Danielle Brazell – Week 27: 30-in-30 Honoree

“Creativity is uniquely human. It is a vehicle for unlocking human potential, and it cultivates leaders who contribute their time, talent and energy back into making our communities vibrant and resilient.” Danielle Brazell is this week’s 30-in-30 honoree, an alumni of Leadership L.A. class of 2010, and was a scholarship recipient funded by The Boeing. Continue scrolling to read more about Danielle’s story and the intersection of arts, civic life and community.

The Power of Fostering Creative Leadership

In the early 2000s, after defeating multiple attempts to eliminate the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the arts community began to take a serious look at itself. We didn’t understand why the arts, which in our mind make such fundamental contributions to society, were seen as expendable.

This inquiry led many of us to professional development programs that focused on cultivating leaders committed to learning the multiple intersections of civic life. Southern California Leadership Network quickly became one of the most sought-out local programs for arts leaders to gain valuable insights, acquire new tools, and expand one’s network.

The Boeing Company awarded me a scholarship to attend Leadership L.A. by in 2009. Boeing was a funder of Arts for LA, the nonprofit arts and arts education advocacy organization of which I worked for at the time as the executive director. The program officer, Jim Herr, believed that by investing in grantees through professional development, the organization would become more effective. Having participated in Southern California Leadership Network a year before, Jim knew first hand how effective the program was, and felt it would be a worthy investment for Boeing to make.

Participating in Leadership L.A. was a transformational experience. Not only did I expand my understanding of our civic infrastructure, I gained valuable leadership tools, which helped me become a more effective leader. Participating in Leadership L.A. also provide a vehicle for me to “credential up.”

My career path has been circuitous. Like many working in arts administration, I began my career as an artist and then moved into teaching, producing, and then administration, community organizing and policy. These core competencies were precisely what the private and public sectors were beginning to embrace as the set of skills needed to compete in a 21st century workforce. Completing Leadership L.A. led me to apply to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government State and Local Executive Leadership Program, of which I was accepted.

This sector-wide soul searching created an opening to understand the bigger picture. And, by asking the question, it allowed us to shift the gaze from our own immediate self-interest — running arts and cultural organizations, producing work, and providing arts instruction — to larger civic issues such as transportation, homelessness, economic development, community development and workforce development.

Over the past decade, dozens of arts leaders have completed Leadership L.A. I believe this concerted effort has created a sea change in the way we in the arts sector approach our work. It has also expanded the perception of the role arts, culture and creativity play in building vibrant, prosperous and connected communities from those not involved directly in the arts.

Los Angeles is the creative capital of the world. The content created in our region influences how the world sees itself.  Our entertainment industry, along with the nonprofit arts sector and one of the most culturally diverse metropolitan areas, reflect a population of the world that reinforces the fact that arts, culture and creativity fuel our region. In addition to the economic benefit, the arts are the magnificent way in which humanity reflects on its existence, creates meaning, and engenders belonging.

In my current position, I uphold these values as the general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. As an appointed public official, I serve the people of the City of Los Angeles by leading an agency charged with fostering creativity at all levels in our city.

The output of creative expression is often measured by direct and indirect revenue. However, it is equally important to acknowledge and capture the transformative role creativity plays in fostering innovative leadership. Let’s face it: Creativity is uniquely human. It is a vehicle for unlocking human potential, and it cultivates leaders who contribute their time, talent and energy back into making our communities vibrant and resilient. Take it from me. I’m living proof.