See you tomorrow morning at 7am, P3 of the Katzen Parking Garage. Thus began our morning adventure to Philadelphia to visit the Barnes Foundation with fellow classmates and professors. But it wasn’t just a visit. Gradually inferring from the carefully crafted itinerary and follow up emails, and especially when we arrived in the board room of the Barnes, it was apparent that the awesome people who organized this access for us were thoroughly investing in the arts leaders of tomorrow.
Mark Mills and Katie Adams, both alumni from the American University Arts Management program, organized the day. It was, for many of us, our first time at the Barnes Foundation—and it could not have been more incredible. Mark and Katie are so enthusiastic about the intriguing history of the Barnes, its move, and its continuing transformation into its new space. They made for great stewards of the experience. They took us on tours of the collection, provided us a generous breakfast and lunch to fuel our day, and described how their roles at the Barnes have allowed them to accomplish great feats in their careers as arts leaders. I was especially impressed as they described developing programs for different levels of donors (including young professionals) and how they’ve significantly increased their donor pool.
The caliber of the day didn’t end there, however. Blake Bradford, the Director of Education, and Lynn Berkowitz, the Family Programs Coordinator at the Barnes illustrated the programming that they infused into the foundation to increase participation and access. To top it off, we had a discussion with Executive Director Derek Gillman about his role and experience as a leader throughout the transformation and move of the Barnes from the Merion location to downtown Philadelphia. He also spoke about exciting things to come for the Barnes Foundation. The enthusiasm, affection, and grit of all of the leaders we encountered were evident. Definitely fuel for our ambitions.
The voices and the scribbled notes from the day have started to settle in, and as I’m sitting here typing away, a main image stands out to me from the day. Matisse’s La Danse – the mammoth three arches of canvas exploding with expressively dancing figures that Dr. Barnes commissioned for his ceiling – is akin to being an emerging, or even an established arts leader: It is a dance. Being a successful arts leader means establishing friendships with the other arts organizations in the same city and geographic location, and especially with those people who do the same job as you. It is the back and forth of partnerships and gaining knowledge and support from those organizations more established and connected. And of course, it is the openness to new ideas, to taking risks, and to always questioning.
Go out and meet the arts leaders of today and participate in great opportunities to learn from their experiences. Go out and dance. They are excited for us, and excited we are as well.Christina Girardi is a first-year student in AU’s Arts Management graduate program and serves as this year’s Finance Assistant on the EALS committee.