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Jessica Mele, Hewlett Foundation, Class of 2011

jessica41.jpgJessica Mele is a Program Officer in the Performing Arts Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Previosly she was executive director at Performing Arts Workshop, an arts education organization in San Francisco. During that time, she was also an active arts education advocate, serving on the executive committee of the Arts Provider’s Alliance of San Francisco, the steering committee of the Alameda Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership, and the national advisory council of the Teaching Artist’s Guild. In her spare time, Jessica writes, directs, and produces sketch comedy as part of Chardonnay, one of two in-house sketch groups at San Francisco’s Pianofight Theater Company.

Why did you decide to apply to CAELI?

At the time, I was a new executive director (I began the position in March, and started CAELI in July), and was in desperate need of some focus on my leadership values, skills, and vision.

What takeaways did you have from CAELI, for yourself and for your organization?

It is extremely valuable to be pulled out of your day-to-day and focus on your own self as a leader: what you believe, what called you to this work, and what will continue to keep you invested in this work. It is too easy to jump into implementation without first doing this internal work – a foundation upon which all the rest is built.

It is healthy for the organization for a leader to take time for his or herself. In order for that to work, the leader must be transparent about how this work ultimately benefits the organization and others who work in it.

This kind of self-reflection is also helpful in prompting reflection in other areas. For example, resolving conflicts with staff requires you to step back, be objective and clearly communicate – in addition to understanding the POV of others.

What were your highlights from the in-person seminar week?

It was a long time ago! But I do remember Ronnie Brooks telling me that, as an ED, I would be blamed for everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So I should be prepared not just to shoulder the burden of the bad (I felt the responsibility keenly), but also to feel comfortable taking credit for the good (I was very uncomfortable with this).

And I recognized a need as a leader to be transparent about my own feelings of vulnerability (frustration, fear, anxiety). Being honest with others about what you’re carrying into this job (instead of hiding it for fear of looking weak) can be its own source of power, when done right.

Do you keep in touch with our CAELI alumni network?

Some – usually via Facebook and at National Guild conferences. Sometimes I’ll consult with them about something work-related. Often, though, it was most useful for me to reach out to other ED’s in the program for peer support or advice.

What advice would you give to a prospective CAELI applicant?

Be prepared for rigorous self-examination. Don’t take yourself too seriously throughout the process. Arrive at it from a place of curiosity and learning. Everyone at CAELI wants you to succeed. It’s up to you to show them how you will, in a way that is authentic to you.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.