Qualities of Artistic Leaders

Artistic leaders working in the field of collaborative community art differ from artistic leaders in established arts institutions.

One of the biggest differences is the status of the artistic leader in the project. While in both cases the artistic leader provides an idea, inspiration and guidance for the people and organizations involved in the project, the difference begins to show when it comes to production and promotion. In traditional theatres, orchestras and galleries, the artistic directors are seen as the leaders and often celebrated. They are featured in interviews, and are centre stage in promotions. Arts organizations hold fundraising events that offer patrons the chance to cook with, sit with, eat with their artistic directors, and the patrons are happy to pay for the opportunity.

For the artistic leader in the community, it’s different. No matter how established the artistic leader is professionally, their genius and talent is not the focus of the project. They are often unnamed, their ideas credited to the community group and there is no obvious status gap between director and community art members. Artists become facilitators who oversee art products, while the community takes on the active part of creative contributor. Great community art leaders understand the difference between community art and community art collaborations.

  • Community art is often art made by or installed in the community. The primary importance is placed on the art. It is about the product, which can stand alone without an understanding of the process.
  • Community art collaboration is about people first and art second. The art is about how people relate and make stuff together. The most important thing is the process and people involved. One of the most important features of great community art leaders is their ability to connect to and listen to others. While they are talented artists, they understand their artistic talents are important to enhance the project – not be the project. Great artistic leaders have experience working with others. They commit to the people and the project. They adapt, they reflect, they improve.

A successful leader of artist and community collaborations needs to be exceptional in four key areas:

  1. Artistic talent and experience
  2. Compassion and passion
  3. Basic understanding of community development
  4. Organizational and administrative skills

At first glance, this list appears to showcase four varied skills that could be done by four separate people. When it comes to leading artistic projects in communities, one person is often required to have skills in all of these areas. If you are thinking about leading an art project in a community and you don’t possess the above skills, you’ll want to gain experience in the necessary areas, or recruit someone to help who has the necessary skills.

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