When Michelle Grove, MA arts management ’08, first imagined organizing a leadership conference, she described it as just a “half-baked idea.” But her initiative quickly gained ground and before she knew it, in 2008, she was the founder of the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS), an event that is still held annually at American University.

“It’s so exciting to see this initiative continue,” Grove says. “I felt like it was such an important thing to do, not only for the sector, the young people and emerging leaders who might attend the symposium, but a great opportunity for students in the program.”

The Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium is an annual, one-day event catered to young professionals in the arts. It features networking opportunities, a keynote address, and professional development panels run by industry leaders. The fourth EALS will be held at American University on April 15, 2012, the day before Arts Advocacy Day.

“I think EALS is a really unique opportunity that American University can bring to the table,” says Sherburne Laughlin, AU arts management program director. “We have the assets to make it work, the student leadership, and the contacts. We have the location, and in so much of the content and thinking, we are on the cutting edge of the field.”

When Grove first envisioned EALS, her timing was a perfect fit for the university, Laughlin recounts, as she wanted more leadership education for her students. “She had an idea at the same time I saw the need,” she adds.

The goal of EALS was for it to be an open event that allowed arts management students to network outside the university, says Grove, who is now director of grants at the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. “It’s about building that network, which is so incredibly important when you work in a field that’s so small as arts management is, but so spread out geographically,” Grove says. “Opening up and engaging with your community and your peers is very important.”

The first EALS event was a success, and all of the seats were sold out, Grove recounts. “One of the highlights of the event was a question and answer session with a panel of arts leaders, which allowed the audience to have a meaningful conversation with them,” she adds.

Networking opportunities and hosting interactive sessions have remained strong components in each year’s conference. Each event also includes multiple breakout sessions, which in past years have covered topics such as career development, management, board governance, and building global connections. The symposium also features a keynote address from a notable arts leader. Past speakers include Sandra Gibson, former resident and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters; Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities; and Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Each year, EALS is organized by a new executive committee composed of arts management graduate students that plans all event details, including selecting speakers and panelists, hosting fundraising events, managing the budget, and developing marketing plans. Although Laughlin advises the students, she tries to remain as hands-off as possible. “This was a practice in leadership,” Laughlin says. “It was a perfect way to have students test out some leadership ideas and do it in a certain context and get in touch with leaders in the field themselves.”

Grove also sees the value of planning EALS and encourages students to become involved. “If you’re a current student, it’s an opportunity to interact with people outside of the academic world,” Grove says. “In terms of the planning, it’s not just classroom skills; it’s real hands-on learning with event planning and leadership.”

For more information on attending the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium 2012 on April 15, visit the symposium Website.