Supporting the next generation with generosity and shared purpose

by Jini Stolk

I hear a lot about the need for change in the structure and leadership of arts organizations; I hear less about the many important changes that are already taking place. Don’t throw eggs: I’m not saying that the nonprofit arts have solved their problems and are all set to compete in our complicated, diverse and dynamic world. But I increasingly think that the ways artists and arts organizations are adjusting and evolving provide clues to how we’re going to arrive at a sustainable future.

First of all there is unquestionably a new generation of cultural leaders. I won’t talk about the artists, some of whom are mixing things up in exciting ways that wouldn’t have been thought of 20 or even 10 years ago. I’m thinking of the talented and capable arts managers who are coming to the fore – like Chris Lorway, Soundstreams ED and recent winner of the John Hobday Award in Arts Management; Regine Cadet, new GM at Theatre Passe Muraille; Roxanne Duncan, who’s just completed The Theatre Centre’s capital project and is moving to Vancouver’s PUSH Festival; Gideon Arthurs, Tarragon’s GM; Meredith Potter, who provides management services to three important Toronto companies; and Aislinn Rose, newly appointed GM of The Theatre Centre, to name just a few. They’re doing things around international partnerships; donor, audience, artist and community engagement; and new production and dissemination models, that are different and inspiring. And I’m sure they’re far better suited to building the next generation of audiences than me, for example.

In my next posts, I’m going to write about some of the structural changes I’m seeing – from larger companies opening their doors to newer, smaller, culturally diverse organizations; companies rethinking their mandate, size or programming; smaller companies regularly creating fluid collaborations to do large projects; companies rethinking the most basic assumptions of what makes a “company”; independent managers managing two or more organizations; evolving arts funding policies; and the potential of new concepts like shared arts platforms.

However our managers manage, and whatever structures we use to make art, it’s become clear to me that we will be successful only if we begin to move away, as a community, from the narrative of scarcity – the notion that whether we’re funders or funded, small or large, we never have enough resources. This mind expanding piece by David Dower presents a completely new way of looking at our world.

Rather than feeling caught in a straightjacket of scarcity, constrained, unable to experiment, at odds with each other, envious – why don’t we take a few steps back and realize that we’re part of an ecosystem that’s unquestionably one of plenty. Toronto and Ontario are rich in theatre and arts spaces and companies, skilled and talented professionals, opportunities to produce, overall size of audiences, and excellent artists.

Perhaps if we focused on building bridges between the resources each of us have, by way of truly inventive sharing and collaborating, we could maximize what we have together and help each other thrive.

I wonder if our new cultural leaders are already thinking that way.

(Thanks to Andrew Taylor for linking to David Dower’s piece and rocking my world.)


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