A founder of an organization cannot consider himself or herself successful until the organization can grow and thrive without his or her continued presence. At the time CAPE was created in collaboration between our original board and myself 21 years ago, the idea of sustained partnerships between artists and schools had not been developed as an on-going practice. The idea of arts learning integrated with other domains of learning did not have credibility as a sustained pedagogy. The idea of an arts education organization participating in on-going research did not exist. The idea of multi-media, on-line documentation of creative practice in schools did not exist. The idea of inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning as a foundation for arts integration did not exist. The idea of creating a body of published work about the practice did not exist. The idea of regular, shared professional development and sustained professional learning communities among teachers and artists did not exist.
These ideas have now become business as usual in the field. The President’s Commission on Arts and Humanities has recognized CAPE as a pioneer in these innovations. Our model has been replicated nationally and internationally. This is a legacy we can be proud of.
There have been a lot of other changes in the last 21 years. CAPE was one of the early adopters of a new-fangled mechanism called “email” using something called “the internet.” CAPE designed its own website before this became a common practice. In retrospect, we realize that we take for granted many practices that were risky experiments at the time of their initiation. CAPE has always been ahead of the curve.
And CAPE’s current leadership has advanced CAPE’s creativity beyond what I had originally imagined 21 years ago. CAPE has developed after-school programs, parent programs, a body of wide-ranging research, portfolio-based learning methodologies, leadership initiatives for in-school arts teachers, funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, funding from the US Department of Education, funding from the State of Illinois, working partnerships with the administration of Chicago Public Schools (no simple accomplishment), collaboration with the highly respected International Baccalaureate program, impressive public exhibitions, and a commitment to the continual growth of the next generation of leadership (a commitment atypical of organizations founded by baby boomers like myself). The current leadership is savvy about new technology and social media. I am a digital tourist. They are digital natives. The organization has grown and evolved, as healthy organizations should.
And now it is time for the founder to step aside and make room for the current leadership. This is good organizational Feng Shui- arranging the elements so that the energy continues to flow. Initiators need to stay mindful of when their best contribution is getting out of the way. I am proud to say that CAPE now stands on its own twenty-two feet (the staffing has expanded significantly from when I was the sole employee, tucked away in donated office space in Marshall Field’s department store), and did not devolve into the vanity project of a single individual (as have so many projects that have come and gone during my tenure at CAPE).
I am an initiator type – a spark plug rather than a chassis – and plan to explore some new avenues for innovation and for my own continued growth. I will return to work in the theater (I began in this field as a director and writer for the stage), and have become increasingly interested in the role of the arts in youth development in community settings. I will continue to write, posting on a new blog I will be creating soon. Stay tuned.
It has been a privilege to be one of the initiators of such a wonderful endeavor as CAPE, and it is a joy to see to it blossom beyond my time.