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5 BOLD IDEAS Addressing a Complex Issue in the Arts: Part 1

Updated: May 25, 2020

by Geraldine Ysselstein, Arts Leadership Director

Being a leader of an arts organization can be lonely. Yes, there is the board to report to, the staff/volunteers to manage, and artists to engage with; however, we still hear that it can feel isolating. Working long hours into the night after everyone else has turned their computers off, managing friendly but not friendship relationships with board and staff, and feeling pressure to know all the answers can frankly be tiring.

The Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program recognizes this isolation, especially when faced with a complex issue. A complex issue can be defined as an issue that has multiple perspectives, multiple parts, and multiple solutions. The REAL program offers the opportunity to define a complex issue, see it from a variety of perspectives, dream big, practice concepts learned in the program, and share ideas with the arts community.

For the REAL final presentation, each REAL participant is matched with a partner to identify 5 BOLD ideas to address a complex issue that they are facing in their arts organization which is then elevated to an arts-sector issue. This year, the participants developed 4 of the 5 BOLD ideas prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 5th idea became an idea related to the COVID-19 situation.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing a summary of their 5 BOLD Ideas, a video recording of their presentations, and a graphic recording by Sam Hester. What ideas capture your attention? We invite you to engage with these 5 BOLD ideas presentations by emailing the REAL participants, starting an online chat with friends or colleagues, answering our short survey, or letting us know your ideas.

Our first presenters were Stephanie Pahl and Bob Davis who explored the following complex issue: how do we create and share art locally, regionally, and nationally that is connected back to Calgary? Stephanie Pahl is the Chief of Staff at the National Music Centre (NMC), an organization that has national partnerships and strives to be a nationally recognized and credible institution with its programming and audience based largely in Calgary. Bob Davis is the General Manager at Old Trout Puppet Workshop, an organization that tours internationally, uses national contractors and actors, yet has a home base in Calgary with a small amount of programming occurring in Calgary.

While their organizations approach the complex challenge from different ends of the spectrum, Stephanie and Bob both try to promote Calgary and Calgary institutions on the national stage, while maintaining a local audience and spurring hometown pride.

Here are their 5 BOLD IDEAS:

1. ENGAGE NETWORKS: We can share our contacts and experiences locally, nationally, and internationally with Calgarians and vice-versa. For example, we can be vocal and supportive about the Calgary arts community by attending and speaking at industry conferences and events locally and nationally.

2. INSPIRE AND MENTOR: We can inspire artists and creators to mentor emerging Calgarian artists and administrators to work nationally and internationally through offering unique opportunities to develop key skills. Opportunities could include touring experience (how to organize a showcase, budget, apply for grants, manage shipping, and handle logistics). Or building positive relationships with industry professionals who can come to Calgary to inspire and connect with local talent.

3. CREATE GOOD NEWS STORIES: We can highlight our good news stories to a broad audience to inspire innovation and ambition in our art, extending past our local borders, elevating Calgary on a national stage and increasing hometown pride. We can share these stories in our newsletters, with local and social media, at network events, and when we travel nationally and internationally. Let’s not be afraid to brag about our accomplishments.

4. DEMONSTRATE IMPACT: We can demonstrate impact to traditional funders who may not understand untraditional organizations. Being innovative can create both intrigue but also reluctance. We can demonstrate impact by seeking testimonials from those who have had a personal experience with our product, distribute an annual report, do economic and other statistical studies, keep KPIs, report frequently, and learn how to communicate our impact to different audiences.

5. GO DIGITAL: In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we have noticed that theatres, museums, live music venues, and other arts and cultural institutions have been forced to close their doors and say goodbye to their physical audience. While this has become a challenge for many organizations, there is an opportunity here as well. For some organizations it makes sense for us to pivot and take our programs online or promote already captured content. For others, it makes sense to use this time to physically rather than digitally create and instead capture that process.

You can watch their presentation here, as well as take a closer look at Sam's wonderful illustration and see their slides. If you wish to learn more, please contact Stephanie Pahl at and Bob Davis at

Finally, please take this VERY quick survey to let us know your thoughts about this topic!

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