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Collaborative Leadership That Works!

Mike Murawski:

Okay. I want to welcome everyone to this panel session for our Museum NXT on Collaborative Leadership That Works. My name is Mike Murawski. I am a independent museum consultant and also the co-producer of the campaign Museums Are Not Neutral, fighting for equity-based transformation across museum institutions. And I also write online artmuseumteaching.com, which is a site that I founded several years ago. I want to turn it over to our amazing panellists that are joining us here for this session and have them introduce themselves. And then we will go ahead and kind of dive into our conversation here today about collaborative leadership. Who would like to get us kicked off?

Lauren Ruffin:

I’ll go first. Hey, everyone. I’m Lauren Ruffin. I’m one of the co-CEOs of Fractured Atlas. Fractured Atlas is an association of artists working across all disciplines nationally, and we primarily provide fiscal sponsorship so they’re able to obtain charitable dollars for their work. We’ve been working in a collaborative model for about three years now, originally with four members of a shared leadership team. And then on Monday, a couple of days ago, two members transitioned off the team, and now it’s me and my colleague, Tim Cynova, who are sharing the reins as co-CEOs. So thanks for inviting me here, Mike. I’m excited to talk a bit more about this topic.

Molly Alloy:

Nat, jump in.

Nathaneal Andreini:

All right. I’ll go next. My name’s Nathaneal Andreini. I’m one of the two co-directors at Five Oaks Museum. We have been working in this capacity unofficially for about two years in a collaborative leadership style, but more officially since we rebranded as Five Oaks Museum on January 1st of 2020. My collaborative experience goes back to around the year 2000. I co-founded a collaborative art project that was both installation and curatorial in nature. I worked with one other individual in that project for about nine years and then have since done a lot of great, interesting, fun, bi-coastal and international collaborative art projects since then. So feel super lucky to be in this co-directorship with Molly and being able to put maybe… I’m excited by the sphere of influence that our museum has over my individual art practise, but finding kind of inroads and how they both inform each other. So thanks for having me too.

Molly Alloy:

I’m Molly Alloy, also really glad to be here. It’s so exciting to start getting more connected with other folks that are working in similar ways and thinking about how to expand the potential and familiarity with collaborative, like formalising collaborative work. I also am an artist, fine artist, a sculptor and installation artist, but have done some curatorial work. And my most sort of official collaborative project before this co-directorship was with a queer curatorial group that I was a co-founder called First Brick in Portland, Oregon. And they’re continuing on two of the original four members. Yes, and Nathaneal and I have been doing this work together at Five Oaks Museum and connecting with Mike a little bit about sort of like the bigger picture of how we might be able to clue folks in that it’s not very mysterious, and it’s not very hard. In fact, I like to say it cuts the burden in half of the work, and it doubles the benefits. So I strongly want to advocate for it, and I think it really does have a positive impact. So excited for this chat.

Mike Murawski:

Fantastic. Thank you all. And yeah, Molly, I mean, that’s kind of a lot of what this is all about, is this idea of collaborative leadership that feels through examples and research and evidence to have so many benefits and to really be a really exceptional model that organisations have been taking on. Yet within museums… And Nathaniel, Molly, and I have talked about this a little bit… they aren’t taking on that model a lot. It’s stronger within the broader sort of arts nonprofit sector. Certainly within performing arts, we’ve seen many, many examples of kind of an artistic director and kind of a chief executive officer or kind of the chief administrative role, and then all kinds of different forms outside of the arts nonprofits. So certainly a lot of social justice nonprofits. Many, many have moved to more collaborative leadership roles.

Mike Murawski:

And I want to focus in on why I wanted to bring this conversation together, specifically to address those attending Museum NXT and museum leaders that are in positions potentially be thinking about these questions and about how one could develop more collaborative leadership within their institution, or even board members that might come across this and think about how to develop these structures. So I want to get started just by kind of framing the issues with kind of the immediate now within museums. And like I said, before we got started, this is probably the more boring part of the presentation, but I think it provides this crucial framework for, at least from my perspective, why I think these issues are urgent to be dealing with. And then I want to kind of dive in and explore collaborative leadership. And it’s called Collaborative Leadership That Works because there are so many assumptions out there, especially within museums, that this model doesn’t work.

