It’s been a couple of years since Andrew Mayer raised the subject of Major Leadership Transitions in the Minnesota Arts scene. And a year since Derek Lee Miller gave us an update on The Big Turnover. It’s a bit more than a year since I joined the staff at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and I’ve been reflecting on my own small part in this generational shift.
Over the past year, I’ve kept a growing mental list of people taking on new leadership roles in the Arts in Minnesota. I put my list down on paper, and figured there was no way it was complete. I started an e-mail thread asking others to add to the list. Pretty quickly, I had more than 50 names, including new leaders taking over existing organizations, newly created positions for arts leaders, and people heading up entirely new organizations. And I’m sure the list is still incomplete. (Please leave comments with the names of people I’ve missed.)
Once assembled, my own reaction to the list was: Wow. What a bunch of Slackers. I mean that in the best way – I never liked calling my generation “X”. I preferred the images created by Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker, and by that one song on the first Superchunk album. I also enjoy participating in my generation by making cultural references to obscure independent film and music that I never actually paid much attention to.
But seriously, are these all Gen X leaders? Sure, Joe Haj and Ben Cameron are kind of cusp-y on the Baby Boomer end, and there’s probably some spillover toward the Millennial end as well, but for the most part this is my generation. In all of the years that we waited for this long-anticipated avalanche of Baby Boomer leaders to retire, I started to give up and think we Slackers would be skipped over altogether when it came to new leadership in favor of younger, more eager, more tech-savvy Millennials.
Not that Gen X has been entirely unrepresented, of course. John Bueche, Maren Ward, Noel Raymond and others are Slackers who have been holding down important arts leadership roles for years. At the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Jeff Larson took over from Robin Gillette, who took over from Leah Cooper, and all three of them are Gen X.
MORE THAN AGE DIFFERENCES
The list represents shifts beyond generation. Half or more of the leaders on this list are women. While I’d say this cohort looks more diverse than Minnesota arts leadership has looked in the past, I’d also say we clearly have more work to do in that area.
Having said all of that, I do still see generation as the biggest shift represented in this new wave of leadership. And the shift is happening on multiple levels. The makeup of leadership across the entire sector is shifting and, more pointedly, the leadership of many long-standing arts organizations is changing.
What does it mean? Kate Barr from the Nonprofits Assistance Fund says she sees excitement around the idea of structural change in these organizations. We may see a shift, as she explains it, away from a single-leader focus and toward more genuinely collaborative participation in artistic vision and decision-making. Many of Minnesota's bedrock arts organizations have a long-standing reputation for work that realizes the vision of a singular artistic leader (think of the Garland Wright years at the Guthrie). This model seems to be giving way to organizations whose artistic work is more openly accountable to a wider range of voices. It will likely be years before we see the impacts of that kind of shift on these organizations, the art they generate, and the wider arts community.
For the long-standing arts organizations with leadership from a younger generation, many will be faced with decisions about what parts of their organizations should be preserved and which should be shed entirely. I reently wrote in more detail about this topic over on the Tech Tools of the Trade website.
ONE PERSON’S GAIN IS ANOTHER’S LOSS
And let’s not forget that, while new vision and new leadership is already bringing exciting things to the arts in Minnesota, it also represents loss. For long-standing organizations in leadership transition, this shift replaces a set of leaders who shaped the landscape of our state’s remarkable art sector. It is unlikely every one of these organizations will survive the transition.
My own hope for my cohort of arts leaders is that we gracefully find the balance between the things that made the Minnesota arts scene so vital, and the difficult changes that will be needed to keep it vital. And we may not have long to do it. After waiting so darn long for Baby Boomers to make room, Slacker leaders are a bit late to the game. The youngest of us are pushing 40, often taking over roles originated by Baby Boomers when they were in their 20’s.
How long will we have to make our mark? Generation Y is not far behind. Season 33 of CBS’s Survivor “May the Best Generation Win” already shows us a faux-pocalyptic vision of a Millennial generation who thinks it is time for Gen X to step aside.
HERE’S THE LIST
- Adrienne Dorn, Executive Director, Cedar Cultural Center (who also recently hired a new Artistic Director)
- Alan Berks, Co-Artistic Director, Wonderlust Productions*
- Alejandra Pelinka, Director of Placemaking and Community Engagement, City of Bloomington
- Amy Crawford, Executive Director, MRAC
- Andrea Specht, Executive Director, Artistry
- Andy Maus, Museum Director and CEO, Plains Art Museum
- Anna Keyes, Managing Director, Minnesota Boychoir
- Anne Dugan, Executive and Artistic Director, Duluth Art Institute
- Ben Cameron, President, Jerome Foundation
- Ben McGovern, Producing Artistic Director, Artistry
- Betsy Roder, Executive Director, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center
- Bonnie Schock, Executive Director, The Sheldon Theatre, Red Wing
- Britt Udesen, Executive Director, Loft Literary Center
- Christopher Burawa, Executive Director, The Anderson Center, Red Wing
- Colleen Sheehy, Executive Director, Public Art Saint Paul
- Corrie Zoll, Executive Director, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
- Doug Scholz-Carlson, Artistic Director, Great River Shakespeare Festival
- Ellen Stanley, Executive Director, Minnesota Music Coalition
- Erik Takeshita, Community Creativity Portfolio Director, Bush Foundation
- Eyenga Bokamba, Executive Director, Intermedia Arts
- Gülgün Kayim, Director of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, City of Minneapolis
- Heather Rutledge, Executive Director, ArtReach St. Croix
- Jamie Grant, President and CEO, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
- Jason Peterson, Artistic Director, Yellow Tree Theatre*
- Jennifer Bielstein, Managing Director, The Guthrie Theater
- Jessica Lind Peterson, Associate Artistic and Development Director, Yellow Tree Theatre*
- Jessica Rau, Program and Artistic Director, Cedar Cultural Center
- Joseph Haj, Artistic Director, The Guthrie Theater
- Jon Limbacher, Managing Director and President, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
- Karl Reichert, Executive Director, Textile Center
- Katie Marshall, Executive Director, MacRostie Art Center, Grand Rapids
- Kimberly Motes, Managing Director, Children’s Theatre Company
- Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
- Leah Cooper, Co-Artistic Director, Wonderlust Productions*
- Matthew Fluharty, Executive Director, Art of the Rural*
- Megan Johnston, Executive Director, Rochester Art Center
- Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree, Executive Director, Minnesota Marine Art Museum
- Randy Reyes, Artistic Director, Mu Performing Arts
- Ryan Taylor, President and General Director, Minnesota Opera
- Sarah Bellamy, Artistic Director, Penumbra Theatre
- Sarah Buechmann, Executive Director, Mankato Symphony
- Sarah Millfelt, Director, Northern Clay Center
- Sarah Rasmussen, Artistic Director, The Jungle Theatre
- Scott Artley, Executive Artistic Director, Patrick’s Cabaret
- Shannon Brunette, Managing Director, Penumbra Theatre
- Shannon Freeby, Managing Director, Mu Performing Arts
- Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director, Forecast Public Art
Who did I miss? Leave comments.
*Founder of new organization. Not a transition.