Ruby Lerner on Establishing Continuous Learning

Ruby Lerner of Creative Capital shares what adaptive leadership looks like in her own practice.

Ruby Lerner, President and Founding Director, Creative Capital
Ruby Lerner, President and Founding Director, Creative Capital

In this post, which is part of this month’s in-depth exploration of adaptive leadership, Ruby Lerner (President and Founding Director of Creative Capital) shares the processes and behaviors that she practices to stay adaptive in her work.

How do you seek out perspectives different from your own and let them influence you?

Since Creative Capital was founded to experiment with a model borrowed from a totally different sector—the venture capital world—we began our organizational life by trying to understand, and adapt to, this very different approach to arts funding. This has affected all aspects of our development. I have been mentored by one of the sages of Silicon Valley, William Bowes, right from the beginning, and we now have three venture capitalists on our board, plus others who are conversant with the sector. Additionally, I have sought out business conferences that focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. And I try to read the business magazines that are focused on the [venture capital] sector.

At the same time, I have always been interested in community organizing. It might seem like an odd wedding [of models], but I think it has worked for us!

What practices help you establish continuous learning?

We try to listen to our artist awardees. One feature of our model is dispensing the financial part of the award in installments—determined by the artists’ timetables, not ours—and we have a question on our funding request form that asks, “What could we be doing better?” No one is shy about telling us! If we are doing something stupid, we try to fix it fast. Some suggestions are wonderful but take longer, but if they make sense, we actually try to incorporate them. Our artists are so thoughtful; we try to be responsive when we can.

As a staff, we also try to stay alert to the changes in the external environment that might affect awardees, and try to be proactive as well.

How have you evolved your staff structure to meet your changing practices?

The staff itself has been pretty consistent. It is an amazing group of people. We are so lucky. We have altered staff structure occasionally, and often people’ s titles will change as they take on different or enhanced job responsibilities. We have had to add staff, of course, as we have grown, and this is usually on the associate and assistant levels, to help those great, ambitious program directors as they take on more to oversee. I think one important thing we figured out early on is that we, as a staff, don’t need to know everything, we just need to know who does! So we work with with a large group of consultants. That has been pretty efficient.

To learn more about Ruby and Creative Capital, watch her Summit Talk.

To share your own experiences in response to these questions you can respond publicly in the comments of our March Topic post (or on this post), or click here to share your responses with us privately.

Kendra Danowski is the former ArtsFwd Editor & Engagement Coordinator at EmcArts.