Mike Murawski:

In fact, I just watched an episode of The Office last night where Jim and Michael Scott become co-managers of the office, and everybody makes fun of it. And it’s like there’s no country in the world that has co-presidents. This doesn’t work. So there’s obviously this popular culture mentality to that that is a ridiculous idea. How could more than one person be a true leader? So let me dive into that context, and then I’m super excited to just have the conversation and let it go where it goes and ask questions of each other as we get started. So since the beginning of the pandemic, which really hit museums in mid-March in terms of closures and even immediate staff layoffs and furloughs right off the bat for some museums, but also throughout the ongoing protests demanding racial justice, we’ve seen evidence of a wide range of leadership qualities on the public stage and within museums and non-profits. The behaviours of those in traditionally defined leadership positions have varied from fairly brave, vulnerable, probably serving the greater good, I think, to a certain extent to acting in ways that are extremely harmful, self-serving, and I think even at times violent.

Mike Murawski:

Leadership and institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, MoMA in New York, the Detroit Institute of Art, SFMOMA, the Getty, Newfields, which used to be the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, and countless other museums have been publicly called out for inequitable and opaque decisions to cut staff and furlough staff for actions taken to prevent staff from organising and forming unions, for their role in creating and perpetuating toxic and racist work environments, for sexual harassment, for abusive behaviour towards staff. The list is long .there are accusations that leadership and museums have censored staff and community voices, and also calls around unethical behaviour regarding collection practises, hiring practises, artwork loan practises. So this pandemic has really unveiled or shined light, I think, on a lot of the cracks that have already existed within institutions of museums and their leadership.

Mike Murawski:

In a few cases, demands for accountability from staff or former staff, artists, and community members have led to the resignation or forced removal of directors since spring. Yet these aren’t isolated examples. These behaviours are indicative of a more field-wide crisis in leadership that has existed for far too long. And I think a lot of the efforts recently to increase transparency, to organise and take collective action and to hold institutions and those in positions of power accountable have actually exposed a lot of these issues in leadership. And as a curator, writer, and activist, Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell calls out in a recent open letter for museum as site for social action, or an initiative simply known as MASS action, “For far too long, our field has been led by exclusively by White, cisgendered, male, privileged, overly-educated, wealthy, elite, upper-class, heteronormative, ableist, colonist, gatekeepers.” The prevailing notion of leadership has been defined through existing White patriarchal norms of power and authority and control as well as systems of oppression and domination that are so entrenched in museums.

Mike Murawski:

So when we use words like leader and leadership in museums, we’re often only thinking of the single person at the top, the boss, the director, the chief, the head, the president, the executive, whatever words we’re sort of using. In a recent piece, the co-founder of the Nonprofit Democracy Network, Simon Mont, wrote, “We have built our organisations around an idea that our leadership should come from either a single individual or a small group.” Mont and many others point out the urgent need for this outdated individual-centred understanding of leadership to be replaced. “The dominant organisational structure of nonprofits,” he writes, “is unsustainable.” So in our post, Bryant-Greenwell also contends that our museums reflect our leadership. And so if that’s the case, our museums reflect this outdated model of leadership. Then museums are in certainly a heightened moment of crisis and concern, which only feels more urgent when paired with the sweeping impacts of this pandemic. Yet… I feel like this is all doom and gloom… but yet with each and every crisis comes a possibility for change, which is why I think this conversation is so important. And I’ll end with the words that I saw and was really inspired by in The Centre For Cultural Power’s recent guide on cultural activism. Their president and co-founder, Favianna Rodriguez, reflected that, “In moments of disillusion and fracture, there is also an opportunity to sew ideas for a different kind of future.”

Mike Murawski:

So with this kind of a note of hope for change, I’d like to shift to our conversation about the possibilities of collaborative leadership, co-leadership, and shared leadership at kind of this moment where I believe institutions are being asked to re-imagine themselves and may very well have an opportunity to reimagine themselves into structures that will better serve themselves for the future. So all of you started out by introducing yourselves and sharing a little bit about kind of the collaborative roles that you’re in and the experiences you have. And I’d like for you to speak a little bit more about that, kind of given this context of organisational change that’s needed. And all of your examples are fairly recent, so maybe even digging into what was the catalyst that sort of led to that adoption or that moment when your institutions decided, or your organisations decided, this was going to be a real possibility to explore and to experiment with.

Lauren Ruffin:

I’m happy to go first after a long silence. So with Fractured Atlas, we had a founder transition. Adam Huttler founded the organisation when he was 19, built it over 20 years, and brought together a really strong team of four other people to… at the time when I was hired, I was the last person to join that team. I didn’t know he was planning to transition, but it wasn’t a surprise. And out of that, it was candidly, we’d been working together for about a year, really liked and respected each other, and the idea of onboarding someone else into managing us sounded daunting. And we had a lot of other things that were really pressing priorities. And so we did our research, approached the board with a viable option for the organisation to maintain stability and to continue to do a lot of the work that we had to do that was really pressing seamlessly, without having to onboard another executive who was going to bring in new priorities, new ways of doing things. And we already had in essence of five-year roadmap for what we were going to do.

