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5 BOLD IDEAS - Part 3

Introduction by Geraldine Ysselstein, Arts Leadership Director

Relationships, connections, networks, and community matter. In the second session of the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program, we explored networking and community building with our guest faculty Jenna Rogers. Networking, it was discussed can seem uncomfortable for arts professionals because it evokes feelings of forced conversations and a fake performance. Community building may seem more desirable but can appear vague and a catch-all for everything. Jenna helped us to understand that communities are already built, but they need networks.

In part 3 of our 5 BOLD IDEAS series, our REAL participants Lanre Ajayi (Artistic and Creative Director, Ethnik Festivals) and Danielle Whyte (Managing Director, Downstage Performance Society) explore networks through the question: “how do we use our networks to expand our reach in a way that also respects artists and arts professionals?” Their presentation has been captured through a written summary, a video recording, and the following graphic recording by Sam Hester. All of these assets for this and the other REAL final presentations can be found on our website.

Lanre Ajayi is the Artistic and Creative Director of Ethnik Festivals. He is a passionate believer in community collaborations and is an arts lover. He graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria with a degree in Fine and Applied Arts, majoring in painting and graphic design. As an artist and fashion designer, Lanre paints in bold and bright colours. He has been privileged to work in different creative industries ranging from film, music, modeling, event management, and teaching arts to the community. He is also the winner of the 2018 Mayor’s Art Champions Legacy which recognized his contributions to art in Calgary.

Danielle Whyte is the Managing Director of Downstage Performance Society and is an independent filmmaker. Her trajectory in the arts began, strangely enough, with her undergrad degrees in Archaeology and Primatology – which led her to film school, determined to become a documentarian. More than 40 film and television productions later, however, she has yet to make a documentary! Danielle is passionate about creating space for emerging artists to develop their practice, stories that challenge social systems through a female lens, and puppies. She is also the co-founder of Belle of the Brawl Entertainment.

Lanre and Danielle identified 5 BOLD ideas to address the complex issue of networks that they are personally facing in their arts organizations. Four of these ideas were developed prior to COVID-19 and their 5th BOLD idea was an idea in response to the pandemic. Both organizations are in a growth phase with limited resources, but they know that they have their networks to support them.

1: Relationship with Artists: We can invest in emerging artists by supporting their creative development and creating a platform for them to showcase their talent. We can also deepen relationships with established artists through continuous and innovative collaboration. For example, Ethnik Festivals supports local artists and talent by putting them on centre stage with their international counterparts in order to foster future collaborations. Downstage has found ways to help artists to diversify their skillset by offering mentorship opportunities in producing so that they can create their own platforms. They recognize that doing so will set them up for long-term reciprocal relationships with artists who are their most valuable assets.

2: Relationship with Staff and Board Members: We can strengthen our organizations with unconventional team structures that foster efficiencies and grow our community connections. For example, Ethnik Festivals has a multi-ethnical diverse team who are given opportunities to share new ideas as well as own their own project. We can also leverage the networks of staff and board members to champion our message and amplify our reach. For example, we can help our staff and board develop communication skills, create an elevator pitch, or have a business card to hand out.

3: Relationships with Community Partners: We can share our expertise and artists with community partners to create a bridge for Calgarians to embrace a creative life through interactive artistic experiences. Community partners may include: The City of Calgary, Calgary Public Library, Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation, Centre for Newcomers, and Immigration Services of Calgary. In doing so, we can bolster empathy within our community and connect with a wider range of Calgarians.

4: Relationships with Donors and Sponsors: We can thank and celebrate our donors and sponsors which deepens our relationships with them, encourages continued support, and creates enthusiasm for additional support from new donors and sponsors. The support we receive from donors and sponsors lets us dream bigger, do more, and reach more people. For example, Downstage has asked donors to host a fundraising event at their home to support specific projects that artists are working on.

5: Relationships During COVID-19: We can create interactive programming via social media that provides comfort and gives audiences something to do. We can also create opportunities for independent artists to connect with one another and continue to develop their practice. For example, Ethnik Festivals began an Instagram talk show called Global Talk Active in May which is about “common-unity in uncommon times.” Downstage is connecting one-on-one with independent artists, extending their Stage It program, and supporting new work development by emerging creators.

We invite you to engage with these 5 BOLD ideas presentations.

What ideas captured your attention? Let Lanre Ajayi and Danielle Whyte at know by emailing them, starting an online chat with friends or colleagues, answering our short survey, or letting us know your ideas at

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