The University of Michigan EXCEL Lab, in collaboration with the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership and a cohort of seven co-sponsors recently completed week seven of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guests for this week were Omari Rush and Laura Zabel. Rush currently serves as executive director of Culture Source in Detroit and as the governor-appointed chairman of the Michigan Council for Arts and Culture Affairs. In both these positions, he advances efforts to have creative and cultural expression thrive in diverse communities. In addition to those roles, he serves as board member for Arts Midwest, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. Zabel is Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts, an economic and community development agency run by and for artists. Springboard has received national attention under Zabel’s leadership, being featured by the New York Times, PBS, Wall Street Journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and The Guardian. An award winning arts leader, Zabel serves on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers and serves as an advisor to Dakota Resources, The Laundromat Project, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the University of Kansas Department of Theater and Dance.
The topic for this week was Leading Beyond Crisis. Both panelists offered reflective insight and practical guidance in regards to how arts organizations and artists can navigate the many crises that our society currently faces. Much of the blog and Zoom session focused on the importance of community, listening, and process. In his blog post, Mr. Rush spoke about the importance of listening and learning in times of crisis: “I think of myself less as leading through crisis and more of learning through crisis, constantly asking questions—including, What is happening?—and supporting our team in generating multiple answers and multiple actions.” Ms. Zabel’s blog post build on this concept, encouraging arts organizations to “use existing structures where possible to do new things” and “support the people doing the work.” During the Zoom session she spoke about the importance of listening to the community in regards to how you can best serve and support them: “give control to the community as to what they want for art.” While the challenges that our profession faces are immense, the lessons here are clear: invest in people, listen, and understand how you can best support and serve the community within which you live.
Ms. Zabel acknowledged that the last four months have highlighted the gap in our society’s recognition of the importance and value of art and in our actual systems of support that determine who has access to the arts. Both guests highlighted the urgency to erasing the lines and barriers within our communities that limit access to the arts, with Mr. Rush reflecting that “creativity should be an aspiration, not a risk.” Mr. Rush went further to highlight the unique opportunity our field has to enact the systematic change that is so long overdue:
I see incredible opportunity for progress in relatively short amounts of time given spiking tolerance for change, sharing, experimentation, unity, and investment. As time is compressed in this crisis, we skip over some of the careful and risk-averse courting and jump right into the messy work.
The current crises have enabled—or forced—arts organizations and arts leaders to focus on what they are trying to do, who they are trying to help, and who they are trying to serve.
A particularly affirming segment of the Zoom session focused on the Power of the Creative. While the session host and Director of UM’s EXCEL Lab, Jonathan Kuuskoski, pointed out that there sometimes exists a perception of artist vs. leader in the field, both guests highlighted the important role that their creative backgrounds and artistic training play in their leadership styles. With a background in theater, Ms. Zabel spoke about the idea of ‘standing up’ and ‘doing’—being willing to take the stage and do the work. This was reflected in much of the advice she offered in her blog post, as she encourages readers to Build and change while you go and to acknowledge that it is disingenuous to expect one will have all the answers before they begin the work. Mr. Rush spoke about how his training as a clarinetist, and endless hours in the practice room, have shaped his work ethic and ability to focus as an arts leader. With many aspiring arts leaders coming from creative backgrounds, linking one’s creative practice and leadership skillset has the potential to unlock one’s true potential as a leader in the field.
UP NEXT: Virtual Visionaries: Art for Social Change
Blog Post: Monday, July 20
Virtual Session: Thursday July 23 from 3:00-4:00PM EDT
PRJC Summary: Saturday, July 24 at 10am
Zoom Link for the Virtual Session http://myumi.ch/4p7MM
Celebrated composer, educator, and arts advocate Gabriela Lena Frank explores the social dimension of her art-making, including how lessons learned from her own inspired efforts could translate into socially-informed projects today. Currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with the storied Philadelphia Orchestra, she has been recognized with many significant awards, inclusion in the Washington Post’s list of the 35 most significant women composers in history, and leads the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, a multifaceted organization that highlight the power of creativity and arts citizenship as it supports and incubates a diverse cohort of music-makers.
Virtual Visionaries is a 10-week series in partnership between UM’s EXCEL program, Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, and seven other national partners. Starting the week of May 25 through early August, this series brings together professionals across the performing arts for weekly virtual discussions on Zoom. We’ve selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about topics ranging from personal finance issues, to developing identity-driven work, along with a variety of entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals. Each week our guest speakers will also author a blog post, providing a sneak peek of the virtual sessions and providing a basis for our virtual discussion.
The series co-sponsors include:
Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership
Manhattan School of Music’s Center for Music Entrepreneurship
Michigan State University’s Running Start Program
New England Conservatory’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department
Roosevelt University’s Center for Arts Leadership, Chicago College of Performing Arts
University of Colorado-Boulder’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of North Texas’ Music Business and Entrepreneurship Program
Wayne State University’s Music Business Program