Lauren Ruffin:

And that made sense to the board. And I think the board, having known us for a year or so and seeing how we worked together and some of the really big wins we’d brought, the board was comfortable with us moving into that space and sort of sharing leadership and sharing power, because at the core of everything you’ve talked about, it really is this understanding that people really appreciate often accumulating power and holding power at the top of an organisation and that the arts industry at large is really built on the backs of unpaid labour or most certainly under-compensated labour. And it’s just a really capitalistic system because you’ve got folks on boards who are successful capitalists. And just I think that trickle down effect really is it’s pretty toxic throughout a lot of large organisations in the art sector.

Molly Alloy:

Yeah, that’s so interesting to hear, Lauren, because there’s a lot that’s different, and a lot that I hear is really resonant with our situation, especially a crossover is just this idea of bringing the proposals to the board in this moment of being like there’s an obvious alignment that is working. There’s an area of strong success and kind of showing that that can be… it’s not necessarily fleeting. It doesn’t need to be diminished, or it can be trusted, and it can be built upon. Mike, you read a long list of some of the ills and the traumas and the ways that diseased culture and problematic power structures find their way into arts institutions and museums. And I’ll just say that I think probably everyone listening to this and everyone here today knows all of those things are true because we’ve all encountered those things in the institutions where we go to try to do good work.

Molly Alloy:

And it’s so difficult. In our case, we encountered those things. I’ll just refer to it as that. Everybody kind of knows, right? And so there was a moment for the institution where essentially it had sort of run its course, actually. There was not a path forward, and there wasn’t room for the paradigms of power, and also in our case, the paradigms of privileging one pioneer narrative over any other examinations of history. There was no way for it to move forward and succeed. There was only the option for it to fail. And that failure was happening around us. But there were things within the institution itself that were having a lot of success. And there was this strong resonance between the two of us and the other staff that were there. But Nathaneal and I were the only two full-time staff at this time. And so we were positioned to carry forward some of the work in a different way. And so again, we went to the board, and we were like, “This transition is happening. We know that you feel afraid, and we know that you feel that you’ve tried everything, and we know that it’s not been working for you for quite some time, but we see what is working. And we see a path forward that is built exactly on what is working.”

Molly Alloy:

And it allowed us to just kind of move forward in this way that was like let’s pair it all back down to what’s definitely real and what’s definitely true and what’s definitely right. And it became just a question of really needing to revisit right from wrong, that had become very confused within our institution as I think we see it in the industry and in the country and in the world. And so that was it for us. It was like by being two people, we inherently save ourselves from even the fear of just falling back into the same thing, where one person is alone with the burden alone, alone with the power, unchecked, able to build a lack of transparency around themselves. We were never afraid that we were going to do those things, but we do know that if you don’t prevent those things from seeping in, they will. And so in order to rebuild the institution in a way that could last longer than just the two of us as individuals being present, we knew that the co-directorship was absolutely necessary. And the board embraced that. And that same kind of approach has seeped into other changes and ways of operating for us.

Nathaneal Andreini:

Just tack onto that that… and I heard this in Lauren’s introduction as well… it’s like when you can bring a path forward to the power structures that be, whether it’s your board or some other executive committee, when you bring a fully seamless approach with the actionables and deliverables along the way over a set, let’s say a year period, or in Lauren’s case five-year plan, you really just don’t leave any room for them to deny it. It’s strong. It’s kind of an all or nothing, do or die moment. It felt like that for us. I mean, speaking candidly, we were all actively, our whole staff was looking for other work and trying to help each other get other jobs through the things that happened in our institution, which led to this. So it was do or die for us, but it doesn’t have to be. Molly and I have been reflecting, even just earlier today, on this moment right now, if we can lend our services or our sort of-

Molly Alloy:

Example.

Nathaneal Andreini:

Guiding example to others right now, don’t wait any longer, because the longer you wait, the more precarious your situation can potentially become. And ours was very much like were on the ropes. So if you can-

Lauren Ruffin:

But it sounds… Oh, sorry. Go on.

Nathaneal Andreini:

I was just going to say if you can get proactive with it, all the more power you’ll have in enacting it.

