I remember so clearly the day I walked into SKETCH for the first time in 1999. It was at 1087 Queen Street West in a small storefront studio. I was applying for a General Manager position. I had never been a GM before, I did not identify as an artist, I did not have a bookkeeping or operations background, and I had 3 children who were dependent on me. I was terrified.
At the time, SKETCH only had a small team of four that it had just brought on two years before. Having imagined SKETCH together, I was scared to join this group of individuals who all seemed so comfortable with each other. I didn’t even have a highschool education. I felt like an imposter. (Prior to that I had worked mostly in community development addressing education accessibility for individuals who had been segregated from regular schools based on physical or developmental differences.) So needless to say there was curiosity and an underlying feeling of distrust between SKETCH and myself.
But I was determined to change things, and as said by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, “Change happens at the speed of trust”.
From the very beginning, I could see that SKETCH did things differently. Familiar structure or norms already out there were not a part of the fabric of this initiative. I was invited, every day – to bring who I was. I learned that there would be room for someone like me. Having spent time homeless in my teens, I felt intrigued with what SKETCH was proposing – that young people who’ve known this experience, and related experiences of marginalization, were actually community builders, creative contributors, and even visionaries. I appreciated the declaration – and still do to this day – that healing brought through imagination and storytelling offers infinite, universal resources. I have relied on them and had to claim them for myself. SKETCH compelled me to reach deep down to find my own artistry and will to grow as an arts administrator, financial manager, general manager and finally Executive Director of this little project “that could”.
Five sites, twenty-two budgets, ninety staff members, seventy board members, three capital campaigns, and over 18,000 young artists later, I am moving on to the next part of my personal journey within the sector.
I am thrilled to pass the baton to my colleague of the last three years, Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony. She began on June 28th after a year of transitional mentorship and succession-building together. I am proud to say that the new Executive Director of SKETCH is a young artist in her own right, well established, sought after for mentorship, and has held several management positions in her early career. Paulina was appointed the position in March and will take SKETCH, along with the incredibly talented team, through the next part of their story.
Paulina and I began to explore this transition 2 years ago. I felt that it was important to invest time and care in the process. Not to rush, but rather to build a process together that would be more relevant to Paulina and to the organization.
I wanted to impart what I had learned and come to know in this role, while recognizing diverse styles of leadership. An empowered person coming into the role will make change in their own unique way. I have learned so much about being present to young leaders as they step into the responsibility of executive management. We would be better together.
This transition has also been an opportunity for me to understand allyship in a new way. We all need support along the way and the richest relationships are built on trust and respect for each other’s processes. It’s different than handing over a job – I am passing on a journey that Paulina will begin to weave together and write in a way that works for her.
Recognizing where I come from, I had to work through my own experiences in this work before I felt I could honour the role in full. It was always done with an intention of love and care, but also done imperfectly. Now I am in a fortunate position to be able to support Paulina to cross barriers unique to her own journey. I want to do everything I can to make it easy for Paulina to find her footing in this ED role. There is a lot ahead, including people who will be looking to her to lead, to have answers – even when the answers might not be obvious or easy.
What is Next?
I have been fortunate to build significant relationships not only with young people but also with community members, donors, funders and most recently investors. I see similarly, the desire for connection, for building deep engagement based on possibilities from reconciling the
truths of our humanity and our capacities for mutual creation. I see a place for deeper engagement and conversations where discomfort brings forward honesty, humility and relationships to build a more equitable world. I want to be part of that. Always.
I will spend the fall with SKETCH, looking deeper into how to create sustainable spaces for these conversations; weaving SKETCH’s strong commitments to racial equity and social justice with caring and accountable relationships.
I will continue to create spaces of co-learning that see individuals – recognized for their capacity and skills – stepping into positions of management and executive leadership. Spaces that enable them to have choice in their work, a platform to speak from and connections to opportunities that make change. My ultimate aim is to ‘re-SKETCH’ charity by generating strategies of social change philanthropy that bring diverse people together who commonly share a sense of adventure, absolute dedication to creativity and innovation, and a relentless belief in the power of imagination.
I’m grateful to SKETCH for the learning ground it has been and will continue to be for me, Paulina, and so many creative community-builders. I look forward to continuing to revel in its powerful vision.
The first time I had ever heard about SKETCH was in 2009 when I and Phyllis Novak, Artistic Director and Founder of SKETCH sat together as part of the Laidlaw Foundation’s YSI committee. After that meeting I couldn’t stop hearing about SKETCH and in 2015 when I began my role as Executive Director of ArtReach, I attended a partnership meeting for AVNU which was hosted by SKETCH. It was my first time in the space and it was awesome. The open concept office, artists everywhere just working, connecting, collaborating and the conversations about radical change in the sector had me buzzing by the time I left that meeting.
In 2017, I successfully transitioned ArtReach over to the SKETCH shared platform and I was excited as this meant that I would now have a desk space in the incredible SKETCH space that continues to interest and excite me. Immediately I felt at home with creativity flowing around me, connecting with emerging artists creating beautiful art work and doing amazing work in the community via arts education workshops.
In 2018, I was approached by Rudy to come on board at SKETCH in the role of Grants Manager, which I happily accepted. I soon moved into the role of Manager of Resource Development and Marketing in 2020 and thus began my preparation to take on the Executive Director role as part of SKETCH’s larger succession plan.
I have been so impressed with and grateful for this transition process. As someone who looks amazing on paper but suffers from the absolute worst imposter syndrome, this succession plan was exactly what I needed as a leader to step into the next level of my journey. Unlike other organizations where leadership is hired from outside the organization which can disrupt the organizational culture or new leadership from within is given minimal time to ease into the role, SKETCH had a plan to carefully hold space for me to step into the role comfortably. Not only did I get time to learn and practice the roles and responsibilities of the Executive Director by shadowing Rudy for a year, I had the added support of both the Artistic Director and the Program Director, to continue to support me as Rudy transitioned out of the role completely by the end of June.
I have never seen such a well thought out and intentional succession plan from an organization, but I must say it has made all the difference for me as the new Executive Director of SKETCH. I look forward to bringing a fresh new voice to sector leadership, continue to work with SKETCH staff to platform incredible artists who are creating radical change in our communities and of course make some awesome art together in the beautiful building we just purchased thanks to some visionary investors and donors.
For those of you who know me, you know that I pour my heart and soul into everything I do and I can’t wait to continue to work with the staff at SKETCH to lead us into the next leg of our journey. We are turning 25 in November and have so much to celebrate, both past, present and exciting future and I am so happy to have been given the opportunity to lead SKETCH into its next stellar quarter.
I would like to thank the incredible SKETCH community including the staff and board for teaching me, pushing me and preparing me for this next step in my leadership journey. And of course special thanks to Rudy Ruttimann for having the vision and courage to step up as an ally to make room for the next generation of leadership at SKETCH.