NextUp!: How to Prepare the Arts and Culture Sector for a New Wave of Leadership

By Paulina O'Kieffe-Anthony

With many senior management staff in the Arts and Culture Sector nearing the age of retirement in addition to the calls for more diverse leadership following the 2020 Black Lives Matter action, the sector will soon begin to see a turnover and intentional succession in leadership positions. However, due to multiple access barriers, many racialized arts and culture leaders are often overwhelmed, underprepared and/or lack the training and professional development opportunities to step into these roles. Organizations need to be intentional when thinking about leadership succession if they are truly in allyship with the communities they serve.

A quick scan of non-racially specific community arts organizations and local and provincial funding agencies which fund them show that 77% of those in Senior or Executive Level positions are white, white-passing or non racialized. Only 23% are racialized, including 16% identifying as Black or Indigenous (Next Up 2019 Consultations, SKETCH-NIA-Artreach).

Speaking to partner organizations and peers in the community arts sector, I’ve learned that many young, racialized leaders do not have the formal education and/or necessary practical training, mentorship, and networks required to be considered for these positions. Many also face other socio-economic barriers that prevent them from engaging in professional development efforts in addition to microaggressions based on their racial or ethnic backgrounds.

With so few racialized leaders having the ability to advance into senior positions, it’s inevitable that the pool of senior level talent will remain as it has been, racially homogenous, with white counterparts far more likely to fill these roles.

Most recently, I have engaged in one of the most intentional succession planning endeavours here at SKETCH that prepared me to take on the role of Executive Director over the course of a year.

Here’s what I learned about successfully supporting diverse leaders to move into senior leadership positions:

Be Intentional in Succession Planning

The most successful succession plans are those that are done with intentionality, care, and long-term vision. If an organization wants to see an increase in diversity, particularly at the leadership level, it needs to start with ensuring that equity and diversity are embedded in every part of the organization and that professional development, particularly for racialized employees, is a priority. Secondly, equity needs to be embedded directly into an organization’s hiring, mentoring and training opportunities again with an emphasis on supporting racialized employees first. Current leadership should take the time to pay attention to employees who show potential and intentionally begin to build their core competencies, provide regular mentorship and support them in building up their social capital, and introduce them to key donors and institutional players.

Building Core Competencies 

At SKETCH, we define leadership core competencies as a harmonized combination of multiple resources, skills and proficiencies required to lead in non-profit arts & culture organizations. Essentially these are the skills that will give racialized leaders the experience and skillset to compete with other candidates. Oftentimes, I have found that many racialized leaders in the sector have come up through being participants and working frontline in the community. While this gives us great experience in program design, development and execution it does not necessarily translate into the skills needed for a management level which includes evaluation, impact measurement, supervision, financial management and more. Thus the goals of creating opportunities to increase core competencies include building the skills of racialized young leaders to be able to compete for senior leadership roles which then creates an established pool of young racialized leaders with trusted skill sets. This helps to dismiss the myth that there aren’t any qualified candidates when leadership positions become available.


Mentorship is another key component to the success of diverse folks being able to enter leadership positions. The guidance, influence or direction provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person can make a huge difference in the way in which racialized leaders feel prepared and supported to enter high level positions. Mentorship can range from one-on-one to group mentorship and provides space for critical conversations, sharing of experiences on navigating systems and even hands-on learning and practical application of core competency skills with immediate feedback. Establishing a reciprocal mentorship with racialized leaders also benefits the organization in that it provides fresh perspectives and ideas on everything from programming to strategic planning.

Building Social Capital 

Social capital building is one of the most overlooked aspects of preparing racialized leaders for succession planning and/or to move into positions of leadership at other organizations. Social capital building increases access to people, relationships, networks both within the organization and outside of it that will help build respect and trust of racialized leaders, particularly those who are newer to the sector. Social capital building also supports racialized leaders in accessing resources to sustain their organizations and work by practicing how to navigate power (wealth, class, influence, norms and rules of operation) through liaising with donors, institutional players and more. This piece of succession building is extremely important as historically racialized young leaders have been excluded from access which limits their ability to compete for leadership roles, as well as development of the sector; AND because racialized young leaders in arts & culture are primary cultural and artistic producers, they have knowledge/insight that needs to be centered.

Providing access to technical training in organizational management coupled with intentional mentorship and support to build the social capital network of young, racialized leaders are all important steps in supporting the next generation of arts and culture sector leadership to feel confident in applying and being hired for senior leadership roles, successfully run organizations and truly revolutionize the arts and culture sector. Those who are in current leadership positions just need to be willing to step up and be intentional about making the changes to the structure we all know is needed, even if it means stepping aside to do it.

If you would like to know about some of the cool leadership opportunities we offer, check out our Next Up! page by clicking the image below.