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah. And I mean, we’re similar in that we both sort of had a void at the top. The organisations that really struggle are when you’re really asking the people that top to give something up, possibly for them personally. So it’s either you’re going to have to share power, or you’re going to have to take a salary cut to bring someone on. I think it’s more fraught for those organisations. And that’s when you really get into how are you studying movement work over generations around what really has to happen structurally in a predominantly White industry to really make change? Which means somebody’s got to go. Somebody’s got to make some hard choices.

Lauren Ruffin:

I think it felt more fraught for the four of us to sort of… we’re not people who are sort of all or nothing, ultimatum type people. However, we were pretty clear it’s going to be really hard for us to onboard someone else at this point, especially me. I was like I just learned how to do this job. And I’m like I can’t teach anybody else how to do a job. So, yeah, but I mean, I think the big question is if you’re already in an organisation and you’re already at the top, what are the steps for a seamless transition whereby you’re either sharing power or giving up power or creating a clear pathway for every organisation to know that you’re planning to promote someone from an underrepresented group, an untapped community to be there with you or to be sort of at the helm of this organisation as you transition across into whatever the new sort of next destination for your organisation is.

Nathaneal Andreini:

That speaks to me a lot due to the fact that right before we proposed this transition, I had been sort of expected once again for the second time to be the interim director of the entire institution, which I was successfully for about four or five months, two years prior to this happening and then again. And Molly and I had been collaborating, like I said, unofficially for a while at that point. And we both recognised that if I were to step into interim director and we maybe go through another re-hire, or maybe it’s me who’s director, or who knows what, that that structure itself will determine our success as collaborators. And it was like let’s not do that. It was like there were moments where I was thinking I would promote Molly as the next director and I would work for Molly. And we talked about those things. We talked those ideas through, but we eventually together decided let’s propose a co-directorship. What is that like? What does that look like? Let’s be living examples of that and try to figure that out. So I myself stepped away from a role where I was expected to assume power and said, “Let’s not do that.” It wasn’t necessarily a pay cut, but it was like a smaller pay bump than I would’ve gotten.

Nathaneal Andreini:

But as my ethics get in front of my needs sometimes, and my needs being financial, it was like how do we adjust this to position ourselves to both be fairly compensated, but it’s also fair to each other and then fair to the institution? And we landed in a great place. I’m very happy it worked out.

Molly Alloy:

It’s a great point, though, Lauren, that you raised. We both took opportunities that presented themselves instead of having to leverage above ourselves to the leaders that are in those positions for them to enact the change. And you’re probably right. A lot of the time, that just might be an ask that folks are not going to step up to. I personally think that literally any person who’s been put in this pinnacle position, their heart and their soul and their life would flourish way more if they would let themselves be in real community with the people who they work alongside, because I think that it’s really painful for people to be isolated in power. And that’s part of why it becomes so toxic and they pass on that toxicity. But it just made me think about how part of the dilemma across the whole industry and the nonprofit industry in general is that executive directorships are like you can’t keep people in them because it’s kind of a messed up position to be in. And so any organisation that started to have a plan for what to do when that position is available would probably get their opportunity before not too long. And I could see people planning to shift when someone retires or not filling positions one to one.

Molly Alloy:

It’s also sending my thoughts in this other direction about how there’s all these layoffs and all this stuff going on. And I’m curious how much is that affecting the people at the top? Which of course would be by far the best savings and probably the most practical. And so, yeah, just hopefully people are thinking creatively about organisational restructuring as things are having to get re-shuffled a little bit.

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah. On that piece about sort of sharing the burden, I feel so… The last six months, eight months, I’ve been grateful for sort of sharing leadership with my colleagues before them, but it really put it in a really sharp relief. We were really lucky to go 100%, but we were always a mostly remote organisation. We went 100% remote last fall. And one, supporting a group of young, creative people through a grieving process that entire nation is dealing with and having colleagues to sort of share that with me was really meaningful. We were able to make really good choices because there were four of us. There were days when in particular, I mean, I was just like, “You know what? I can’t do it today, guys.” And I can’t show up. And I knew I had three other people there to support me. And it created space for Tim and I to be able to do things. Like we had extra to give to the field that was struggling all of a sudden to figure out how how do you go remote? What systems are you using? The ability to sort of share that actually opened up bandwidth to be of service to other organisations who were struggling with one leader. So we actually ended up sort of taking a slice of ourselves and lending it to other organisations where you did have one person making the decision about layoffs.

