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Innovating Locally, Thinking Globally (from Arts Watch)

Stephanie Evans Hanson

Stephanie Evans Hanson

Earlier today, I had the chance to listen in on a talk by National Endowment for the Arts Local Arts Agencies & Challenge America Director Michael Killoren as he was speaking to a group of Americans for the Arts and NEA interns.

As he spoke about his career path and what he’s learned thus far, one thing he said stood out to me: Most innovation is happening at the local level.

We spend a lot of time, energy, and resources advocating for increased dollars for the arts at the federal and state level, which is important and that work should continue. However, I believe a focus on what’s happening culturally at the local level in what we estimate to be 19,000 cities is equally important to pay attention to. This is one reason why I am very excited about the upcoming Emerging Leader blog salon, titled Emerging Ideas: Seeking and Celebrating the Spark of Innovation, taking place July 25-29 on ARTSblog.

We’ll be highlighting the work of ten artists, arts organizations, and curators who are coming up with new and innovative ways to do work, accomplish their missions, and serve their communities and audience.

The idea for this blog salon came from the Emerging Leaders Council, and I’d like to take this opportunity to showcase some of the innovation that I also see coming out of the local Emerging Leaders Networks across the country.

There have been a number of great events and discussions coming out of New York State recently, including a discussion on the value of using data to benefit a project, organization, and the community at large. This conversation was curated by the Emerging Leaders of New York Arts, and received some press in The Wall Street Journal.

Upstate, the Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo have partnered with other local organizations with a mission to connect budding and experienced collectors with emerging local, regional, and international artists by hosting an art fair. Both of these networks are creating leadership opportunities for themselves, providing a resource to their communities, and filling a professional development need within the community. Both of them do this work with very little money or resources.

The Emerging Arts Leaders of Atlanta just launched a Career Coach Day, for professionals working in the field as well as interns working in the wide variety of cultural organizations in the area. This summer, they’ll be hosting a variety of events and networking opportunities to help those new to the field with their job searches, and starting in the fall, the group will begin their popular “Mentor Match” program, where they will introduce emerging leaders to mentors that can be potential contacts for them in the field. This network currently operates out of Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition, but similar to the above networks, functions with very few resources.

And over on the West Coast, the Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco/Bay Area network developed a fellowship program to help emerging leaders in San Francisco develop relationships, and learn fundamentals of business development; finance & administration; IT & digital tools; and marketing & public programming. While this network has funding sources, this group, like the others mentioned above, has been innovative in creating regular, high quality professional development opportunities that they weren’t finding access to elsewhere within their communities.

These are the kind of stories that I believe are important to highlight, especially when everything else we are reading is about cutting programs, budgets, and organizations operating in the red.

Each of the Emerging Leaders Networks highlighted here, as well as the individuals and organizations featured next week, are doing work in their local communities that has the potential to impact the field as a whole.

I hope this upcoming blog salon will only be the beginning of a trend to highlight great ideas so that we can continue to learn from one another, and innovation will not occur in a vacuum.

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