International Journal of Regional Issues in the Arts


The responsibility of leading an arts organization is distinct from other leadership roles due to the complexity and delicate nature of balancing tactical responsibilities while also nurturing an ecosystem that encourages artistic expression. Leaders’ duties are multifarious with often conflicting aims: managing complex organizations, navigating thorny governmental policies, and addressing critical social issues to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), all while cultivating a creative environment. This study aims to identify the specific traits, characteristics, and strategies demonstrated by current arts organization leaders who are navigating the shifting demands of arts leadership. In this grounded theory study, the research team interviewed twelve leaders of performing arts organizations across the United States to understand their leadership styles, strategies, and ways in which they implement cultural equity in their institutions. Study participants included males and females in leadership roles (e.g., artistic director; managing director) in renowned dance, theater, and music organizations of varying sizes and geographic locations. Discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews yielded several common themes of leadership styles. Findings suggest that arts leaders rely on emotional intelligence, agility, and egalitarianism and that they aim to project optimism, empower others, and serve as role models. Themes underscored the urgency of DEI, the personal nature of the participants’ commitments to equity, and the need for novel ways of thinking to affect meaningful and lasting change. Implications include the importance of emotional intelligence-based leadership styles; the need for nonhierarchical approaches to both the creative and business sides of arts organizations; the value of upholding commitments to stakeholders, the community, and society at large; and the need for arts leaders to embrace their roles as purposeful agents of change.