Lauren Ruffin:

And we decided we’d take a pay cut. We did unfortunately lay off some people earlier in the year, but the only people who were in the organisation who took a pay cut and continue to take a pay cut are Tim and I. And so making those really hard choices around just life, man. We’re supporting an entire company that’s grieving, was scared and grieving about a pandemic, and then we’ve got staff who’ve been protesting. Drafting sort of communications and being there for them, talking about protocols for what happens if you get arrested by the police. How are you safe when you’re protesting? Really being able to lean into that work for staff, there’s no way we could’ve done that with just one person running the organisation. I think ultimately it just made us so much stronger as an organisation because people need that right now. I think being in leadership just looks so much different than it ever has.

Mike Murawski:

Well, I appreciate this conversation around… I mean, going back to thinking about all these organisations… There are… I mean, Molly you’re right. There are a lot of organisations where, I mean, leadership roles have been turning over a lot all the time because I feel like they are positions that are a little bit unwieldy, certainly within… I have more experience within art museums, but you can kind of hire a curator director, a fundraiser director, or a very, very few number of museums hire kind of an educator director. But you don’t get kind of all of that with one person necessarily, certainly not someone who has a really strong background in community engagement, equity, and anti-racism practise. So I think a lot of what institutions are being asked to bring to the table in terms of their institutional leadership is hard for one person. So there is an opportunity for a lot of organisations potentially to go down this path. So I appreciate this conversation, and I kind of want to inch it along further about what are some of these additional benefits of being in these co -directorship or co-leadership positions that others should be learning about and hearing about from you all?

Nathaneal Andreini:

Yeah, to distil a little bit of what has been said already… And I know Molly is going to be jumping in… it’s cost saving, and it’s, as we talked about, the shared burdens. Those two, even though I’m just reiterating what’s been said, those two are huge. So I’ll back out and mute myself again.

Molly Alloy:

I was just going to say the other side of it is the amplification of the benefits and the joys of doing it, which I think, Lauren, I hear, putting my own experience onto what I’m listening to you share, the spreading of the burden of processing grief, of making difficult decisions, of emotional support that you’re doing towards the people that look to you, your staff and collaborators and stuff, there’s an element that’s like that’s the work that gives us joy. We’re not like just like checking in, getting my paycheck at the museum co-director factory. It’s like this is a job you have to sort of point yourself towards and work your way to get into the kind of work that’s like heart-driven, which means your heart is being exhausted sometimes and also being fed. And to me, I think most people, whether they think of themselves as collaborative or not, have probably had that moment where you had a spark of an idea, and in telling it to someone, you hear more of its potential coming out of your mouth. And then they tell it back to you, and you hear it grow in dimension, in impact. You can feel less worried that you’re going to put your foot in your mouth. You can feel more free to sort of be adventuresome in how you imagine the potential of things.

Molly Alloy:

And so there really is just this escalation that I experienced, and I believe we experienced together, of like how much we can cheerlead each other, amplify each other’s ideas, push them to the version that really can have a positive impact faster. And all of that means you’re not just sat at your desk, worried about the numbers, thinking about the burden all the time, because there’s somebody to sort of be like, “Hey, I just got this email that somebody responded to something that we’re doing. And it’s so exciting. And I met somebody that you’re going to love to talk to.” And it’s just like when you let yourself be in real shared work with other people, it’s so much more nourishing than trying to keep reminding yourself alone of the benefits. And that to me, I think it’s made me a better human being, and it’s definitely made me a better professional.

Molly Alloy:

And so then you’re just trimming off some of the struggle to get to the good outcome. And it opens your capacity, thus spreading the burden sort of even more and just letting more of those benefits into your heart, honestly. And we talk a lot about binaries, and as a non-binary person, it’s like we sort of often think about the interplay between personal experiences or my reflections on my kind of journey into my non-binary identity and how that implicates the museum. And one of them is the work-life distinction. And this is a little bit of a tangent, but somehow for us, it’s like super related. The idea that you are someone who’s not yourself when you’re doing your work, to us it’s one of the unhelpful notions that we reject in freeing ourselves to move forward based on what we’ve really experienced to be the truth. And having a co-director is so integral to even being able to formulate conversations like that, because if I was thinking that by myself, it might feel too personal, too out there, too much of a daydream. But when you can chat it through with somebody, it can find legs, and it can take hold and actually become institutionalised. And that’s where it starts to have really a different kind of impact.

