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(APAP + RCLA) ^ DC = LDI x 2

3 months ago, I provided some riveting coverage of the first convening of the second cohort of the LDI program. It is about time to revisit our progress. But you probably already concluded that from the title of this post because you are very good at theoretical computations of acronyms and place names.

When I last left you, I was about to depart for the District of Columbia for the second meeting of LDI. While there, we spent a fair amount of time debriefing the action steps we’d committed to taking in the aftermath of the first round in Austin. Remember…the LDI group is doing a collaborative inquiry to understand how an organization can come to know and connect with communities…a process which requires a repeated series of actions and debriefing sessions. The actions included a bunch of readings, an audit of current organizational community engagement practices, interviews with community members broadly identified as either currently engaged with our organization or not, and for some of us, either a mapping exercise of our choosing or an interview with someone we felt was an exemplar in the area of connecting with communities.

As a result of the debriefing sessions, we started to notice some themes developing. Many of our conversations started to fall broadly into several areas (which may or may not show up in some form in our final report. I make absolutely no promises.). These are Knowing/Understanding Community (i.e. a list of strategies and best practices), Shaping Internal Culture (i.e. a recognition that an organization must actively embrace community engagement as part of its mission if it wants to be successful in Knowing and Understanding) and Evaluation (i.e. how do we know when we know and understand community and how do we communicate this?).

These headers ultimately informed the next round of actions we’ve been working on and which we will debrief starting this Wednesday in DC. All 14 of us worked on the Shaping Internal Culture bit by developing a staff action/knowledge building experience around our topic and documenting what happened (here’s a sneak peak for you the reader that the rest of my team doesn’t know yet…I failed to deliver on this one. YIKES. Summer time proved too tricky to get all of our staff together in one place for this exercise. I will try again, though! ). Also on this front, we were asked to grill the management teams at our home organizations about their impressions of engagement work happening at those organizations. For the other two areas, we split off into groups. I was on team Evaluation, aka “The Immeasurables.” We read. A lot. Assigned readings and some that were self-selected. We did an audit of current organizational evaluation tactics and practices. We were also asked to conduct expert interviews with folks outside the arts sector about their evaluation strategies. Luckily, being situated on a major university campus this wasn’t hard. I went deep into Public Health land and learned that they’re dealing with the same questions we’re grappling with in this exercise.

Yes. I’m glossing over things here, but think of it like you do the anxiety-inducing (super annoying) season-ending cliffhanger of your favorite JJ Abrams cable television show. I’m dangling what is clearly a LOST-esque carrot in front of you. But instead of asking you to delay your understanding of why there are polar bears living on an island, I’m asking you to hold out for our final report and presentation at the APAP conference in January for the full story. Yes. It is going to be that huge.

Outing fun facts about my LDI colleagues was so fun last time, that I’m going to do it again. This time, you’ll get to hear about what they thought their summer plans might include at the time of our last meeting in late June:

• Bobby Asher, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, MD (newly married and poor as a result. Only solid plans include remembering to wear his wedding ring)

• Brad Carlin, Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX (going on a New Orleans swamp trip)

• Rachel DeGuzman, Rochester City Ballet, Rochester, NY (crossing the border for a family vacation à Quebec City)

• Shirley Elliott, Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust, Tulsa, OK (cruisin’ on the Vespa and a whole lot of gardening)

• Sharon Fantl, Redfern Arts Center/Keene State College, Keene, NH (jet setting to Copenhagen. With a one-year old. )

• Emily Harney, MAPP International Productions, New York, NY (Wedding planning and camping in a tent in her NYC living room)

• Brooke Horejsi, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Fine Arts Programming, St. Joseph,MN (dining at a Dutch oven dinner party. She assured us that this is a real thing)

• Rebekah Lengel, Miami Light Project, Miami, FL (hangin’ with her brother and sister-in-law’s new baby)

• Mollie McFarland, AXIS Dance Company, Oakland, CA (celebrating her son’s pre-K graduation and taking their first trip to Disney)

• Judy Oliver-Turner, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Olympia, WA (concert-hopping and checking out Journey, Pat Benatar, and Loverboy)

• Andre Perry, The Englert Theater, Iowa City, IA (going on vacation to San Francisco)

• Liza Sacheli Lloyd, Mahaney Center for the Arts, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT (breaking the rules and playing in a Middlebury College men’s only golf outing; assured us she will not be using a hockey stick)

• Elizabeth Snodgrass, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY (celebrating her sister’s marriage in Wisconsin; also mentioned that Carnegie gives all their staff paid vacation every Friday between the 4th of July and Labor Day!)


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)