Updated: Jun 3
by Lisa Mackay
Being the administrative leader of an arts organization can be a lonely job, as you wrestle with the organization’s challenges and decisions on your own. One of the desired outcomes of the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program is an awareness for the participants of the greater arts ecosystems in which they and their organizations operate. Throughout the program, Geraldine Ysselstein (Arts Leadership Director and REAL lead facilitator) makes a conscious effort to re-frame the issues that arts leaders face daily from the personal or organizational out to the greater community level. With this as a focus, it is hoped that leaders emerge from the program armed with a reliable network of peers and an awareness that others are grappling with the same issues and may have new answers.
It is hoped that leaders emerge from the program armed with a reliable network of peers and an awareness that others are grappling with the same issues and may have new answers.
This structure of personal to global was the basis for the second session of the REAL program, which centred on Networking and Community Building. The session began with guest faculty Jenna Rogers (founding Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre, Dramaturg for Banff Playwrights Lab, and Board Chair of Theatre Alberta) leading a discussion on the terms ‘networking’ and ‘community-building’ themselves – are they the same thing? How do they differ? Networking evokes images of forced smiles and stilted conversations, of conferences and work events. Community-building was seen by several participants as aspirational but unclear in practice; a nebulous word that could mean so many things. With further discussion, however, it was generally agreed that communities already exist, and community-builders are already there. Networks into these communities need to be built and established. Moving from networking to community building shifts the lens through which you approach situations from a person lens to a wider plurality of lenses. From this consensus, Jenna took to the whiteboard to visually illustrate the many layers of community that every leader and organization have around them. Then the participants were tasked with creating their own visualization of their communities, as a way of working on the idea of community on multiple scales. Gathering in groups, everyone compared notes and shared what the exercise revealed for them. Many were surprised by the number of shared communities between them, but also on how many other arts groups and leaders were missing from their charts. "In talking about networks," noted Jenna, "the REAL cohort reflected on more meaningful partnerships both within the hyper local community and into the national community. They were really receptive to notions of reciprocity when it comes to community building.” The final component of the session introduced several members of the Calgary arts community, including Jared Tailfeathers (Calgary Public Library), Patti Pon (CADA), Dieter Schurig (cSpace), JS Ryu (Indefinite Arts), and Jenna Rogers (Chromatic Theatre); as well as past graduates of the REAL program: Christine Armstrong (CADA), Po Yeh (Prairie Debut), Peita Luti (Quest Theatre), Robin van Eck (Alexandra Writers Centre), and Erin Maclean-Berko (Spiritus Chamber Choir/Calgary Boys Choir). The invited guests doubled the size of the participants and with the Wise Crowd discussion method that followed, the scope of perspective on the issues at hand rose to a much wider level of community, perfectly illustrating the discussions of network and community that had begun the day.
"These are issues that we encounter as a community, and we have to come to a consensus on how to proceed if we are going to move forward.”
“You can get so comfortable with your own perspective on an issue,” mused participant Scott Carey of the CPO. “This second REAL session really impressed on me the importance of having these wider discussions with the larger group. These are issues that we encounter as a community, and we have to come to a consensus on how to proceed if we are going to move forward.” “These are such important conversations,” agreed Stephanie Pahl of the National Music Centre, “and it was a great opportunity to explore how to have discussions that are not always cut and dry; how to disagree with your peers in a way that is positive and constructive.”