Preparing to be Spontaneous

The Board of Trustees of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) is a remarkable group. We met yesterday in the new Denver opera house, a $75 million renovation project in the middle of our vibrant complex of theaters, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. During a break in our meeting, an architect for the opera house took us on a tour up to the main stage, into the lush hall of red seats featuring the latest in digital screens for translations. Workmen were pounding and sawing all over the building, which made for a tough board meeting as far as acoustics were concerned. What is remarkable about this WESTAF board is the passion most of us have for the organization. This translates into board meetings which have the snap and sizzle of an improv group, even as we move purposefully through a very tight agenda. We are a diverse group. Of the 13 trustees that we ourselves elect, eight are people of color. I love being in a group where I seldom know what the person speaking is going to say next.

Last night most of the trustees went home, and some of us stayed for a WESTAF symposium in Boulder titled The New Face of Arts Leadership in the West. This event, the latest in a series of symposia on intriguing subjects, focuses on diversity through the lens of youth. The two facilitators, Brenda Allen and Shane Moreman, gave a keynote after dinner that was a combination rap battle and Socratic dialog. Shane, who is half Mexican and half white, led off with a rant about how sick and tired he is of Baby Boomers leading his generation around by the nose, cramming creaky models of leadership down his throat. Brenda, an African American with the physical grace of a tall goddess, and who was born the same year as I was, 1950, blasted back with an ode to her feeling of leadership responsibility for her people in the 1960s, and her continuing quest to learn new ways of being a leader that fit the reality of diversity. It was tremendous. They had carefully prepared the keynote through e-mail back and forth between Denver, where Brenda teaches, and Fresno. They discussed improvisation as a new model for leadership and noted that the best improv is carefully prepared for.

My role as WESTAF chair at the symposium, which continues today, is to tell people where the bathrooms are and thank them for coming. This will give me a chance to keep my mouth shut and listen. I hope I don’t miss that chance, squandering my silent receptivity in outbursts of goofy enthusiasm. I can’t help it sometimes. I am so proud to be part of this quirky regional arts organization, and to be supporting its executive director, Anthony Radich, who is a Croatian-American and has an ancestor who fought for Napoleon. I am one-fourth French, making me a Franco-Anglo-American. Not a person of color, as the term is normally used, but someone who is entranced by opportunities to see new colors and hear words I’ve never heard before. To prepare to be spontaneous.

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