Leading through practice
Calling the meeting
Spirit in community will die unless theres someone calling the meeting.
Cultural organiser Theresa Holden1
The ability to navigate the currents and eddies of the publicart administrative process requires the eye of a journalist, the ear of a poet, the hide of an armadillo, the serenity of an airline pilot and the ability to swim.
Artist Richard Posner2
When an artist seeks to lead others in making art, it is often in a spirit of social change: to help heal a community after trauma, reach across a divide, bring generations together.
Over the past thirty-five years I have been asking artists working in communities what defines a successful artist-leader. Here, gleaned from writing posted on the Community Arts Network, is some of what they had to say.
A good artist-leader is:
A CULTURAL ANIMATOR
Animation is derived from the French animation socio-culturel and refers to the work of the animateur, a community worker who helps people to build and participate in community life, to articulate their own grievances and aspirations in a public context, and often, to make art from the material of their daily lives.
Cultural critics Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard3
Someone who can build relationships and common goals. Someone to bring people together who normally dont interact, work under different conditions or institutional systems, and have different styles and approaches to the work, but are all attempting to strengthen the community through participatory and locally directed means.
Community cultural organiser Erica Kohl4
The community animateur is an essential part of the mix: the role requires an unusual combination of skill, energy, sensitivity, courage, vision, love and limitless good humour. There must be a passion for collaboration and the ability to embrace all the human messiness that comes with the territory There must be a deep respect for the power of story to reveal ourselves to each other; to illuminate the connective tissue of human experience.
Community theatre artist Kate Magruder5
I dont care what you call it animateur, cheerleader it functions in the same way. ... smart, passionate about the work, charming, has the strength of ten, lots of flirting, but with an edge, a confluence of talent and influence with a big account in the favour bank.
Artist/consultant Lisa Mount6
people who can read situations rapidly and accurately as a basis for strategic decisions who have what Isaiah Berlin called a sense of reality. It needs people who can articulate resonant aims, inspiring and galvanising action, people who can act responsibly as emissaries.
Successful leaders recognise that management structures and business practices are value-laden; they affect the mission, goals and creative processes of organisations through their structure and practices, self-reliance and collective responsibility.
The Grassroots Matrix8
the dilemma of integrity in artmaking and organising is around the gap between what I know and do and what they know and do in a particular field. I assume that they are the experts about their lives and communities, and I try to find out what they already know. I need to own my expertise and its usefulness in that community.
Artist/scholar Ann Kilkelly9
The people who are the subjects of the work are part of its development from inception through presentation.
The Grassroots Matrix10
The artist knows that participants must enter fully into the role of co-directors of the project, making substantial and uncoerced contributions to shaping all aspects of the work and setting their own aims for the project.
Adams and Goldbard11
Hierarchy often takes a back seat to necessity, and collective decision making is much more the norm. With few material resources, collective knowledge and connections became an important resource. To make space for the free flow of expertise and information, these leaders have learned how to step back and step up, depending on the situation.
Bill Cleveland, Centre for the Study of Art and Community12
Leadership is not about doing everything from start to finish, from idea to plan to product. Its about motivating others to share in a vision to create something that is larger than anything you could do on your own, as individual parts. I think Ive failed if I havent raised someone up, if I havent reproduced myself, if I havent passed on knowledge, relationship, skill, if I havent grown in my own learning from that process, that interaction.
Community artist Lee Ann Norman13
Working closely with key people in the community is necessary. Sometimes its been nurtured for years.
Artist/scholar Jan Cohen-Cruz14
The successful artist-leader has played an ongoing civic role in the community by participating on various development and education commissions, and has a firm base from which to build and sustain their project.
Activist/organiser Caron Atlas15
The artist-leader has vision, unstoppable perseverance and willingness to learn. Organisation of the sponsoring body must be constantly worked at to meet changing situations and personnel. Structure is the key to this.
Bill Grow, Swamp Gravy Institute16
I think of it as a listener, facilitator, and as a translator role, and from that it can move into a catalyst. I think that the cultural organiser needs to be rooted in the creative work, culture and community context.
Flexibility in structure is also key, with the anticipation from the outset that something bad will happen and this will test the strength and resiliency of the project.
These programmes have organisational structures and leadership that are resilient, adaptive and improvisational. ...understanding that both form and freedom are necessary for integrating creative inquiry and community development.
[Speaking of Augusto Boal] ... a practical theatre artist works out of a Marxist scheme where there is no real distinction between an artist and a social worker a social activist/ revolutionary who works as a facilitator, enabling workers/ families to address cultural conflicts through theatre and thereby redress or solve them.
Community artist/poet Grady Hillman20
A GOOD NEGOTIATOR
As survivors, the leaders of the programmes in this study successfully navigated a complex cross-sector environment of funding, regulation and public policy. ... Their survival also demanded a clear and forceful articulation of mission that translated to the self-interest of multiple partners. It is important to note that all of these programmes were created by artists who were, in essence, self-mandated. Put simply, that mandate was a passionate belief in the power of art to make significant positive contributions to community life. This was, and remains, a hard sell. To gain any credibility in the skeptical, even adversarial, territory they occupied, they had to marshal resources, advocate effectively and produce results, simultaneously. This seat-of-the-pants challenge was a hothouse for the development of effective community leadership.
...opportunistic, investing their often meager resources in programmes and partnerships that have provided significant return. ... Community accountability tempers the vision of assertive leaders so that the work is honest, on track and relevant.
Once I asked John [Malpede] if there was an answer to the complex spiritual problems surrounding homelessness, and he told me the answer is big infusions of love through lots more projects like his [Los Angeles Poverty Department]. Souls are saved. Ill testify.
Linda Frye Burnham23
Linda Frye Burnham is a writer who specialises in communitybased arts. She is co-director of Art in the Public Interest, a non-profit organisation in North Carolina, USA, and of the Community Arts Network website. She was founder of High Performance magazine and co-founder of the 18th Street Arts Complex and Highways Performance Space, all in Los Angeles, California.
All citations appear on the Community Arts Network:
1 Burnham, Linda Frye, Telling and Listening in Public: The Sustainability of Storytelling 2001
2 Posner, Richard, Professional Jaywalker: Richard Posner on Crossing from the Studio to Public Art 1996 2002
3 Monagan, Susan, The Artmaker as Active Agent: Six Portraits 2006
4 Burnham, Linda Frye, Telling and Listening in Public: Factors for Success 2001
7 Goldbard, Arlene, Dont Do It! Organizational Suicide Prevention for Progressives 2004
8 Cocke Dudley, Harry Newman and Janet Salmon-Rue, A Matrix Articulating the Principles of Grassroots Theater, 1992, in Burnham, Linda Frye, A Question of Values 2000
9 Burnham, ibid.
10 Cocke Dudley, Harry Newman and Janet Salmon-Rue, A Matrix Articulating the Principles of Grassroots Theater, 1992, in Burnham, Linda Frye, A Question of Values
11 Burnham, Telling and Listening in Public: Factors for Success
13 Norman, Lee Ann, and Arlene Goldbard, Minding the Gap: A Cross-Generational Dialogue, Part I 2006
14 Burnham, Telling and Listening in Public: Factors for Success
19 Cleveland, Making Exact Change
20 Burnham, Telling and Listening in Public: Factors for Success
21 Cleveland, Making Exact Change
23 Burnham, Linda Frye, Up the Revolution 1987 1999
Linda Frye Burnham
First published: Research papers March 2007
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