The Value of Professional Development in the Arts

This autumn, two of the Rozsa Foundation’s Arts Leadership Programs will launch new cohorts in an online format, with additional sessions delivered by members of the Calgary arts community, and with re-worked and updated content to reflect the current realities of 2020.


Given the financial impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector, the time, attention, and resources of organizations are being pulled in many directions right now. Yet the demand for our programs suggests that, despite these challenging times, arts organizations are viewing the professional development of their staff as a priority. We spoke with some of the arts organizations that have repeatedly sent staff to our programs to ask about the value they see in professional development and what returns on their investments they have realized in the past.

Mary Rozsa presents Calgary Queer Arts Society's Erin Jenkins with her RAMP certificate

James Demers, Executive Director of Calgary Queer Arts Society, has sent several staff members to Rozsa Arts Leadership programs, and emphasized that he will continue to do so. “There are few training programs for the complexities and nuances of non-profit companies, and the RAMP course in particular provided good foundational skills, regardless of the number of years staff members had in the industry,” he wrote. “The initial investment has been proven worthwhile, and we continue to see the impact on our organization. Our Ally Tool Kit Conference, for example, was a RAMP project developed when Erin Jenkins was in the program, and it has become a permanent program for us.”


Suzanne Lint, Executive Director of the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge, continues to send staff to Calgary for the RAMP program, and has hosted the RAFT program in Lethbridge. “RAMP is an affordable, relatively close in distance, professional development opportunity in arts administration for our staff,” said Lint. For Suzanne, the learnings of RAMP help to establish a common language for her artistically diverse staff, with varied levels of previous administration experience. “As an arts organization, we are committed to hiring individuals who also maintain an artistic practice. For many of our employees, this is their first position in arts administration,” she explained. “Having this program available to our staff enables the team to be "on the same page" on arts administration issues, and provides our team members with a basic understanding of arts leadership, organizational structure, finance, human resources and board relations.”



Kelaine Devine of the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge with Simon Mallett and Scott Radford ( U of C)

Both James and Suzanne expressed that the structure of the RAMP program contributed to its overall value, and allowed staff members to learn without compromising their work. “Often non-profit work is task based and quite hectic,” explained Demers. “RAMP allows for the organization to balance professional development with existing obligations.”


As the arts sector confronts the enormous challenges and questions brought about by the pandemic, the need for informed, passionate, and experienced arts leaders and practitioners is stronger than ever. At the same time, the risk of seeing this expertise leave the industry is higher, and retention is becoming more challenging. Investing in professional development for staff members not only benefits the organizations’ capabilities, but provides incentive for arts administrators to stick with the field and equips them to address current uncertainties. 


“We will continue to provide this wonderful opportunity for our staff because having strong arts administrators in Lethbridge can only help strengthen the arts environment in our community,” emphasizes Suzanne.  And a stronger arts environment means a stronger community overall.


Rozsa Foundation Arts Leadership Director Geraldine Ysselstein agrees. “Our Arts Leadership programs are one of the key ways we fulfill our mission, which is to strengthen our community by developing, supporting, and celebrating arts organizations and leaders,” she emphasizes. “Professional development for arts administrators not only helps them to continue to excel and grow in their position, it strengthens the capacity and level of excellence of the organization with whom they are working. This in turn reinforces the impact that arts organizations can have on their communities, individually and collectively. It is an investment with multiple avenues of return – the individual, the organizational, and the collective.”


We are delighted to have seen such high demand for our Arts Leadership programs this autumn, despite the challenges facing arts organizations. This level of internal investment speaks volumes about the prospective recovery and resurgence of the arts sector in Calgary.

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