Arts Leadership — Measuring Impact

In my most recent post I commented on the difference (s) between leadership and entrepreneurship.  While I didn’t state it explicitly, I implied that leadership sits on a platform of altruism, while entrepreneurship may, or may not.  Social entrepreneurism appears altruistic, but what can be called commercial altruism may not.

I’ve become increasingly concerned, as programs in arts leadership have burgeoned, that the activities undertaken and the curriculum taught is not consistently focused on altruistic outcomes.  What I find is a vast array of well-intentioned projects, programs and activities that in design may benefit the giver more than those receiving them.  This is nothing new, as when I was a music educator, I remember being contacted by the representative of a local professional orchestra, who told me that she had received a grant to work with my high school orchestra.  That I had never been consulted about the grant proposal didn’t seem to matter to her.

So, how should one teach arts leadership, how should one construct a curriculum that addresses goals of genuine value, but also includes the acquisition of essential skills and provides for empirical learning?

I begin by asserting that this process can and should be systematic, not random.  Simply challenging students to accept all opportunities do as much as they can outside their standard curriculum, etc. does not by design teach or shape leadership.  So, perhaps a leadership curriculum could establish goals with outcomes from the vantage point of 3 perspectives

The first of these would be the overarching, altruistic goals for a particular activity, project, or program.  A series of concerts for a restricted population brings the gift of the power of music, but it also promotes a sense of community that can lead to stronger and deeper relationships within that community (social capital).  Keeping one’s eye on these ‘lofty’ goals provides students with important understanding, and an advocacy base for future reference.

The second would address just exactly the intended activity expects each receiving participant to experience or learn.  This line of thinking will help shape the activity, as it places the locus of experience on the receiver/participant.  Setting anticipated outcomes and establishing how they will be measured (even if informally) will further strengthen the content and sequence of the activity.

And third, what does the student or students expect to learn, and how do they plan to equip themselves with those skills and abilities that will allow them to effectively provide the activity?  These learning areas will surely include communications skills and organizational skills as well as research skills that focus on the characteristics and expectations of the proposed community to be served.

Some years ago I would have pooh-poohed this approach, as I advocated just sending highly motivated and talented young people into the community to get their leadership experience.  I’ve changed my thinking, as I have been disappointed with the effectiveness of this approach.  And, I’ve changed my thinking as I have taught leadership.  Most students need skills and measured and mentored experiences to more fully assume higher and higher levels of leadership.



About the author

James Undercofler

Jim has been a Professor at Drexel University since May, 2009. His previous appointment - since August, 2007 - was as the President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jim was Dean of the Eastman School of Music from 1997 to 2007. He has played a prominent role in musical arts and music education throughout his career. Before joining Eastman in 1995 as associate director for academic affairs and professor of music education, he was an active, performing chamber musician as well as first horn in the New Haven Symphony. Jim serves as board president, American Music Center; advisory board member, Arts Education Policy Review; board member, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, New York State Association of College Music Programs and American Symphony Orchestra League, and is a founding member, NETWORK of Performing and Visual Arts Schools and Mercury Opera of Rochester.

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