Miller, performance artist and one of the “NEA 4”.

Where I Go From Here

It was sad to have to bid farewell to the amazing Fellows I was able to meet during the Los Angeles intensive and reunion, but now the work begins in earnest back in D.C. Over the next six weeks I will be creating surveys based on the work of the Bolz students before me and my own experience with the program. As the LFP is truly an iterative process, the surveys will provide APAP with the valuable information they need to continue evolving the program to most effectively and with the greatest impact serve the participants of the program and the arts sector as a whole.

Thanks to this past year in the MBA program I will be able to use the skills I have acquired from classes such as Data to Decisions and Arts Seminar, along with the hand-on experience I received working with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, to help evaluate the LFP and assist APAP in the amazing work they are doing for the next generation of arts leadership.

I look forward to continuing my work through the rest of the summer and am now more confident in my role as a future arts leader thanks to the people I have been fortunate enough to work with in the LFP and at APAP.