Just this month, Emiko Ono, Program Officer in Performing Arts at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, came to Drexel's campus to speak with students and arts leaders about her research report, "Moving Arts Leadership Forward". Before the lecture and reception, Ms. Ono set aside time to speak individually with students about their work in relation to hers, and while speaking with me, agreed to have our conversation published in ArtsLine.
Jade Cintron: What professional or personal experiences led you to this work? Can you tell me about the impetus for this research?
Emiko Ono: The Hewlett Foundation has been funding the development of leadership in the arts since 2009, it actually started before I got there and it was something I was passionate about and so it’s work I took over when I started working at the foundation in 2011. Then we realized it had been some time since we really took a look at what leaders needed in the field and we thought things might be different, but we weren’t totally sure and that’s when we commissioned Mike (Michael Courville) to do the research. We were funding arts leadership in a very particular way: We were funding a lot of smaller organizations formerly called Emerging Leader organizations that were developed by and for younger leaders in the field and we wanted to know if that was still necessary or had they sort of developed the voice and professional skills that they wanted to out of that work, was it still something worth investing in, were there new needs..and so this Moving Arts Leadership Forward paper was sort of a scan of the field.
JC: So it wasn’t originally intended to be a research report?
EO: Right. When we did the scan, we didn’t think we were going to publish it as a research report, but there was this one page that Mike wrote up for us that was like These are all the ways the field has changed the economic pressures, the professionalization of the field…those major themes. And that one page is actually the nugget of this report. It was one page of like 50 but it really described what was going on, all these big social forces that were at work in many invisible ways, we thought that was worthy of sharing with the field.
JC: Wow, so this opportunity fell onto your lap. Now that you’ve had a taste of the work, do you see more research in your future?
EO: You know, when I wrote it I thought, “This is a lot of work, I totally feel for researchers”. Mike was really great at coaching me and helping me understand why certain words meant what they did and so I really came to have a great appreciation for researchers and language even more than I did before. I didn’t think the paper would be a huge hit in the field, I just thought it was important to get out there but actually a lot of people were interested and I’ve seen how much it’s been of service to people. A lot of organizations have told me that they’ve used the “Distributed Leadership” quiz at the end, for example one organization made it into an anonymous survey and gave it to their whole entire staff to see how they were doing and how they could improve and they actually created a plan based on that feedback.
JC: That’s a great idea. Now if everybody would do that!
EO: Yeah! And with the warm reception of the paper, I’ve realized this is valuable work, so this year I hope Mike and I will write a series of articles or case studies about who’s actually doing it well.
JC: So it’s branching off this research and you’ll follow up to see who has benefited and how?
EO: Yeah, people who are at different stages…cause there’s lots of different ways to do it and it’s so hard for people to conceptualize it if they haven’t grown up in the system or been exposed to that or they don’t have a natural pension for it so we’re hoping to just write stories about who’s doing it whether it be the benefits or what’s been hard and who’s winning as a result of it.
JC: Do you think you’ll continue to focus on California or expand to other states?
EO: I’m not sure. Mike knows of a few organizations in California that have been doing the work since he’s really been keeping his ear to the ground, so I think we’ll use a few of those. I want to get a diverse set of organizations: big, small, western classical, community based…you know? I want to get a hodge podge and people who are doing it as an every day practice in how they do the work versus people who are thinking of restructuring the organization and thinking about that more like the infrastructure they have in place for it. We don’t know yet, but that’s 2018.
JC: Excellent. I look forward to 2018 then. Best of luck to both of you!
EO: Thank you!