The Cultural Leadership Program: The Mandel Institute’s Bold New Program to Train Jewish Artists

Gordon Haber

By Gordon Haber 

Some people find it counterintuitive to consider arts and leadership in the same breath. According to the stereotypes, artists are solitary creatures craving isolation and quiet; leaders (at least the good ones) are brave visionaries who bring out the best in those around them. The skillsets for each group may be important in their own way, but there isn’t much overlap.

Of course, the reality is more interesting and complicated. MBA programs, for example, understand what future business leaders can learn from artists—namely the creativity, determination, and vision necessary to the successful completion of an artistic project.

Other programs have recognized the ability of artists to serve in leadership positions, such as Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellowship from Americans for the Arts, the Kenan Institute, and the World Economic Forum’s New Narratives Lab.

In the Jewish world, The Mandel Foundation has been involved with both sectors for decades, supporting the arts and humanities (including CANVAS), and training the next generation of Jewish leaders through the innovative programs of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership.

Now the institute is bringing arts and leadership together in a Jewish context by launching the Cultural Leadership Program, a unique new fellowship that will support a cohort of Jewish creatives to “lead through their art, cultural projects and organizations” as Ted Sasson, Director of Programs for the Mandel Foundation, put it.

This inventive new program is predicated on the idea that Jewish creativity is already crucial in shaping the present and future of Jewish life, as well the culture at large. A natural step, given the Institute’s focus, is a program that nurtures the leadership of Jewish artists and cultural producers, providing the skills and resources to make a positive effect on the Jewish community and beyond.

Leadership, imagination, and change

“Artists understand the power of art and culture to transcend boundaries and speak to the issues of the day,” explained Eva Heinstein, Director of the Cultural Leadership Program (and CANVAS Board Chair). “What they need are tools and resources to support their expanding roles as leaders of social and cultural change.”

The two-year program, which will operate out of the Institute’s Boston office, is comprised of in-person seminars, online sessions, and coaching. Fellows will explore three themes: leadership, the specific skills necessary to lead an arts organization or network; imagination, using Jewish texts and the cultural history of Judaism as artistic inspiration; and change, examining the past and future role of arts activism in transforming society for the better.

Reflecting the curriculum, the faculty is a mix of professionals with a broad range of experience in Jewish life, the nonprofit sector, and the arts:

  • Joshua Lambert, author, teacher, and Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wellesley College
  • Kendell Pinkney, theatre artist, rabbi, and Director of CANVAS Emerging Network Grantee The Workshop
  • Erin Potts, a pioneer of innovative social change strategies
  • Shani Rosenbaum, writer, rabbi, and faculty member of Hebrew College Rabbinical School

Keeping artists in mind

The Mandel Institute will cast a wide net for its introductory cohort.

“I’m imagining artists from all the creative fields, curators, food writers, comedians,” Heinstein said. “Anyone involved with the interpretation and production of Jewish art and culture, including journalists, and community organizers who are focused on art and culture, or spiritual leaders who ground their work in art, culture and creativity.”

One of the most appealing aspects of the program is that its designers want to ensure that fellows can deepen existing work or embark on something new. Fellows will receive a $20,000 yearly stipend both to allow them to focus on the educational aspect of the program and to invest in a creative project.

“We modeled the stipend with artists in mind,” Heinstein said. “We wanted to bake in resources for fellows to concentrate on their artistic practice and projects.”

The issues are up to the participants. Heinstein mentioned that possibilities might include democracy, climate change, or antisemitism.

“But we’re not agenda-setting,” she continued. “The program will equip fellows with the skills and deliberative frameworks they need to address issues that are important to them and the communities they serve.”

What’s next

The Cultural Leadership Program will begin recruitment in early 2023. The Mandel Institute also plans to offer open applications in the spring, with the inaugural cohort of 15 fellows selected by the end of May. For more information, keep an eye on their website.

Heinstein envisions a cohort of Jewish leaders working with their communities to help them “connect in meaningful ways with their heritage and to act on issues that are important to them—to use Jewish creativity and culture as a life-force.”

The Mandel Institute considers the program as a complement to CANVAS’s work: “We’re delighted to support CANVAS, and we see this program as deepening and enriching the ecosystem CANVAS is doing so much to build and support,” Sasson said.

The enthusiasm for this groundbreaking program is shared by everyone involved.

“I’m thrilled to join such a fantastic team of scholars and culture makers,” said Kendell Pinkney, on teaching for the Cultural Leadership Program. “I’m optimistic that The Mandel Institute’s investment in Jewish culture producers will yield a profound impact in the years to come.”

Image: From Ori Lenkinski’s Meet Me in the Market (2020). Photo: Efrat Mazor

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