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Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium a Big Success

By Steven Dawson

EALS 2013 Katzen Plaza

EALS participants networking in front of the Katzen Arts Center. Photo: Steven Dawson

Once again, the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium at American University has proven to be a smashing success. The symposium, known by the acronym EALS, is in its sixth year. The annual meeting of students and young professionals who work in the arts is held at American University. As national partners with Americans for the Arts, EALS is the official kickoff for Arts Advocacy Day and is held the day before that event.

The symposium offers an opportunity to engage in discussions with experienced leaders in the field about issues that affect arts organizations. Past keynote speakers have included Rachel Goslins, Ben Cameron, Bob Lynch, and Adrian Ellis. Karen Brooks Hopkins and Aaron Dworkin provided the keynote addresses this year.

The theme of EALS 2013 was “Looking to the Horizon.” Each speaker and panel discussed new and innovative strategies and ideas in their respective topics: international arts management, marketing, audience engagement, career advancement, innovative organization models, and fundraising.

As the executive chair, I am proud to report that EALS 2013 was by far the largest and most successful symposium ever. Counting the speakers, attendees, staff, and volunteers, 225 people walked through the doors on Sunday, April 7. That proved to be well over double last year’s number, a record growth for the symposium. EALS also extended its reach throughout the country. In previous years attendees came mostly from the surrounding D.C. metro area or from within a few hours’ drive from D.C. EALS 2013, however, drew attendees from the entire East Coast, the Midwest, and as far west as Utah.

What caused so many people from so many locales to flock to American University? We on the EALS Executive Committee, a selected committee of American University arts management students, focused on quality programming. At the beginning of the planning process, we made the decision to host big names from the industry who have valuable knowledge and experience to share. Doing so was a financial gamble, but we on the committee had faith that presenting the highest quality programming would pay for itself by attracting more attendees. We were right.

The morning began with my opening remarks and a welcome and jumped right into the keynote address by Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Since taking over as president of BAM in 1999, Hopkins has led the organization with stunning success, riding the waves of financial and philanthropic ups and downs. As a result of her leadership, annual attendance at BAM exploded, the budget more than doubled, and the organization’s endowment has almost tripled to over $80 million. Her address connected the day’s topics with her real and successful organization. A perfect start to the day.

The attendees then split off into the morning breakout sessions. Gail Humphries Mardirosian (American University, Department of Performing Arts), Todd Dellinger (Rider University), Stacy White (U.S. Department of State), and Ximena Varela (American University, Department of Performing Arts) discussed the newest research and issues in international arts management, a growing area of the arts.

The other morning panel, Marketing for Today’s Organizations, saw leading marketing specialists expressing multiple points of view on issues such as subscription plans. Panelists included JoAnn LaBrecque-French (the Washington Ballet), Jennifer Buzzell (Strathmore), Khady Kamara (Arena Stage), and Jack Rasmussen (American University Museum director and curator).

One afternoon panel, Audience Engagement, focused on the importance of engaging audiences—not selling to them—and the strategies to do so. Those panelists included engagement experts Margy Waller (Topos Partnership), JR Russ (Dance Place), Alli Houseworth (Method 121), Doug Borwick (ArtsEngaged), and AU’s Varela.

The second afternoon panel featured younger arts leaders who discussed starting and advancing their careers. Panelists included Jojo Ruf (National New Play Network), Christopher K. Morgan (Christopher K. Morgan & Artists and artist in residence at American University), Allison Peck (Freer|Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian), and Anne L’Ecuyer (American University, Department of Performing Arts).

The Innovative Organization Models panel rounded out the afternoon. Rachel Grossman (dog&pony DC), Thaddeus Squire (Culture Works Greater Philadelphia), Margaret Boozer (Red Dirt Studio), and Andrew Taylor (American University, Department of Performing Arts) discussed some of the most cutting-edge organizations.

Attendees came together again to attend a panel on one of the most important parts of arts management, yet one of the most uncomfortable: fundraising. The panel was moderated by Taylor and included Barbara Ciconte (Donor Strategies), Kendall Ladd (Sitar Arts Center), Pete Miller (local arts board member and philanthropist), and Russell Willis Taylor (National Arts Strategies).

The day concluded with Aaron Dworkin’s closing keynote address. Dworkin is the founder and president of the Sphinx Organization, the leading organization focused on cultural diversity in the arts, and President Obama’s first appointee to the National Council for the Arts. His poignant and invigorating address dealt with the issue of racial access to the fine arts and how arts leaders must work to make the arts represent the true diversity of the United States.

For more information on the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium and to hear audio recordings of the conference, visit the EALS website.