"Understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic." - adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy
I can honestly say that (after serving as the new Consulting & Community Director for the better part of a year now) the thing I really love the most about being part of the CultureWorks community is the “co” aspect of it all.
We are truly in this work together.
What has become clear to me over the past fifteen years in the field is that we are at our strongest and best when we are sharing resources, not fighting over them – transcending disciplines, not navigating hierarchies. Person-to person exchange is core to the work each and every one of us do in the arts and culture world.
It’s that spirit that has informed the foundations of my work here as Consulting Director as well. When I was initially engaged by CultureWorks to come into this role and re-think what consulting could look like for the CW community, I first thought about the true nature of consulting – of its lineage, its perception and of the importance of access to such services.
I have acted as a professional consultant for years, but never really took the time to explore the field of practice, so I typed the word into Google and compared several definitions. I also looked at image results for the term. That was a very stark experience for me. Try searching “consulting images” – you’ll be flooded with a sea of bright stock corporate images featuring a majority of white men in power suits, the occasional flowchart, briefcases and legal pads or the ominous glass and steel skyscraper – complete with bright shining rays of sunlight being reflected. Is this consulting?
No – not for our community it isn’t.
I began to focus in and think - How could we shift the traditional models of consulting work from a commercial and corporate-focused mindset to one that centered the values of the arts and culture communities we serve? How are elements like equity, accountability, and accessibility centered in consulting work and relationships? How do process and business terms mirror our organizational and communal values and commitments?
How can we shift consulting from a transactional relationship to a transformative one?
Professionals and organizations will always be in need of sage advice, informed best practices, innovative resources and research, thought partners and dynamic tools – especially if we want to do our work in ethical and responsive ways. However, the standard model of knowledge hoarding and pure fee-for-service enterprise is no longer the business of the day – especially given CultureWorks’ values and the over 230 dynamic members and projects that make up our community.
"How can we shift traditional models of consulting work from a commercial and corporate-focused mindset to one centered on the values of the arts and culture communities we serve? How can we shift consulting from a transactional relationship to a transformative one?"
I’ve spent the past several months learning from my CW colleagues, really getting to know project directors and their work, doing research, talking to consultants in the field and, most of all, just listening. In that time one thing has become crystal clear – learning is a central element to this work and is so often left completely out of the equation. Traditional consulting models focus so much on the culture of “the expert” – someone who is paid to deliver knowledge that is hidden away, off limits or rare. It is true that experience is the best teacher, and that professionals with considerable experience have something unique and of considerable value to share, but the sharing of that knowledge is still a two-way street – there is still an exchange.
What we are interested in uplifting here at CW is the relational aspects of the work. What if we were to build a program area that was genuinely informed by a spirit of a collaboration and learning? A program area that was responsive to the myriad situations, stages and forms of our members and their work not only because they are accessible programs and services, but because at the center of the work is you – the project, the community, the work.
We each bring to the table a body of experience informed by countless challenges, wins and hard lessons learned. We want this to remain at the center of our encounters in this work. Whereas transactional relationships function at the surface level (aka: “Let’s get things done!”), I view transformational relationships to be the opposite. Transformation is just that – change. We all want to create change in and through our work – especially in our field. We are often aiming at addressing the ills of the status quo with our creative endeavors – hoping to influence communal and societal cultural shifts.
We are in the business of relationships here. That kind of shift doesn’t happen without transparency, accountability, bold visioning, and – most of all – an advanced level of trust. We want to focus in on these qualities and uplift them in our work together. We want there to be a component of peer-to-peer knowledge and skills exchange in this work – equipping the client-member not only with knowledge and tools, but the skills to understand and carry the work forward in a comprehensive and generative way.
Over the next few months, I look forward to sharing more information with you related to our new consulting and learning offerings here at CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia. These offerings have been dreamed up and structured in a way that is directly responsive to the articulated wants and needs of our community here. There will be plenty of opportunities to engage with us in this work and a fair amount of new options and information to assist you in making informed decisions about what pathways may help lead to your desired professional outcomes.
I invite you to reach out to me if you have any questions related to consulting and look forward to furthering the conversation in the days to come.
Community & Consulting Director