APAP’s Krista Bradley: Playing a Leadership Role to Foster Diversity & Inclusion

Leadership is a critical factor in facilitating change and creating a lasting impact. This week, I’m highlighting the work of one of my colleagues—Krista Bradley. As Director of Programs and Resources for Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP), develops and implements APAP’s year-round and conference-related professional development programs, grantmaking, services and resources that advance the skills, knowledge and capabilities of APAP’s membership. Prior to joining APAP in July 2017, Krista was Executive and Artistic Director of BlackRock Center for the Arts, a $1.3-million nonprofit, multidisciplinary arts center in Maryland. Krista also served for six years as Program Officer of Performing Arts for Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, where she managed performing arts touring and funding programs for a nine-state region. She brings more than twenty years of experience working in the nonprofit, performing arts, and philanthropy sectors as a funder, curator, arts administrator and consultant. Over her career, Krista has worked for and with such organizations as the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Walker Arts Center, Washington Performing Arts, Houston Grand Opera, and OPERA America. She’s a former board member of APAP and Maryland Citizens for the Arts. Krista holds a B.A. degree in Literature and Society from Brown University.

Of her responsibilities at APAP, Krista says: “I am excited to be a part of APAP and excited for the work and the field at large.  It’s great to be part of the leadership at a service organization that provides resources and professional development that enables people to do their work successfully.”

 Donna Walker-Kuhne: How did you begin your work in the arts?

 Krista Bradley: I studied dance and music and have been a choral singer since I was 10. Thanks to my parents, music and theater have always been a part of my life. They were both arts lovers—they met through a voice teacher. After college, I was supposed to start a new job at Ogilvy & Mather in New York. But that summer, I heard about arts administration for the first time and was intrigued by the idea. I was spending the summer with my parents in Virginia and decided to seek out a marketing internship with a local opera company. They needed staff in education and touring so I began learning how to market, organize, and program performing arts touring. I loved the work. Soon, I was offered a job and I had found my calling connecting people who valued music and the arts to the work. The work with the opera company seemed a lot better than selling Charmin or Coke! I worked in the opera field for 12 years doing audience and community engagement and new work development. After that, I worked with the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and then with presenting arts organizations.

Donna: Where did you see you could have an impact on the arts and in what way?

 Krista: Overall, I have always been a bridge builder, able to communicate on multiple levels with different communities. Where I’ve had impact is finding ways to connect artists and communities together in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Programmatically, I ask myself how our efforts or programs can become more relevant and resonate with the community more effectively. I’ve been charged with that role in various positions. It’s not always easy being brought into a mainstream, predominately white opera company, wanting to diversify board and staff, and being one of the only people of color in the organization trying to effect change. It was arduous and challenging.

Being in positions where I have the agency and influence to guide resources to projects, programs and artists that reflect new work, new voices, or stories not regularly heard has been really gratifying. Having the opportunity to change the profile and programming of an organization so that it’s seen differently by a community was key to my work as a presenter. It’s great when people–new people—come to your theater and feel like they belong. I hope some of that past work and programming sticks and continues.

APAP is a culmination of everything I have done, and I can see what it is like to be a presenter, funder, and service organization. I hope that I’m helping us stay ahead and abreast of the field in issues that matter, especially around issues of diversity and inclusion. I know this is a priority area where we are investing time, energy, and resources. Helping to drive this process is really exciting.

I feel fortunate and grateful being a woman of color who has worked a long time on multiple levels and finally feeling like we’re at a point of reckoning and having authentic conversations to move the field forward and recalibrate everything in our work. This is an exciting and challenging time for the field. I’m looking forward to finding ways we can move the needle and continue to break down barriers.

Donna: How did you approach thinking about your work, what were the influences?

Krista: I am a listener, and curious. I want to know what is motivating one’s actions; what’s behind a program, the reason we do it this way or that. I ask a lot of questions because I want to know how we know if something is working and is effective. If we don’t know the answers, we have to find out before we create something new.

I also really like the term “cultural humility.” I find it to be very powerful and it resonates for me. I want to engage in our work honestly and with integrity. To do so means we can’t assume that we know what someone’s experiences, challenges, or issues might be. It’s important to sit back and listen; to ask how we can do our work differently to better reflect a group’s needs and issues. And then it’s important to act and incorporate those voices in the creation and leadership of whatever is the result.

We recently had a great experience with rural presenters. We felt we needed to spend more time focused on their issues, hearing their needs and helping them thrive. Recently, we used a webinar as a listening session. It was an experiment, and damn if we didn’t have the highest number of participants for a webinar in recent memory! Our theme was how to support rural presenters. They shared amazing strategies and ideas. It enabled me to perceive the work of rural presenters in a different way.

