National Leaders of Color Fellowship Launches with Support from US RAOs

A group of arts leaders of color pose and smile for a picture.
WESTAF Emerging Leaders of Color Alumni at the 2022 WESTAF Board of Trustees Meeting in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Photo Courtesy of Lila Lee, courtesy of WESTAF.

August 31 Application Deadline for the Program Dedicated to the Advancement of BIPOC Leaders in the Arts

Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) has partnered with its five United States Regional Arts Organization (USRAO) counterparts to support the National Leaders of Color Fellowship, a leadership development program for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) leaders committed to the advancement of cultural equity in the arts. An expansion of WESTAF’s Emerging Leaders of Color (ELC) program, this collective support and commitment from the collaborative of six USRAOs (Arts MidwestMid-America Arts AllianceMid Atlantic ArtsNew England Foundation for the ArtsSouth Arts and WESTAF) aims to invest in diverse arts leadership in each respective region and across the nation.

The National Leaders of Color Fellowship is an eight-month fellowship that will be held virtually from October, 2022 until May, 2023. Designed as a robust strategic leadership development program for leaders of color who have promise and have demonstrated performance aligned with equity, the program uses a cohort structure and emphasizes experiential learning, community building, and service to the field. Since its inception, the program has been intentionally led by BIPOC faculty and leaders, and has not been institutionally driven — a facet that is precious and will remain intact as the program expands nationally.

“At the start of this work with WESTAF a decade ago, I had no idea that this expansion and growth would be possible,” said Margie Reese, principal consultant, MJR Partners – Arts Management Services, faculty member and mentor for the program. “Every cohort confirms the need for allyship and knowledge sharing among peers. It’s been a powerful way for me to invest in the future of the field of arts administration.” 

“WESTAF’s Leaders of Color program has proven its effectiveness by tapping into the wealth of talent and resourcefulness that exists among leaders of color,” said Salvador Acevedo, managing partner at Scansion Inc., curriculum consultant and long time faculty of the program. “With the program’s expansion, we’ll increase our impact by focusing on the regional implications of nationwide issues and creating a shared vision of an equitable and inclusive arts field.”

Started in 2010, and in partnership with South Arts since 2020, WESTAF’s ELC program has promoted diverse, representative leadership and equity in the arts field by supporting the leadership of more than 100 arts leaders of color since its inception. A direct result of recommendations and referrals made to the WESTAF program from its network of arts and culture leaders and advocates from across the western region, the community gathers and the work evolves on an ongoing basis through the Leaders of Color (LC) Network.

“We recognize that institutions have not adequately supported people of color in our sector,” said Todd Stein, CEO of the Mid-America Arts Alliance and co-chair of the USRAO collective. “We also recognize that most applicants to this program, while highly qualified to pursue leadership careers in the arts, have historically been denied access to the resources, the positional contacts and the networks — rather than the specific skills — to lead. The USRAOs acknowledge that for decades we have been a part of the inequitable structures that have contributed to this dynamic. In fact, it’s only relatively recently that people of color have joined the USRAOs in positions of leadership.”

Added WESTAF Executive Director Christian Gaines: “The National Leaders of Color Fellowship builds on the work of the ELC program, which has been thriving in the western region for over a decade. This national expansion marks the beginning of an important new chapter. There is so much more listening and learning to be done on the part of institutions like ours, and which must be followed with actions that directly benefit leaders of color in the sector.”

For additional information and to apply visit The application deadline is Wednesday, August 31, 2022.

Two older light-skinned adults with short hair sit at a table together. One of the people is wearing a light purple shirt with curly short white hair and is holding a paper cut out of a hand up to their own hand and smiling.
Mini art lesson at Silver Threads Assisted Living in Gregory, South Dakota. Photo by Prairie Feather Photography. Courtesy of Gregory Horizons and Arts Midwest.