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Opening Doors for Arts Leaders

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Doug Shipman, President and CEO of The Woodruff Arts Center. Photo by Alphonso Whitfield

By Doug Shipman, President and CEO of The Woodruff Arts Center
I had the opportunity to join the annual LINK trip organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) to San Diego last week. It was a chance to visit another city with a group of regional leaders from Atlanta, including two other arts leaders: Anthony Rodriguez from Aurora Theatre and Chris Appleton from WonderRoot. The trip came on the heels of the recent announcement of the 2019 Leadership Atlanta class that includes four arts leaders: Chris Appleton, Janine Musholt from here at The Woodruff Arts Center, Adina Erwin from the Fox Theatre and Alexander Scollon from The Actor’s Express. All of this reminded me of the vital importance of finding opportunities for arts leaders and artists to be included in all types of cross-community tables; this ensures we’re including arts leadership and thinking towards all of our various opportunities. Inclusion is happening now—but not nearly enough and with fewer people than it could.
So, what steps should be taken?
Arts Leaders as Part of Leadership Development Classes
There are many great efforts and endeavors that should consistently include arts leaders. A few that come to mind include Leadership Atlanta, LEAD, Leadership Georgia, the LINK trip, the Regional Leadership Institute (RLI), and ALMA. These and similar efforts build credentials, skills and networks for arts leaders and expose the entire community to the assets and creative problem-solving skills that arts folks bring to the table. These, of course, require arts folks to apply—but they also need the organizations to prioritize arts community members on their application lists and acceptances. Given the size and scope of the arts community in Atlanta, I believe any year without multiple arts leaders in these classes is a disservice to the entire community.
Arts Leaders Need to be Included in Non-Arts Leadership Positions
Many of the conversations that drive our region happen not at formal public meetings but in informal settings where leaders come together. Whether it’s the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau or more geographically concentrated organizations (e.g. Midtown Alliance, Town Centre CID, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce), a lot of work around our region happens behind “closed doors”.  
Too many times there are too few—or no—arts leaders in these rooms. I applaud ARC for including three arts folks on the LINK trip; I’m hopeful other key organizations will examine their rosters and take it upon themselves to invite arts folks into the membership and conversations. These organizations need to consider the immense value created by arts organizations on relatively small budgets. The ability to “contribute” should be measured more in time and ideas rather than the financial contributions that can be made.  
Arts Leaders Need to Support One Another’s Efforts
Recently, I’ve seen instances of great support between arts organizations and leaders with the intention to bolster leadership. Whether it’s writing a recommendation for someone, inviting another arts leader to a key meeting, showcasing efforts through social media or simply alerting one another to potential opportunities—the collaboration across the arts community happens every day.
I know I’m working harder to take a regional or even statewide view myself. While we all feel overwhelmed sometimes with all we have to do, the opening of the door for one another pays huge dividends in the long term. I hope that we, as the arts community, will redouble our efforts to support one another.
Sometimes, just being in the room is progress. But more often, being in the room and in the conversation makes progress happen. I hope we will continue to ask to be included and that our regional leaders will make including arts leaders a priority.

Featured photo (top): ARC’s ALMA class meeting at The Woodruff Arts Center

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