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A Legacy of Leadership

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

by Lisa Mackay

Many in the Calgary and wider Alberta arts community know of the Rozsa Foundation through the Arts Leadership programs. These have developed over the last 30 years into a suite of programs ranging from those new to the field to those leading the field. It all began with the first Rozsa Awards, where part of the awards package included access to management courses at the University of Calgary. This exemplified the Rozsa family’s focus on developing the skills and experiences of arts administrators to strengthen the companies they managed and eventually lead the sector.

At the time, Mary Rozsa de Coquet was running the Foundation, and as she was learning the ins and out of foundations and proper governance, she was simultaneously developing close relationship with both the business sector in Calgary and the University’s Haskayne School of Business. It was crucial that the private sector understand the degree of skill that was required to run an arts company, and to have confidence that arts managers knew how to somehow get more out of any available resources than it would seem possible to do. Mary recognized that making it possible for arts managers to be accredited at the same school as those in the nosiness community would not only develop their business acumen but also provide the validation that she was seeking to highlight.

After a few years of admitting Rozsa Awards winners into business programs designed primarily for the for-profit world, the Haskayne School of Business realized that there were many very sector-specific components of running an arts company that were missing from traditional classes, and that conversely large portions of these courses didn’t apply to the arts. Thus, the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP) was developed and offered for the first time in 2012, with enrolment open to the entire creative sector.

In 2016, Geraldine Ysselstein enrolled in the RAMP program. Geraldine had a long history in the arts, and had developed an affinity for arts leadership and adult education. She had completed the diploma in Arts and Cultural Management from MacEwan University and wanted to formalize all her volunteer and working experiences, and develop tools and strategies for working in the arts without burning out. It was during her ALP presentation that Geraldine first met Mary, and they had a fulsome discussion about the value of the arts in the community and the opportunities for professional development in arts management. “I also remember Mary being very interested in a project I had been involved in when I lived in Thunder Bay,” recollected Geraldine, “where art was being used to discuss reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in that community and across Canada.”

Not long after this exchange, Geraldine was hired as Arts Leadership Director to manage and oversee the Rozsa Foundation’s professional development programs. The first thing she started with was an evaluation of presenting RAMP in Edmonton through the University of Alberta, which was done for the first time in 20015-16. As Geraldine explains, “There had been huge interest in the program in Edmonton for the first year, but for some reason was attracting only a handful of individuals for the 2016-2017 year. One of my first tasks was to research and understand why this was the case and decide whether we would continue to try offering RAMP in the future in Edmonton.” The result of this thinking was to pause on delivering the course in Edmonton. A happy outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic has been that the RAMP program, like most university programs, has been brought online, making it possible for arts managers throughout the province and beyond to attend.

In 2016, the Rozsa Foundation was hoping to develop a program either before or after the Rozsa Arts Management Program, as many of the alumni had expressed a desire for more professional development. There was also a realization that arts managers from all stages of their careers were taking RAMP, and that it might be better to direct them into programs tailored for their differing levels of experience.

Geraldine did not launch into this process lightly. “To better understand what arts managers needed and wanted to know at different stages of their arts management career, I did a lot of research combined with a lot of self-reflection,” she recalls. “First, I wanted to understand the experience of RAMP alumni, so I reviewed all their evaluations and then sent out a survey and did in-person and phone interviews. I read “My Name is Lola” and asked a lot of questions about the past work of the Rozsa Foundation, and I researched other arts management and non-profit programs in Canada. With this research in hand, I developed a SWOT analysis and identified goals and objectives for an expanded arts leadership program(s). “

In the fall of 2016, Mary introduced Geraldine to Darrell Pidner, who worked with Gerladine to design and develop the Rozsa Admin Fundamentals Training (RAFT) program, and to Wilma Slenders of Transcend Management, who developed the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) Program. They delivered both programs in early 2017, within 6 months of Geraldine beginning at the Rozsa Foundation.

In her first year, Geraldine worked in a collaborative and supportive role to all the facilitators of the RAFT, RAMP, and REAL programs. “I appreciate all the foundational work that has gone into the development of all the programs, as well as all the conversations, questions, and ultimately the mentorship I have and continue to receive from all facilitators of the RAFT, RAMP, and REAL programs,” says Geraldine. As Darrell and Wilma moved onto other pursuits, Geraldine felt confident to continue developing the programs on her own. “Once I had a firm grasp of the programs, I began involving more and more people in the design and delivery of all the Arts Leadership programs along with me. And that is what really excites me: collaboration; involving a variety of voices and perspectives from business, non-profit and arts professionals; and developing other arts management educators.”

This style of collaboration in program development has helped the programs stay current and topical, and has allowed the Rozsa Foundation to take on the enormous societal changes of 2020 and address them in their leadership training. “It is an understatement to say that 2020 has been a big year for the arts sector in Calgary, Alberta, and beyond,” acknowledges Geraldine. “In the arts sector, we are questioning and investigating old ways of doing work, the impact of colonialism on arts and culture, the role of institutions, the meaning of the Black Lives Matters movement, the acknowledgment of the land and the people whose traditional territories we are on, the renewed interest in the reconciliation work that we are called to do, the desire to create a more equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible arts sector, the commitment to the 35/50 initiative, the ability to pivot the arts online, the value of in-person experiences, the role of the arts during and post the COVID-pandemic, the funding landscape, the climate and economic crisis, and so much more.”

“All of this impacts the design, content, delivery method, participant recruitment, evaluation, and choice of facilitators for all our Arts Leadership programs. Our Arts Leadership programs have gone online, our facilitators bring business, non-profit, and arts expertise. We are now seeing more IBPOC individuals apply for our programs, and we are inviting more IBPOC faculty to be involved in the development of the programs and facilitate content. As a group, we are always considering what do we take and let go from what we know into this current reality, and then into the future.”

Geraldine remains optimistic and excited for the future of the Rozsa Foundation’s programs for arts leaders and administrators. “I can see that we’ll continue to explore what going online means for all of our programs and what that means for possible expansion of our offerings. We will continue to develop and invite arts management educators to explore ways that we can be more equitable, diverse, inclusive, and accessible in our application process, content, delivery, evaluation, and more. We want to investigate how we might meet the professional development needs of artists and board members in addition to arts managers. Overall, our content will continue to evolve so that it is meaningful for the times that we live in. We are committed to continuing to learn, ask questions, and listen to the arts community around us.”

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