Sixto Wagan

What the National Performance Network has Meant to Me

by Sixto Wagan

Sixto Wagan

Him. I nominate him.  We always talk of bringing younger people to the table, and he’s an artist, of color, and you’re queer, too, right?

Olga Garay, then director of cultural programs at Miami-Dade Community College, stated those words during that Southern Caucus Regional breakout at the Seattle Annual Meeting in 1997, nominating me to what would soon become the NPN Board of Directors. At first I didn’t realize how much these words would change my life.  I was supposed to be teaching high school English and doing this performance art thing as a cool side gig, right?

Prior to that Annual Meeting, the National Performance Network was just this cool group that helped to pay for my first gig as a performing artist in the School’s OUT: The Naming Project residency with Mary Ellen Strom and Barbara Bickart at DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas.  So I had already experienced NPN’s ability to affect lives through art, and all of that personal transformative stuff.

What I didn’t realize at that Seattle meeting, was how much NPN was going to define the core values of how I work as a professional.  Being on the NPN Board during the transition from Dance Theatre Workshop to its own organization meant that I participated in short- and long-term visioning sessions, meetings with artists and presenters, and lots of difficult conversations, but all with incredible people who held artists and their work as the reason for coming together.

As I continued to become disenchanted with the institution of secondary education in Houston, DiverseWorks’ performing arts director Loris Bradley and executive director Emily Todd were having conversations with San San Wong and MK Wegmann with NPN (then executive director and co-chair of the board, respectively); Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO); and Rachel Weiss from the Master of Arts in Arts Administration program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago about “succession planning” and “next generation leadership.”  They came up with this cockamamie plan to actually pay people a reasonable salary to work with a mentor at an arts organization for a year (or two). This wasn’t the typical slave labor concept, but a mutual learning environment that gave the mentee unprecedented opportunities to learn, share and make things happen. I jumped at the chance to be the Pilot Mentee for the National Arts Administration Mentorship Program (NAAMP). My experiences helped shape the program that, in 2000, gave six young administrators and five seasoned administrators a chance to grow and learn together. (See the full report about our experiences at http://www.npnweb.org/resources/.)

Those two years gave me practical knowledge, access to more mentor-figures than you could imagine, and opportunities to test ideas at DiverseWorks.  I believe that NAAMP was and will always be different from most mentorships because the program was not just about the “how,” but more about the “why.”  Core values that brought all the members of NPN and NAAO together — empowering artists and communities; equity; shared responsibility; transparency; partnership and cooperation; great art — they shaped how the work was going to get done and what defined success.

To me, NPN will always be those core values and the people around the table who practice them every day.  Thank you NPN for having the vision to change the world, and the skills and people to actually do it.




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