Introduction to Brushing Up: Pathways in Arts Leadership
A blog series by Sally Jane Brown
**Burnout and Doubt**
Twenty years ago, I decided to step away from the art world. After earning a bachelor’s in studio art (from University of Nebraska!), and dedicating my efforts to various arts organizations, burnout took its toll. I grappled with the belief that
I didn’t deserve to make art
–there are already so many struggling artists out there contributing to the conversation. I felt like I kept hitting walls, not making a meaningful impact. I donated my art supplies, and embarked on another career path.
**Rediscovering My Passion**
Time passed, and as I found myself immersed in the transformative throes of motherhood, a renewed creative spark ignited within me. I began sketching the ultrasounds during pregnancy and continued to capture my baby’s presence in various everyday moments. Despite the indifference of the external world to these works (except family, of course), an inner compulsion to create came about. I was also feeling a new detached relationship with my body as a mom–constantly feeding, holding, caring for, rocking, singing to, little sleep of my own, if only when she did–
whose body is this now?
I needed to explore this newfound complexity and the only way I knew this was through art.
**Mentorship and Confidence**
I got the courage to ask an artist I admired, Wanda Ewing (pictured left), if I could study with her independently for a semester and model for some of her drawing classes, to get my feet slowly back into the arts in a way I never had. Working with her in both ways, as an artist and class model, boosted my confidence in creation and in
seeing my body in new ways, not just a mothering one.
**Entering Arts Journalism**
This confidence led me to inquiring with the local alternative paper (The Reader!) about writing arts features–this would also get me back into the arts scene with a purpose. I connected with artists, gallerists and curators with a shared mission, and I loved it! However, I couldn’t help but notice that most of my articles featured male artists (not to anyone’s particular conscious fault). In tandem with my personal artistic exploration, I wrestled with questions of self-expression as a woman and mother.
Was it okay to create work that explored my body and identity,
or did I need to accept societal expectations of modesty in my work?
**Empowering Women Artists**
This led me to start my own blog (Les Femmes Folles), interviewing women artists about their inspirations and careers. What began as a local venture soon expanded its reach globally. The connections and mutual admiration fostered by this platform led to collaborative exhibitions (see me in front of Peerless Gallery during a packed exhibition opening at right) and events, centered around women’s experience in the arts. From these rich interactions, I crafted a series of art-and-poetry books. I even illustrated two award winning books myself, while continuing to explore my own artistic endeavors (and mothering!). Despite facing criticism along the way, a profound realization crystallized:
I am deserving, as are all of us, of unreservedly expressing our bodies and ourselves.
Today, as I continue my own artistic endeavors confidently, leveraging my arts administrative and curatorial experience, additional education in the arts and administration, I find myself once again on the path of growth. Reflecting on the decade-long journey of that blog, which featured over a thousand women worldwide, I am driven to seek answers to new questions. How can we, as arts leaders, make a tangible impact on arts leadership? What steps are arts administrators taking to enhance accessibility in the arts, and how can we learn from their experience?
**A New Mission**
Being an arts administrator is undeniably challenging, encompassing budget constraints, resource competition, the delicate balance between artistry and administration; navigating technological advancements, sustainability concerns, fostering inclusivity, audience development, and more. In the face of these challenges, arts leaders must be resourceful, adaptable, and unwaveringly committed to their organizations’ missions. The arts, after all, are not mere adornments but vital reflections of humanity.
Without art, what indeed are we?
So – let’s brush up…are you an arts leader? What are your thoughts?
-Sally Jane Brown, October, 2023