Nathaneal Andreini:

Yeah, totally. It’s like creating a positive feedback loop that you would otherwise only have in your mind. But when you have it with others, and in our case, just with one other person in this dual, co-directorship, which we hope to grow eventually, that feedback loop engenders just a super safe space for sharing, caring, nurturing each other and nurturing each other beyond the work itself, just as humans. That’s been so pivotal for us. And I would absolutely parrot Molly in saying that I am by far a better person through the work. And so the idea of separating myself from my work is becoming a lot more hazy and blurry and almost non-sequitur at this point.

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah. I would probably take it in a different direction. I mean, seconding making… I mean, Tim is a way better person than I am. So I have to live up to his expectations every day. I mean, he’s just a phenomenal human and I fall short every day, but above and beyond that, we’re at this pivotal moment as a nonprofit sector where it demands that you question every aspect of how you’re working and who’s at the table and everything. One could argue that the largest arts organisation in the country is actually Patreon, which is a for-profit organisation that just yesterday announced they have a $1.2 billion valuation. So when you start thinking about all the influences that are happening in the art sector, whether it’s impact investment, whether it’s artists who are now publishing things independently, obviously community-driven art, online platforms that are allowing artists to be sustainable, one person organisation can’t manage all that data.

Lauren Ruffin:

And if we were to look back at the last five years at Fractured Atlas, we had a thriving visa programme. Well, we had administration that killed that. We had a thriving business that was sort of a marketplace for creative spaces, SpaceFinder. Pandemic killed that. Artfully was always a bit of a struggle, but most certainly with the pandemic hitting, that killed that. So when you look back at this, we have all these competing forces that as managers and leaders we’re constantly balancing, and somebody’s got to be an expert in every aspect of that business if we’re going to continue to employ people and if we’re going to continue to serve the market that we serve, which are traditionally, fine arts, performing arts artists, and filmmakers. So being able to stay on top and to react and anticipate all of those competing factors, I think, necessarily requires more than one person at the home.

Lauren Ruffin:

For me, that’s the benefit 100%, is that I’ve had the ability to spend time starting… I mean, I found it a co-op, a Black artists working in XR. I do a lot of sustainable economies work now, circular economies work, which is really meaningful to me. Tim’s got a Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. brand that’s really focusing on people-centred organisations. The ability to become experts in other areas that we’re then putting into the container of Fractured Atlas, we talk about that as being a new model for what is the purpose of a nonprofit in the lives of its staff? Is it to have you in this role for 30 years sort of processing donation receipts? Or is it to be a springboard for something better and more meaningful in your life and to sort of share in this work and this knowledge and this learning? And that’s sort of where we are with it right now, but I don’t know, I could talk ad nauseum about why I think collaborative leadership, but for me, I think the sector is way more complicated than people are actually paying attention to. And there are a lot more actors, not dramatic actors, I mean, actors in terms of forces and inputs happening in the sector that I think the majority of museums and the majority of sort of organisations aren’t paying attention to or aren’t taking seriously.

Mike Murawski:

Yeah. No, I think you’re exactly right. I mean, the pandemic has sort of exposed so many things that existed prior to this, problems, issues, and complexities, and I think it sort of shines a light on the way that leaders and the way that institutions are responding to this crisis in different ways. So, yeah, no, I appreciate you bringing that up, Lauren, because there are so many factors that, yeah, they don’t make it into that executive director office. But oftentimes, the staff… I mean, it kind of connects to Nathaneal and Molly, what you both were talking about, there are oftentimes staff within an organisation that aren’t elevated into leadership positions, no matter how it’s structured, that do get aspects of all of those things.

Mike Murawski:

And so, yeah, I think questioning these models and how we go about structuring leadership and continuing the question. And I think none of you are getting into a new comfortable place of a new structure. I think your work is so exciting because you’re constantly questioning where you are now and not saying this is the thing we’ll be in for 30 years. And that’s this model. I mean, this model is kind of, it’s like a constantly questioning model instead of an invent, a new thing, stable, new thing model. So I appreciate that. And our time’s been going by really fast, which is awesome, but I want to make sure I had asked you all, since we don’t have a Q&A moment for this session, given the technology platform that we’re using and that this is asynchronous with the conference, what questions do you all have for each other or for me or for this idea as a group in the time that we have remaining?

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah. I mean, I guess my question, and something that we’re trying to figure out Fractured Atlas, is that piece around staff promotion, staff engagement. I think we have a relatively engaged staff. I mean, this year it’s hard to judge morale. 80% of it’s probably the bulk of our staff are in New York, and they’ve just had a really, really hard year, but I am curious about sort of Tim and I sort of the folks who we work closely with in the organisation are really thinking about compensation, and what if we just put all the compensation in a pool and paid it out equally? What are the opportunities for us to really level the playing field for our staff? And I’m wondering if you all are having any of those conversations as well, or if you have thoughts or insights? Because it’s something that we’re kicking around big time.

