I’m still catching up on my blog and listserv reading – okay, now I think it is actually procrastination – and found a great post published by The Guardian (UK newspaper/media company) “Culture Professionals Network.” This week they’re focusing on women in arts leadership.
For a couple of centuries now, the arts have have been more open to women leaders than many other sectors. As a 20+ year veteran of arts leadership, both in creative areas (as a theatre director and acting teacher) and on the organizational level (as an artistic director, program director, and arts entrepreneur), I don’t recall ever feeling discriminated against because I was a woman. Of course, I may not have been aware of it, or may have attributed it differently in my naivete. But the arts are a remarkably egalitarian arena in which women’s unique ways of leadership are generally embraced rather than condemned.
The Guardian blog post, “Hierarchy to network: how women are choosing to change the world,” is a response to a study published as part of their “Women in the Arts” week which showed a significant and persistent gap in pay and organizational rank for women in the arts.
The post’s author, Lizzie Crump, writes:
To me, leaders are people who have innovative and exciting ideas and make them happen. They are people who can see things they want to change in the world and then make plans to instigate the changes. They bring others with them, sometimes by doing and making stuff, sometimes by inspiring, listening, by asking difficult questions, and mostly by helping people articulate and get motoring on their own plans.
It seems to me that there are lots and lots of different ways to lead, and from where I stand I can see thousands of women in the arts getting on with it and doing brilliant things. Some of them are looking at the ladder that leads to the directorship of big cultural institutions and are climbing up it (and I salute them), but other women I know are looking at that ladder, dismantling it and making it into other things: bridges, bicycles, rafts and communication devices.
I was particularly moved (and smugly encouraged) to read later in the blog:
Old notions of hierarchy seem to be dissolving and the strength of our relationships with each other are becoming more and more important. Those women setting up networks, writing blogs, pulling together collectives and testing out new ways of working seem to me to be ahead of the curve – creating a new arts ecology and not just responding to it.
As Christian women – people whose leadership ability was recognized by Jesus and the church long before it was by the broader cultures in which they lived – we can be invigorated and excited to see that the “new arts ecology” is more grassroots than hierarchical; and that traditionally “feminine” ways of leading like nurturing others and investing in relationships are not only precious to God and community life, but are working in the arts in an economic environment that is demanding new approaches.
I encourage all arts leaders to keep up with the discussions happening in the broader arts community. Many of the issues are the same ones we’re dealing with in the church, and it will give us new ways of thinking and talking, as well as knowing how to pray for and engage with the arts in the world. The Guardian’s Culture Professionals Network is a great tool. Although it’s UK-specific, most of what is published is general and applicable to the US and elsewhere. Arts Journal is probably the best that we have covering the US, although it’s so comprehensive it can be overwhelming, and it isn’t specifically leadership-oriented.
I’ll include a list of arts leadership blogs I follow in a future post. If anyone has other suggestions, please add them to “Comments” below!