Ali DeRegt, Quest Theatre, and the Arts Leadership Residency Program
by Lisa Mackay
Ali DeRegt is a multi-disciplinary theatre artist in Calgary focused on “devising, puppetry, and clown.” She is currently pursuing an MFA from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and just completed a Rozsa Foundation Arts Leadership Residency with Quest Theatre in 2022. I chatted with her about the experience at Quest to get her thoughts on the Residency Program and see if it did indeed help prepare her for more leadership roles in the future.
In 2020, conversations in the Calgary arts community that took place in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd repeatedly surfaced that the lack of racial diversity in leadership positions at arts organizations was due in part to the of a lack of pathways for potential racialized leaders in all disciplines to advance their networks, experience, skills, and knowledge. In specific response to addressing that gap, and as part of the Rozsa Foundation’s long-term commitment to strengthening the arts sector, we collaborated with community to create the Arts Leadership Residency Program.
This program is designed to support mid-career Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour artists and arts managers who aspire to leadership roles in the arts (Artistic Directors, Executive Directors, Curators, Managing Directors, etc.) to undertake an extended residency with an existing arts organization. It is hoped that this mix of internship, mentorship, and hands-on learning helps arts professionals build the skills, networks, and confidence to become a leader in the broader arts community.
Ali and Quest applied for the year-long program at the beginning of 2021. It was a perfect fit, as Ali had previously worked with Quest and knew the company well. She had been awarded the 2018 Duval Lang Theatre for Young Audiences Emerging Leader Award (an award created by Quest Theatre) and Artistic Director Nikki Loach felt that having Ali join the team to explore the administrative side of running an arts organization would benefit both Ali and Quest Theatre.
In the application, Quest admitted “[...] that Quest Theatre has been complicit in upholding and benefiting from white supremacy and systemic racism. As we look back over our 35-year history we recognize that many of our artists both on and off stage, in our arts education programs, and our admin team were/are white. We have pledged to do better.”
Having Ali join the team did advance Quest’s equity journey, as Ali not only brought her perspective to the running of the theatre, she brought new artists and collaborators into Quest’s sphere. “Our organization can be a bit siloed with artistic insights and approaches, so we have new connections to outside organizations and artists thanks to Ali. Ali’s connections, the artists, and projects she brought to our attention, her kindness and generosity of candid, non-judgemental conversations surrounding EDIA work, were of great benefit to the artistic side of the company. We only have one artistic lens at Quest, so her second eye was appreciated.”
Practically speaking, the 20 hours per week that Ali contributed to Quest were funded by the Rozsa Foundation. Her hours were filled with meetings, administrative tasks, and work on her personal projects with Quest. While everyone was pleased with the results of this work, Quest commented in their evaluation that they had learned a great deal from this residency and would focus even more of a resident's time on administrative projects in the future. “We have not mentored an Artistic Arts Administrator before, it is different than an intern, which we have had many of, so next time I think we may be braver with the use of an Arts Administrator.”
For her part, Ali was excited about the opportunity to work on both administrative and creative projects. "Having recently completed a degree in collaborative theatre making, I am confident in my abilities as a creator and collaborator. However, I do recognize that I lack many of the producing skills required for artistic ventures to thrive. Besides learning about essential aspects of Artistic Directorship, specifically strategic planning, grant writing, board relationships, marketing contributions, and yearly programming, I would like to produce a collaborative theatre project during my residency through a partnership with another arts organization."
In the end, both parties were pleased with the experience and felt they had gained valuable knowledge as a result. For Quest, this included their new contacts, a new lens on both administrative and artistic undertakings, and a better understanding of how they can continue to enable leadership preparation for the IBPOC community. For Ali, she feels she has a much better understanding of how an artistic company is run, the skills required to succeed in an Artistic Director role, and where she would need to fine-tune her experiences and build more knowledge in things like board relations, grant applications, and other avenues for financial support.
“As someone who hopes to one day become an artistic leader within this community,” Ali wrote in her final evaluation of the residency, “working with Nikki demystified so many aspects of the role of Artistic Director, it made the role seem a plausible possibility for my future, where once it might have seemed a slope too steep to climb. I was given financial, administrative, and artistic support to research, develop, and test run a brand new school program designed to enhance emotional literacy in division two students; overseeing such a process (with the endless support of Quest) gave me a practical understanding of leadership in practice and prepared me to undertake such similar processes in the future.”
We are grateful to Ali, Nikki, and Pieta for taking on this residency with such open minds and hearts. Their commitment to each other and to the residency was everything we could have hoped for when we launched the program, and with their help, we continue to fine-tune aspects of it for future residents and companies.
If you are interested in learning more about the program and how you could take part, visit our website at rozsafoundation.com/arts-leadership-residency. You can also reach out to Ayla Stephen, Funding Manager at the Rozsa Foundation, at firstname.lastname@example.org.