ICYMI: How art can influence leadership and enhance collaboration

Poet and President of the Mellon Foundation, Elizabeth Alexander, was recently interviewed by Jenna Abdou for Fast Company about how her arts background informs her leadership. "Art went on to be a vessel for Alexander. As a Pulitzer Prize finalist, she delivered the poem at President Obama’s inauguration, 'Praise Song for the Day.' Through her teaching, most recently as the chair of African American Studies at Yale, literature is an invitation into our shared humanity. Today, as president of the Mellon Foundation, the largest funder of the arts and humanities, creativity is an agent for change, following her boldly shifting their mission to center on social justice."

"Good artists have to be open to different ways of being and doing," said Alexander. "I want people to come as they are and become even better in who they are. Things run best when we have different cultural backgrounds, disciplinary training, approaches, and styles. The way we express beauty and what we bring to this urgent work is unique. That’s what making art and encouraging people to make art is all about. Modeling that value and ethic at Mellon is important. I need everyone to feel like their contributions matter and that being at their individual best is how we’re going to be here. Saying that we would be a social justice philanthropy and helping to remake the organization wasn’t a piecemeal affair. It was an immersive creative act."

"From my lens as a poet, if a poem can’t hold contradiction and conflict, it’s not a very dynamic poem. This is where my background as a scholar in African American studies is relevant. I didn’t have to read anything that wasn’t written by a white man in my PhD education. I chose to, but I didn’t have to. But, what we know about history is that there were other people, right? What happens when you put their experiences onto the timeline? To me, it’s not even about whether there is conflict between what an enslaved person and an owner of slaves wanted out of life. They had different aims in 1830. But, they existed at the same time. So, you can’t just tell one story. Deep learning is hard. But, it’s not that hard once you start doing it. We can hold more than one story at the same time."

Read the full interview here.