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Editor’s Note: Mary Roeder works in Education & Community Engagement at UMS and is also our resident jet-setter and theater expert

A couple of months ago I got some great news—I found out I had been accepted into the second round of the Leadership Development Institute (LDI), a program facilitated by —get ready for a mouthful— the Association of Arts Presenters (APAP) and the Research Center for Leadership in Action at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University (RCLA).  Phew.  APAP is the national service and advocacy organization that looks after the performing arts industry here in the US. Many of us UMS staffers attend their annual conference in NYC every January. The work of the RCLA is broadly centered around “moving beyond the traditional ‘heroic’ image of a leader to facilitating leadership in which people work across sectors and boundaries to find common solutions.”  So, APAP + RCLA = LDI, and LDI’s main aim is to develop the leadership capacity of mid-career performing arts professionals.

How is this accomplished?  Through a specific kind of research that the 14 of us chosen to participate are doing together called collaborative inquiry (CI).  CI is a practice grounded in the idea that we can come to know certain things by researching “with” rather than “on.”  Put another way, each of us will serve as both the test subject and the researcher in our respective “lab” (our organization).  The process is moved forward through a repeated series of reflection and action around a certain theme in which the participants all have a vested interest.  Our group is researching how an organization can come to know and connect with its community. The output—other than 14 newly minted performing arts leaders/forces to be reckoned with—will be a white paper we’ll present at the aforementioned APAP Conference in January 2013.

Our first session was held at the end of April in Austin, Texas. I’d never before been to the great magical land of cowboys and BBQ, so I was, needless to say, very excited to be there. With our two facilitators/den mothers—RCLA executive director Bethany Godsoe and Theresa Holden, co-director of Holden and Arts Associates—securely at the reins, we spent a great deal of time on the first day getting to know the people behind all those intimidating bios and learning about the process.  By the second day (and several trees worth of sticky notes later) we were well on our way towards narrowing down our specific research question—the thesis that will ultimately form the backbone of our work. By the final day, we’d been assigned accountability partners (Brad and Beth are the unlucky pair tasked with keeping me on track) and had settled on a series of action steps we’d each commit to take between then and our next session in June.

So that’s where we’re at—each working hard to get our homework done by June 18 when we take the city of Washington DC by storm.  I’ll delve more into the specifics next time, so get ready!

In the meantime, I am pleased to present to you my 13 esteemed partners in this lofty endeavor (and a brief fun fact about each):

  • Bobby Asher, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, MD (was only a few short weeks away from marriage during the time of our first convening and was remarkably present)
  • Brad Carlin, Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX (was only a day away from the start of his organizations’ festival launch and was remarkably present)
  • Sharon Fantl, Redfern Arts Center/Keene State College, Keene, NH (state-straddling New Englander, living in Vermont, but working in New Hampshire)
  • Brooke Horejsi, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Fine Arts Programmin*, St. Joseph,MN (awoke ridiculously early on our last morning in Austin to do 6am hot yoga across town)
  • Rebekah Lengel, Miami Light Project, Miami, FL (the second youngest member of the group and the lone holdout from Facebook)
  • Mollie McFarland, AXIS Dance Company, Oakland, CA (the first to hit the dance floor at the Continental Club in Austin)
  • Elizabeth Snodgrass, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY (had a do-over of a certain milestone birthday because she was sick during the actual one; purchased herself a ukulele to celebrate)