ASHLAND, ORE.: Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced on Dec. 18 that it has launched the Paul Nicholson Arts Management Fellowship to encourage the development of theatre leaders from all types of backgrounds. When it comes to selecting fellows, the focus will be on diversity and inclusion.
The new initiative is part of OSF’s FAIR (Fellowships, Apprenticeships, Internships and Residencies) Experience Program, which hosts more than 50 professional development opportunities annually. According to FAIR experience manager Sharifa Johka, the focus on management was prompted by the present lack of diversity among theatre leaders nationally, and a desire for that group to be more inclusive.
“There is a tremendous conversation happening nationwide among arts institutions about the need for diversity at the highest level,” says Johka. “There’s a dearth of diverse representation in artistic directors and in executive leaders. We want to create opportunities to put a wider range of people in that circle.”
The seven-month fellowships are for professionals interested in a career in arts management and artistic leadership. Candidates need only be interested in leading an arts organization; a background in theatre is not required. The chosen fellow will work in close capacity with OSF managing director Cynthia Rider, and will lead projects across multiple administrative departments.
Johka emphasizes that while the Paul Nicholson Fellowship is designed to give potential leaders of color an opportunity to develop professionally, the application process is open to all, not just candidates of color.
“You can’t make a claim to have a commitment to diversity and inclusion while maintaining that in order to bring people in, they must have a long history in a field that has been traditionally all white,” Johka adds. “You have to open up your criteria to accept and value all kinds of transferable skills.”
The fellowship is named after OSF executive director emeritus Paul Nicholson, who helped lead the theatre for 33 years. During Nicholson’s tenure, diversity became an institutional value at OSF. The theatre is currently accepting applications, and the deadline is Feb. 1. The first fellow will begin work on March 31, 2015, and will receive free housing, transportation and a $10,000 stipend.
Johka’s hope is that the fellowship will give more individuals access to the artistic leadership pipeline, the channel that leads from artist to executive leader. “There absolutely is a pipeline,” she says, “and traditionally there has been one set of people allowed to walk through it. What we can commit to is allowing individuals who represent the diversity of this country to walk through that pipeline.”