A report from the National Arts Strategies Executive Program – Part 2

Brandon Bell is an arts administrator and percussionist. He is director of education and artistic administrator at Da Camera and is an adjunct faculty member at Houston Community College. He is currently writing his dissertation as he completes the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and is a 2019 fellow of the National Arts Strategies Executive Program in Arts and Culture Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Greetings from 34,000 feet somewhere above Appalachia. I’m returning to Houston having just spent three days at the first convening of the National Arts Strategies (NAS) Executive Program in Arts and Culture Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania. To be honest, I am not exactly sure what to write in this space. My head is swimming and I need time to absorb and process everything I’ve learned and experienced in Philadelphia; there is a lot to unpack. To start, however, let me say this trip was inspiring, revealing, affirming, encouraging…name your positive adjective or verb. The tone for the convening was established by the following set of shared agreements put forth by participants during the first session:

  • Bring curiosity
  • Step up, step back, step away (i.e. – if you are normally passive, take the lead; if you normally lead and are the loud voice in the room, sit back and observe; if you need space, take it)
  • Be mindful in the moment
  • Create a nonjudgmental space
  • Be authentic
  • Be open and listen
  • Have fun
  • Try to make a real connection with at least five people
  • Be challenged/challenge others
  • Be part of an involved community
  • Be grateful

The NAS staff and teaching faculty were profoundly knowledgeable, open, and emboldening. Deep dives into Leadership and Decision Making, Program Design and Innovation, and Negotiation were taken. The two Program Design and Innovation sessions particularly resonated with me, and I look forward incorporating the numerous skills and techniques I learned into my daily routine at Da Camera. What’s more, I am excited to share what I have learned with my Da Camera colleagues and, most especially, the Da Camera Young Artists. The final session of the convening was a tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), the world’s first true penitentiary. A deeply impactful experience, this tour was included in the curriculum because we will be working on a case study on ESP when we return to Philadelphia for our second convening in September. Important questions regarding nonprofit mission, positioning, values, and ethics were raised that I look forward to further exploring six months from now.

Outside of the actual classes, the convening provided the opportunity to meet one hundred of the most passionate, forward-thinking, and articulate arts administrators in the country. I learned so much from informal discussions with colleagues from around the world, and I’m grateful to say I have new friends in numerous cities and disciplines. This community, bound by our intense experience together, will offer support, advice, and encouragement over the remaining six months of program and, more importantly, beyond.

If you’re reading this, it is assumed you have some sort of vested interest in Da Camera. (Ahh! But, what did I learn about assumptions this weekend?!) Know that you should be very proud of the work Da Camera is doing. I was honored to share with my new colleagues the vibrancy Da Camera brings to Houston: From our stimulating mainstage concerts to our robust education and community initiatives, Da Camera provides vital programming to Greater Houston. I return home inspired and with a rejuvenated sense of purpose.