Molly Alloy:

So, so same page. It’s sort of like the day after we got our co-directorship approved and we worked out our pay being less than the other previous director pay, but enough that it was all right for us, and then we started working on the salary bands for transparency. And we’ve been officially co-directors since July 1 of last year. We have been able to give our staff three raises in that time. We’re basically just pushing as hard as we can, inherited a lot of debt, yada, yada, to put every sort of inch of vitality that comes back to the museum straight into the staff, but it’s totally not enough, and it doesn’t solve this question of… we sat down and decided what we wanted to get paid, and there’s no reason why anyone who works with us in the same institution wouldn’t have the same approach to figuring out how to balance their needs as a person with their commitment to the institution. But we know that there’s some cautionary tales where if you evaporate all of the hierarchy that sort of guides workflow and clarifies decision-making and things like that, then you haven’t done the institution or the individuals a favour.

Molly Alloy:

So we wrestle with it. To me, my favourite thing to imagine as of today, and it changes, is that every person would get to determine their own pay. And that would be a conversation that was like a group of people sit down at a table and say, “Here’s how much money we have for compensation,” And try to figure that out. But then there’s questions of privacy and stuff that I don’t… I too am really hungry for other folks who are wrestling with this to not… you don’t want to just like guess badly and try something that ends up just actually being harmful to folks. So we’re totally in the brainstorming phase with those kinds of next steps.

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah. There’s a, co-op called AORTA. I don’t know if y’all are familiar with that, Esteban who runs the US Federation of Worker Co-op. It’s Anti-oppression Resources and Training Alliance. And yesterday I came across… Because I’m in the midst of thinking about all this stuff deeply, both for my own co-op and for Fractured Atlas, but came across their eight page document on how they do hiring and budgeting. And they do a participatory budgeting process, whereby everybody in the organisation and the co-op comes together and looks at their projection for the next year, and they have a really honest conversation about how much people need to get paid. But it’s hard. I’ve got a wife and two kids, but I live in Albuquerque. So my expenses are probably candidly a lot less than my single friends since I’m in New York.

Lauren Ruffin:

So how do we sort of have those conversations as an organisation, but I’ll find it, and I will share it with all of you so hopefully this audience can-

Molly Alloy:

Thank you.

Lauren Ruffin:

See it at some point. It was a really cool resource, and I’ve gotten through like the first three pages, and I was like ooh, jazz. But yeah, that to me is like my biggest rock I’m trying to climb over right now, is how can I justify sort of all of my beliefs about equity and wanting people to have sort of everything they need and [inaudible 00:45:19] pays well? For the art sector, I mean, I think we start people at like 48 now, which is decent, but so. New York and looking at sort of the… we have some wage compression issues in the middle of our scale, but if we hadn’t taken a pay cut, it would’ve already been probably solved by now, but financially it’s a little bit harder to navigate right now. But to me, we got to get that figured out for the next eight months.

Molly Alloy:

There’s something to me… And I don’t even yet totally understand why. There’s something to me that I see a correlation between implementing multiple directorship, sharing at that highest level, that is an essential step to starting to address some of these additional concerns. I think it’s maybe like if you are alone with the decision-making, it’s too easy to fall into traps of well, on the one hand, I’m keeping everything for myself, but on the other hand, I’m sort of in this position of handing down. And I think just disrupting that has helped us be less in the paradigms that we came up through in our careers and more in these kinds of like just actually problem-solving, not following a roadmap, but actually being like what’s the outcome that we want? And just thinking of pathways to it, which I think happens in the work itself. You were talking about sharing across areas of expertise. It’s like if your outcome is to hold all the power for yourself and prove that you’re a good executive director, well, then you can’t be like I don’t know this thing or I don’t want to know about this thing or I don’t like that area of work. Someone else can be the expert on that. But as soon as you break out of that, it’s like you can really start to just actually look at problems as they are and find your way to solutions.

