The Next Steps

April 4, 2016  •  4 minute read

by Jonathan McCrory

(left to right) Harold Steward, Candace L. Feldman, Jonathan McCrory, Ashley Walden Davis

A future is a system of variables yoked together, impacted by the past and conducted by the present. The concept of a future is a collective generative act and Next Generation National Arts Network (NextGen) is a collective generative response to help orchestrate a transition happening in the arts sector. Looking at the current state of the arts administration field there is a huge gap appearing in age and skill. Through a collective effort led by artists and administrators, both emerging and established, NextGen has galvanized a safe space that shares information equitably among our peers and our colleagues. As with all movements – yes this is a movement – NextGen was formed out of a need to “name.” We wanted to name where these gaps were happening in our sector, what was happening, who it has impacted, and how we are going to walk into the next era of arts administration in America as a success story.

Looking specifically at small to mid-size anchoring cultural arts institutions, it became clear that the pending event that was looming in the next few years would be a changing of the guard – a transition where legacy holders step down and burgeoning new torch bearers emerge to take command. I am personally an example of that now, holding the position of Director of Theatre Arts Program at a 47-year old institution. When I originally took on the position in 2012, I was 26 years old, and from there forward my life changed. This position at the National Black Theatre, founded by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in Harlem, was my first institutional job. However I wonder if, like myself, these next generational leaders are being equipped with the tools to manage this massive transitions and forgo some of the learning curves of their predecessors? We were wrestling with the age old question; are we ready?

So, sitting in New Orleans, LA at the National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network Annual Meeting in November, 2013, a group of artists and administrators wrestled with how to solve this conundrum. That initial collective gathering sparked four arts administrators of color to start what was originally called NextGen, which now has grown into NextGen National Arts Network. We sought, and continue to seek, to create a healing ointment that will help to protect mid- to small-sized culturally specific institutions, because those veteran organizations are historically most vulnerable to this pending transition. This is due to the discrepancy in the lack of equitable resources given within the art sector. Not waiting for this to happen or pleading for help, Harold Steward, Candace L. Feldman, Ashley Walden Davis and I assumed leadership, and recently expanding this leadership to include Elliat Graney-Saucke. Together we have formed a free resource platform and potential stop gap to help groom each other and our colleagues to gain access to the experiential, visionary and avant garde knowledge needed to helm these gigantic leadership positions. We are creating a living virtual bridge for legacy to be transferred.

We are the generation of generosity. A generation that seeks to find holistic ways that support each other while maintaining our culturally rich ecosystems that truly represent the diversity of the cities we live in. We are leaders who are not homogenizing into the mainstream fanfare, but rather, challenging the system to accept the nuance found in our beautiful differences: locally, nationally, sexually, racially, and religiously, to name a few.

Over the past three years, NextGen also has facilitated workshops at national arts conferences; namely, the National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network Annual Meeting, the South Arts Performing Arts Exchange, and the Theatre Communications Group National Conference. These landing points have helped us to connect ”person to person” instead of solely through our virtual community. Through such activities, we have been able to learn the actual needs of our membership base.

Through our growing membership, which is currently approximately 250 members, NextGen has been able to utilize Facebook and Google Drive as digital tools to grow membership and share information. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have been an active resource in providing job opportunity notifications. To document and store our work, we currently have a Google Drive folder that holds all the recordings, articles and NextGen reports. Google Drive, Mailchimp and Facebook have allowed us to share with the field while exercising a culture of transparency within the organization. As we publicly proclaim our progress and challenges, we not only attract more people to be at the table, we are also inspiring our peers and colleagues to dismantle the ”crabs in a barrel” scarcity mentality.

Currently NextGen is completely volunteer based and run, from a heart and soul mentality that is committed to the betterment of our field at large.

The potential and future of NextGen lies in many different directions. One is a possible national convening of self-identified next generational leaders. Serving not only as a training session, this convening could help us to break the silos of silence that we tend to find ourselves stewing in. The arts, though communal, is so isolated. Outside of the convening, another aspect of the future of NextGen lies in our online presence, including our active website, which helps to further our mission by the brand messaging of the organization. NextGen has the potential to become and to offer so many things. In sustaining its growing network through online and physical presence and resources, fiscal support that sustains its operations may also be in the future mix.

I am clear that the NextGen National Arts Network is potentially an opportunity to help with the building of the secession plan for this generation. A plan that helps us document the legacies of what has happened, analyze the bumps in between, and create a space where self-love and self-care are at the forefront for those who work in the arts. NextGen National Arts Network is here to breathe with our community, brag about the successes of our community, and envision with gratitude the future of our community. We are the farmer tilling the land and planting the seeds of deep desire that will build stronger formidable institutions that truly highlight and show the diversities of our community.