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Peer to Peer Blog > Seeds: Professional Development at Cornerstone Theater Company

Seeds: Professional Development at Cornerstone Theater Company

by Tali Pressman
posted on October 19, 2011

We are seeding theater in communities where little to none existed before. We are seeding artists by giving people a voice; seeding communities by bringing people together through our process across faiths, political aisles, or from the very same neighborhood; seeding leaders, by teaching them to take chances in their communities, become more active in the life of their city, and see themselves as critical to change-making; and seeding community-engaged art-making by training emerging practitioners through our annual Institute program. This is the work of Cornerstone Theater Company.

It’s inherent in our thinking, in our practice, to develop and nurture the skills and talent of our next gen staff members, board members and ensemble members. We may not always succeed –and our funds for professional development fluctuate at the whim of the economy, the funding landscape and own fundraising efforts. Despite this, professional development has been a line item in the organization’s budget for many years – something we are very proud of.

Each year we support staff members to go to trainings and conferences to bolster their skills. We have an annual staff retreat that focuses on key issues determined by the staff on topics like time management and project planning. In recent years, we have sent staff members to our own month-long program, the Cornerstone Institute, (), alongside 15-20 other students who pay tuition to learn our methodology. While the staff time off has a significant impact on the organization’s operations, the benefit clearly outweighs the cost.

While all of this is crucial, we can go further. As a company with 70% of its staff under 35, it’s clear that we need to respond to trends, and fill gaps, by intentionally creating policies and practices around professional development. Through a NextGen Arts Innovation Grant, the Creative Capacity Fund gave us the opportunity to think more deeply and strategically about professional development for our Next Geners, both about what we are currently doing, and what can become a sustainable practice.

After a series of meetings with the Next Gen staff at Cornerstone, we landed on a two-pronged approach: monthly master classes that will focus on diverse issues that will add to the Next Gener’s arts administration toolkit and mini-immersions at other organizations to shadow a leader in our field. The project looks both within the company, and outside of the company to organizations with similar values, to offer opportunities for the ten emerging arts leaders in our staff and ensemble and on the Board of Directors. We believe that this project will not only create a more cohesive company and support network for the cohort (including me), but also help to prepare us to become better arts leaders in the future.

As a group, the Next Gen leaders will identify topics for the master classes and find “experts” within Cornerstone’s Board and Ensemble, as well as within the Los Angeles arts community. We’ll sit with Financial Advisors, Artists, Lawyers specializing in Non-profits, and others, with experience that we believe is useful to an emerging arts leader.

Each of our ten Next Gen leaders will have the opportunity to create a mini-immersion over the next year, spending three or four days at an organization, with a leader, that the individual would like to shadow. The hope is that this mini-immersion will lead to an informal mentorship that can be sustained for several months or longer. At the end of the year, we aim to gather all the mentors and mentees together for dialogue about arts leadership, and to share what they have learned and what their goals are moving forward.

CTC is a mid-size arts organization (read: that tricky and uncomfortable size). We have gone through moments of scarcity, and times of abundance. We have a bare bones staff hovering around one dozen – some departments have one staff person, and there are many mid-level staffers with limited opportunity for promotion because of our structure and budget size. We know that some Next Gen staff members will leave for career advancement, more money or graduate school. We know that we are a training ground, and take that responsibility seriously. And we know that we are seeding the non-profit arts field with individuals that are passionate, skilled and better equipped when they leave our doors for other leadership roles.

Tali Pressman is Managing Director of Cornerstone Theater Company, a 25 year-old community-engaged theater company that's been working on issues of justice including immigration, reproductive rights, punishment and retribution, and the environment. Cornerstone is currently developing plays about hunger in Los Angeles and beyond. Before entering the theater world she was the director of special projects at Progressive Jewish Alliance where she was responsible for strategic outreach to twenty and thirty-somethings, branding and major public programming. There she created the Jeremiah Fellowship, a year-long program that trains emerging Jewish social justice leaders, now in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, DC. She was awarded The Mark Meltzer New and Innovative Programming Award from the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California for this project. The annual Festival of Rights that she produced, reached thousands of next gener’s nationally by bringing together culture and social justice through art, music, performance and candle lighting with local activists, politicians and artists. Prior to PJA, Tali was the Director of Yiddishkayt Los Angeles where she created and spearheaded Avada, a project to engage young people in Yiddish language and culture.


Re: Seeds: Professional Development at Cornerstone Theater Company
by Ceddrick
posted on August 26, 2012
This posting knecokd my socks off
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