Regarding influences, a lot of people have played a role in my life. They helped me to become a better listener and they encouraged me to have questions. They urged me not to be afraid to point out incongruencies, or when things don’t match values.

Mikki Shepard has been an amazing mentor, along with Baraka Sele. I think that my colleagues are great; past leadership is great.  I have appreciated their daring choices and programmatic risks.

Donna: How did you arrive at APAP?

Krista: I did a lot of work with presenters in my work at Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation managing touring and funding programs. We regularly partnered with and attended APAP. As a presenter, I also regularly attended APAP. I joined the APAP board a year ago and when I learned this position was available I decided to apply.

Donna: Who is APAP’s audience?

Krista: Our members consist of presenting organizations and their staff, artists, agents and managers. The main component of our work is in programs and resources, which includes our conference programming and leadership development. We work to identify and support emerging and mid-career professionals to find their voice and become more effective leaders at this time in society. How are we seeding the field, making sure we bring the full perspective of different individuals to address our challenges? What is it that leadership needs now? What kind of networking do they need?

Donna: How does APAP do it?

Krista: Through information sharing. But resources need to be designated within organizations and agencies. How does it happen and can we play a leadership role to make it happen?

Donna: What are the trends you see in diversity and inclusion and who is doing it successfully?

Most arts organizations are aware and that they should do more. Some of our sister arts service organizations are doing a great job like Theatre Communications Group and Alternate Roots.

I see people trying to take first steps, which is great. Anything done intentionally is good and that means things are beginning to happen. I am hesitant to list particular organizations because everyone is taking steps. It may not always be the biggest steps; it’s not easy work, but it’s necessary work. I applaud and encourage those who can take whatever steps they can in the right and intentional way to affect change.

At APAP, we have been taking steps in this work for a number of years. We are still at the formative stages, but I feel really good about our work and approach. The recent rural art presenters discussion we hosted with members of the field is a good example of this. After bringing thought leaders together we were able to create systems and programming at the conference that embraced relevance to the field and resonates in the field.

Donna: What are the challenges you face in the field and how are they addressed?

Krista: In my current position – time and resources to develop programs and services that respond to the field needs to occur at a faster rate. I can see where we want to be and wish we could get there quicker. We are a large organization with a long history, and we also want to help the field change and evolve. That push-pull as a member organization is the nature of service organizations with lots of constituencies and voices to serve. You have to make sure everyone feels heard and supported. At the same time, you have to realize that some things may need to shift and evolve, which will inevitably affect members and their work. Navigating this push-pull is a wonderful challenge of a service organization.

We recently had an experience that exemplifies this point. At the APAP 2018 conference, our theme was TRANSACT. Members from the transgender community called us out on social media and rightfully asked us, “Did you consider talking to transgender community members about this theme?” “Are there transgender people on your committee?” “How are you raising up transgender artists and voices?” That social media callout happened a few days before my first day on the job. It was critical for us to own our missteps, ask for help and use this experience as a learning opportunity to turn it into something better for the field.

We engaged allies in the transgender community to help lead our efforts and the result was conference programming that highlighted transgender voices and leadership in multiple ways. We hosted our first trans forum with 40 in attendance. The feedback from that forum was very positive. People are listening and it’s encouraging to see community come together. We got great feedback and thought it was a great example of listening and connecting, based on a “culture of humility.” We asked for guidance and had it inform program and resources that spoke to a constituency in our midst. At the same time, it advanced our discussion as a field. We want to do this work right, so I want and need to inform the conversation.

I am very committed to taking innovation on and to being relevant and responsive. That’s the role we are supposed to play. We discuss this in our strategic sessions, looking at artists, panels, and workshops. How do we model diversity, inclusion and equity for the field and make it front and center? How do we provide people networking opportunities who can share their work in these areas?

Donna: What are some of your future plans?

Krista: We will be involved with diversity, equity and inclusion training with the board and staff over the coming year and exploring ways we can partner with others doing this work. We will examine how to share best practices and train others to step back and consider privilege, agency, race and power. In addition, I would love to help facilitate grant making to the field around particular issues, such as diversity equity and inclusion.

Donna: I look forward to experiencing the success of Krista’s work. Her commitment to create access to the various programs at APAP is exactly what we need in the field. She is one of the many cultural warriors, committed to taking a stand wherever they find themselves, and dedicated to ensuring that access is attainable and executable right now.