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Emerging Themes in the Arts

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

The Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP) in 2015-2016 offered me the opportunity to connect with other arts administrators, raise common issues, and allow for new ideas to emerge. While others in my cohort focused on a challenge in their organization for their Action Learning Project (ALP), I focused on the non-profit arts sector as a whole.

“Emerging Themes in the Arts”


For over 10 years there has been research and discussion about the baby boomer generation soon retiring with the question of who will be leading in their place. Recently in April (2016), the Canadian Arts Summit met at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to discuss: “Is the next generation ready to take over? Have we prepared new leaders to renew existing institutions?” Additionally, the Cultural Human Resources Council (CHRC) received funding in May (2016) for its “Preparing for Succession” project where they ask similar questions.

We need to move past these conversations and give young arts professionals the space and opportunity to lead. They need to be allowed to experiment, make mistakes, and work in their own way – just as their predecessors did. Moreover, leadership needs to be understood differently. Members of the younger generation often see leadership as fostering a culture of collaboration, connectedness, and change. The idea is that we are all leaders and leadership is rooted in the efforts of many.

Theme #2: Education

Emerging arts leaders have often received higher education in arts administration and non-profit management, which means they are more formally trained earlier on in their career. Higher education has increased the expectation by young arts professionals to find work that matches their skills, ambition, as well as need for sustainable compensation in order to pay off higher educational debt.

We can provide young arts professionals with work that builds upon theoretical knowledge and offers appropriate compensation. Additionally, mentorship opportunities can be provided to young arts professionals, but that is reciprocal. Reciprocal mentorship is a respectful give and take of knowledge, resources, and perspectives across age cohorts and disciplines.

Theme #3: Decent Work

In November 2015, the Mowat NFP put out a report entitled “Change Work: Valuing decent work in the not-for-profit sector”. Although many non-profit organizations are focused on promoting community health and well being, the report says: “little attention is paid to the sector’s role as an employer in promoting these same goals.”

The symptoms of distress the report identifies across the non-profit sector include: an hour-glass shaped labour market with few mid-level jobs, high rates of precarious forms of employment, low levels of retirement and benefits coverage, underinvestment in professional development, and poor work/life balance. These problems may be due to unstable funding, lack of resources, and organizational and sector culture.

We need to champion decent work in the arts by investing in our employees. We need to have a conversation about compensation and adopt practices that promote transparency, fairness, and equity. Paying attention to decent work will lead to deeper engagement, encourage arts professionals to stay in the sector, and ultimately have greater community impact.

Theme # 4: Diversity

Our communities are diverse, but the nonprofit sector does not always reflect this reality says the HR Council. Who does “diversity” include? The HR Council lists Aboriginal - First Nations, Inuit, and Métis; new Canadians; visible minorities; women; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and queer (GLBTTQ); and those who have visible or invisible disabilities.

Supporting diversity is something most people want to do, but emerging arts leaders see diversity and inclusion as a necessity to improving arts organizations and the field. In this city, Calgary’s Congress for Equity & Diversity in the Arts has recently brought the topic of diversity to the forefront. Additionally, the DiverseCity onBoard provides board governance training for those with diverse backgrounds. These initiatives and others recognize that an organization that reflects its diverse community benefits from more engaged employees, a more reflective community voice, and more innovation and creativity.

Theme #5: Resources

Calgary Chamber of Volunteer Organizations estimates that there are almost 25,000 non-profits in Alberta. Nine percent are arts and culture organizations. This creates a lot of competition for financial and human resources, which leads to the following challenges:

-new and small organizations have difficulty competing with large institutions who have structure and the recognition of the community

-funding often focuses on project-based funding (which is short-term and unpredictable) rather than core funding that would help make long-term decisions, implement strategic plans, and retain staff

-new models of funding are focused on measuring outcomes and impact and this creates new pressures on organizations

Rather than continuing to compete for financial and human resources, what if we supported and demonstrated a culture of trust and collaboration? Ideas for this include: resources could be used to help organizations manage relationships and partnerships with other organizations; new emerging groups could be encouraged to find a “parent organization” who could support them with governance and administration in a shared platform; or back office arrangements or cluster management could be encouraged where administration is shared amongst existing non-profit groups.

Let’s be creative, collaborative and courageous to make these necessary changes.

Geraldine Ysselstein is an advocate, creative thinker, and community collaborator. In the last 10 years, she has worked and volunteered with a variety of organizations who are involved in arts, culture, heritage, and nature-based activities.

Geraldine is also an enthusiastic student. In this past year, she has taken the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP), the City of Calgary’s Artists Working in Community program, and is currently enrolled in the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s New Fundamentals program.

As an arts leader, Geraldine is turning her attention to strengthening the arts and culture sector by focusing on its human resources – the people who work and volunteer in the arts. In her creative time, she enjoys backpacking and x-country skiing, going to folk festivals, and writing and illustrating children’s books.

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