Becoming Entrepreneurial About Our Professional Development

Stephanie Evans

The other day I was standing in the check-out line at my local grocery store, when I glanced at the bright yellow cover of GOOD Magazine.  Coincidentally, the fall issue is subtitled The Work Issue, which you can read online as well.  Since Americans for the Arts and the Emerging Leaders Council just released our 2009 Emerging Leader Survey Results & Analysis report last week, I thought the magazine would be a good read, so I picked it up.

In the Emerging Leader Survey Analysis, our most surprising finding demonstrated that while the majority of survey participants expressed a strong desire to make arts administration their long term career, a much smaller percentage of them feels they have the opportunities for advancement within their current jobs.  This means the following needs to happen:  arts organizations need to make professional development for their employees a priority. (Some are already doing this really well)  Simultaneously, individual arts administrators need to begin creating their own opportunities to learn the skills they need to either move up in their current organization or move on to a higher position in another arts organization.  If neither of these happens, the arts sector stands to lose skilled leaders to take the field into the next generation.

As emerging arts leaders, we soak up as much professional development as we can – from graduate school degrees, internships, fellowships, mentors, on the job, conferences, and workshops.  Those are all tools we can use that are already available to us, only limited by how much disposable income and time we have and possibly by where we live or work.  Based on the survey results, the professional development that is out there is either not enough, or not accessible for many arts administrators today to feel as though they have the opportunities for advancement within their organizations.

This is why I loved How to Turn the Job You Have Into the Job You Want toolkit in the Good Guide to Working Better.  The full toolkit is available by clicking the link, but I’d like to focus on the first piece of advice the author gives – which is Think Like an Entrepreneur. The toolkit suggests that in order to get the job you want, “you need to identify the needs and desires of your employer, and consider how you might be able to play a role in addressing them.”  This is a perfect example of leading from within.  I’d like to take that advice a little bit further.  If arts administrators feel there is not enough accessible professional development in our field, then we need to be more entrepreneurial about creating itwithin our organizations, communities, and personal lives.

As individuals, if our opportunities for advancement don’t currently exist where we live, or they’re just a little bit out of reach, we need to think creatively and entrepreneurially about how we can either gain access to them or create opportunities for ourselves.   If you’re like me, you chose a career in the arts sector to serve a purpose – to give someone else access to the arts and create stronger, healthier, and more livable communities.   Sometimes, we need to take care of ourselves so we can serve others in a more meaningful way.  Take the time to think about what opportunities you can create to help yourself to gain the skills you need to move up in this field.  What would those opportunities look like?

We discuss some of these potential opportunities in the Emerging Leaders Survey Report.  The full report is only available to professional members of Americans for the Arts, and can be accessed by logging into the Members-Only site  If you don’t know your password select “find me” on the login page and a password will be sent to you.  Once logged in select Emerging Leaders from the left sidebar to access the report.

If you’re not a member, you can still check out the Executive Summary.