The commentary around the recent release of The Faces of the Future report—including blog posts from my colleagues John McGuirk and Emiko Ono—has been fascinating to me. Not just professionally, but personally, because I am one of the NextGen Arts Leaders that the report is talking about. I have benefited directly from the NextGen Initiative’s efforts through a Center for Cultural Innovation grant to travel to New Orleans, where I studied with Urban Bush Women to deepen my dance practice. And it was through an Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area Facebook post that found my current position as a two-year fellow with the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program.
What I found most compelling about the report were the sections on intergenerational dialogue and the importance of creating stronger networks for arts leaders of color. On my own career journey, I have received considerable support from caring mentors and elders, as well as from being part of a community of likeminded folks of color. I would like to share my experience—as a cultural worker, arts administrator, and dance artist—to inform the conversation about investment in up-and-coming arts leaders, and, in particular, support for arts leaders of color.
This isn’t just about a career. It’s about purpose.
In reflecting on the findings in the report, I kept thinking, “What is our call to action as arts administrators?” Often, the conversation is solely career focused, looking only at the next job, the next opportunity. NextGen arts leaders must operate in multiple roles to sustain ourselves financially, personally, and spiritually. For example, I am a mom, an advocate, a community convener, a dance artist, and a producer. All of us move in the world with a multiplicity of identities, yet we continue to talk about arts and culture in siloed ways, as if art and culture are not the foundations upon which we express our humanity. We don’t live our lives in silos, so why do we approach our work that way? Being an arts administrator is more than just my career; it deeply reflects my values and passions. My work investing in the creative capacity of communities is bound up with my work of being a mom and building a world where my son (a mixed black boy with queer parents) can feel safe and at home wherever he goes. Art and culture dictate and shape our realities and perceptions, and therefore are integral to creating social change. If I am not creating a better society for my son to grow up in, then why do the work that I do?