Nathaneal Andreini:

Another question I’m interested in is where do these collaborative leadership models, in what way do they inform decolonial work? Or vice versa, in what way does decolonial work inform collaborative leadership? And I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m very much interested in this intersection between the two and see… not everybody is positioned quite like the Five Oaks Museum to be wrestling with both at the same time. I get that we’re a historic museum focused on the pioneer settler colonial narratives that we’ve been having a lot of fun disrupting over the last couple of years. And so we’re wrestling with decolonizing our actual site. And collective leadership has found its way into that structure by way of trying to de-centre authority as much as we can. And we’ve infused that into our programming. We have now like a very humane versus… we’ve institutionalised deeply humane values that a regular person who’s not working in a museum or art space could look at and say, “Oh yeah, all right,” absent of buzzwords and absent of big academic or theoretical ideas and found ways to institutionalise the humane. So just a broader question for those of you out there and here today, I’d love to hear, or just be thinking collectively about how collaborative leadership informs decolonial work.

Mike Murawski:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:49:17]. Oh, go ahead, Lauren.

Lauren Ruffin:

No, no. Go for it, Mike.

Mike Murawski:

Oh, I was going to say yeah, I think that’s a super important question. And I know that in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa is an example of an institution now that has a shared leadership model. It has, since it opened in the 90s, between a Maori leader and a chief executive officer. And there has been a lot around this sort of bi-cultural approach. And then I think there have been museums within the US. The only one that I’m thinking of right now that’s tinkered with this, or certainly shared power with native leaders, has been, I think it’s the Bar Harbour Museum in Maine, that now I believe… I mean, Lauren, before you mentioned sometimes it just requires people to step back or even for an institution’s board to embrace a de-colonial approach when they’re in a leadership transition. And so that institution hired its first indigenous director after a long process of decolonization and trying to change its institution.

Mike Murawski:

So yeah, I think it’s important to bring that up and put that out there before we wrap up, because that’s another key part of what we’ve been talking about, which is changing the relationship with power and who has it or who should have it, how much of it, and what we do with it. And how much we let these Western capitalists, capitalistic and sort of patriarchal norms dictate what that needs to look like is really important. Well, we’re actually out of time, and I would love for this conversation to continue, but it’s been fantastic to… I feel like we’ve just barely started to tease out issues of collaborative leadership. I think one of the big goals that I had is just to have more conversations that show folks in museums that are either in positions at the top or just within trying to really advance change within museums, that these models exist, that these types of shared leadership models work, and they’re actually addressing a lot of the goals that museums need to be paying attention to and arts organisations, as we address the crisis of this pandemic, as we really start to adopt more anti-racism work within institutions and bring all of that into the future, because this moment is a great opportunity to re-imagine institutions.

Mike Murawski:

So all of these ideas that you have brought into this conversation, and so many more that we didn’t have time to cover, I think really point in the direction of taking that leap, going that direction. And especially during leadership transition moments, which occur so frequently for organisations, I would encourage so many institutions or people within institutions that are sort of seeing this presentation and this panel to don’t ever be afraid to suggest at a meeting, “Hey, what if we tried this?” And I think some of you have experienced the question of well, where’s the research? Where’s it happening? What’s the evidence? And I know that that case has been growing and building. And Fractured Atlas did a lot of research as it was sort of going down this path, and Molly and Nathaniel, you also had to send your board articles and things to sort of show this is a real thing. People really do this. So my hope with this discussion is this is one more thing to add to that sort of ecosystem out there showing that this is a valid path to go. I would almost even argue that for many organisations, it’s sort of a necessary and urgent path to go down.

Mike Murawski:

So I thank you all so much, Nathaneal, Molly, and Lauren, for being a part of this conversation. And yeah, I really hope we can stay connected. And yeah, stay safe. Take care. And I really appreciate, and I’m grateful for your time today.

Lauren Ruffin:

Thanks so much.

Molly Alloy:

Thanks so, Mike. I just want to say I love everything you just said in your wrap-up. And even just folks that are watching this, our emails are on our website. For me personally, hit me up if you think that it’s something that our example could help you to implement something that fits for your organisation, because I really think it’s about healing. And we need it. And so anywhere that we can help uplift others that are trying to move in a direction, then open to it very much.

Mike Murawski:

Fantastic.

Molly Alloy:

Lauren, it’s such a pleasure to meet you today and get to learn about Fractured Atlas and the crazy other projects that you’re doing. I’m going to do some little research.

Lauren Ruffin:

Yeah, this was really great. It’s always good to be in community with folks who are thinking about this stuff.

Mike Murawski:

Awesome.

Nathaneal Andreini:

Great to meet you, and Mike, thanks for putting the work out there and elevating us in the meantime. That feels really good. It’s an honour to be here. So thanks a lot.

Mike Murawski:

Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Take care.

Lauren Ruffin:

Take care.

 

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