Many times the pathway to leadership is not always clear – especially in the arts. You cannot be what you cannot see. When more people from different backgrounds are represented at the top levels of arts management, young people have recognizable landmarks from their own culture and identity to help create their own career path.
For the past 30 years, Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) has given college students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in arts leadership the opportunity to see a future in the arts. For the first time, Wake County joined five other communities across the country to host the DIAL internship program created by Americans for the Arts and administered locally by United Arts. This summer, five interns were chosen out of over 40 applicants to build their arts administration skills under the guidance of handpicked supervisors at Diamante Arts and Cultural Center, North Carolina Theatre, Artspace, Burning Coal Theatre Company, and Community Music School.
The DIAL program is not your typical fetch coffee or answer the phone summer experience. It is a ten-week, paid internship designed to give students hands-on and real-world experience, as well as access to a built-in network of arts leaders across sectors. In addition to their substantive projects, interns had weekly opportunities for professional development on a wide variety of topics, and mentors from outside their arts organizations were matched with each intern to widen their networks. While the reasons college graduates seek and retain a job in the arts are varied, having a lasting career in the arts often comes down to having strong professional relationships and the right opportunities to showcase their capabilities.
United Arts hosted a closing reception for the interns at Diamante Arts and Cultural Center to celebrate their accomplishments. Each intern stood up and spoke passionately about not only their projects, but how they felt about our arts community, their mentors, their fellow interns, and more.
Alhanna (Diamante Arts and Cultural Center): Compiled the first NC Latino Artist database and curated an exhibition about the last 25 years at Diamante. The internship helped her “gain confidence, overcome her creative block, and connect and explore her culture.”
Devon (NC Theatre): Created a college prep program for high school students and assisted with choreography for their summer musical. His internship provided “opportunities to meet so many artists, directors, and leaders in the community” and gave him a “home here in Raleigh and a home at NCT,” and he hopes to return to Raleigh soon.
Lauren (Artspace): Created community partnerships to reach people beyond their physical space through outreach and art pop-ups. Although she is a performance artist, and her internship was at a visual arts organization, she discovered, “Any type of art is my art.” She loved being at the “intersection between community and art.”
Sabrina (Burning Coal Theatre): Compiled company history into a database for their 25th anniversary and wrote, directed, and produced their “Poetry in Motion” video to be used in schools. One thing they really liked was how “all the arts organizations in Raleigh are there to support each other and not bring each other down.”
Jahleesa (Community Music School): Was the assistant program director of the school’s summer music camp and gained experience in grant writing. She said she has had “so many opportunities to connect with arts administrators and leaders in Raleigh” which gave her the “confidence to build mentor/mentee relationships with anyone she finds interesting and inspiring.”
One common thread was the love the interns had for each other and the respect and gratitude they had for the program leader at United Arts, Kelly Schrader. One student said, “We could all relate to each other. We as minorities have similar experiences.” They all spoke fondly about each other, how they inspired each other, how they learned so much from each other. One intern summed it up perfectly, “Your passion fuels me!”
After lots of tears and even more laughter, everyone reluctantly said good-bye with promises to keep in touch.
If art is a reflection of life, then arts leaders should reflect the communities they serve. When more people with diverse backgrounds are hired, more stories have the opportunity to be told allowing more perspectives of life to be represented. If the future of arts leadership includes these five smart, kind, insightful students, we are in very good hands!