What is your role at your organization?
I am the Director of Social Impact at the Kennedy Center—that’s the title. The role itself is two-fold: the Social Impact Team (within the broader programming division) and the Social Impact Imperative that the Kennedy Center is undertaking.
The first part—and what I consider to be my first priority—is the Social Impact Team. We have a strong, robust team working in this realm, and I serve as a coach/counselor/administrator, ensuring that the department is functioning at an optimum level.
There’s also this broader piece of helping to socialize and educate across the organization in terms of what social impact is and what it means. Most of us are doing and believe we are doing impactful work in a social context; if that is your bar, then we are all doing “social impact”. To an extent, that is true, but we are more specific here at the Center about “What do we mean when we say, ‘social impact’?” What are our aims, and what is our methodology in achieving those aims?
Tell me more about Social Impact at the Kennedy Center. What are your visions/goals for this project?
I go to the basic definition we have crafted internally to describe what we are doing: “A systems-based approach to fostering cultural leadership and community action.” First, we want to think of our work in a systemic way. By “cultural leadership”, we’re talking about centering the intellect and the prowess of the artists and culture-makers, recognizing that there is something special we have to offer to the civic dialogue and broader silo conversations. Breaking the definition down further:
“Leveraging the arts for non-arts outcomes”: When we think of the Kennedy Center, we think of world-class, sublime art that elevates and transcends; we want that, but we also recognize the power of the arts beyond their aesthetic applications.
“Centering JOY”: We want to make sure we are not bogged down by the weight of the world and of the systemic issues we are seeking to address.
“Inviting engaged participation”: We are not doing something TO the world/communities, but working WITH different parties and different groups, in a way that means THEY are leading.
“So we may create an equitable future”: We are looking at a horizon. The work will never be done, but we orient ourselves towards that horizon—towards the creation of an equitable future.
What value has being part of the BFF ecosystem brought to you?
Being part of the ecosystem means understanding and recognizing that there are people in your corner who are not only rooting for you and are champions of the things you’re talking about, but are right there with you, shoulder to shoulder, in terms of the belief in this transformed future. A big part of it is knowing we have friends—we have dear, trusted friends and allies in the work. That part means so much.
Has Covid changed the way you work or view your role in society? If so, how?
I mean, it has to! If artists and culture-markers can’t convene—if we can’t perform for an audience—what and who are we? That’s an important question we were contending with even before the pandemic. It’s that notion of cultural leadership: we are cultural leaders in society—really embracing that moniker and positioning ourselves in that way is imperative. So when the bottom falls out—when we cannot convene audiences, and when we cannot convene ourselves (in this highly collaborative field), then what is it that we are able to do? We can share our cultural insights/perspectives/ways of thinking, and we can reflect all of that back to the world in which we exist. Remember: we can have that artistic experience, but it doesn’t stop there. That is the entry point—the catalyst towards deeper engagement, further conversation, and additional work. It’s about embracing that precipice and crossing over it into this sphere of cultural leadership, recognizing how the arts can help address all the things in the world that we’re challenged by—in addition to giving us inspiration!
There is always pressure to measure the impact of an organization’s work based on traditional metrics like return on investment. As a leader in the arts, how do you evaluate your progress and success? How do metrics play into your work? What suggestions do you have to other non-profit leaders about using metrics?
The important part is to set your own targets—for yourself, for your organization—that are meaningful for you. Setting a metric of your own gives you a clear orientation point. Set your superobjective (using a theatrical term)—then you break that down into your objectives, and your tactics underneath. Part of our work is metrics/evaluation. It’s not an afterthought. We are not trying to fit ourselves into a predefined container—we are trying to develop our own instruments of evaluation AS we’re developing our programs, so they speak to one another. We are constantly evaluating, and retooling based on the evaluation.
We seem to be entering a new age of philanthropy and activism, based on the intersectionality and interconnectedness of previously separate interest categories. How can artists be leaders in this environment?
I believe deeply in the “multi-hyphenate”. Many of our artists and cultural leaders are multi-hyphenate; they refuse to be defined by one genre or one category. That notion of intersectionality is ever-present—and has been, for artists. The world is catching up to where the creative sector and culture-makers have been for years: inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, highly collaborative. That’s the sauce in which we’ve been stewing. If you go to a dance presentation, you’re not just experiencing the dance—you’re experiencing the aesthetics of the costuming, lighting, set design, sound design; our world is a collaborative, intersectional world. If that’s the way we move through the world—the way we see and understand the world—we can be a reflection to broader society and say, “Yes: you, too, are intersected in all these varied ways.”
What do you do in your spare time to balance your life? What replenishes/refuels/reenergizes you?
Sleep is the first piece. In my early years, I would jokingly say, “Oh, you’ll sleep when you die”—I really underrated the importance of sleep. I have learned from my youthful ways and do really value sleep. Also, I meditate and do a lot of breathwork. I’m a certified yoga instructor, and that practice has focused primarily on breathwork and meditation. I find it is incredibly centering for me—incredibly rejuvenating. One of my favorite feelings is to go into a meditation, and then when I open my eyes, the world looks like it’s in technicolor. It’s an amazing sensation: “NOW I CAN SEE”, while before, there was a fog or haze over everything.
I also find great centering and great grounding with my family—being with my husband and my children. They are a great touchstone and a great reminder of what it’s all about for me. Also, just seeing the world through their eyes, and the discoveries—the newness, the freshness . . . it’s really quite wonderful.
What books have inspired or challenged you?
I’m drawn to different books based on where I am at a certain point in life, trying to glean different things at different moments. I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now: Shonda Rhimes’s The Year of Yes. For a while, there was a certain power in saying “no” and protecting boundaries; but sometimes, your NO becomes your YES. How can you be thoughtful about saying YES—to embrace new opportunities and new challenges?
What is your mantra?
“This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day, the first thing that hits me when my eyes open—even when it’s tough, and it doesn’t feel quite so joyful, and you have those difficult moments . . . center on that, and push through.