Leading with Values on Your Empowered Artistic Journey
For years, as an indie music artist I have researched and practiced building my own brand. Workshops, books, influencers in the world of indie music, and even academic courses teach the components of branding in terms of look, sound, story, message, etc. As it's known, even though it can sometimes be grouped into unappealing thoughts associated with “marketing”, “branding” is a necessary and powerful component to be able to share our art with the world.
For any artist who needs to fundraise for a project they are passionate about, finding the right message is crucial to carrying out a successful campaign and project. The message that we share matters to us and to the world that we impact. Before branding comes some very personal questions of who and what we want to share with the world. I’d like to break this down and look at the basics of defining our own story and identifying key values. This is the foundation upon which an authentic “brand” may eventually, and organically, be built.
In studying organizational leadership – specifically authentic leadership – I realized that the tools to help build one’s own “leadership philosophy” are also applicable for artistic leadership. And let’s face it, as creators, we are by default leaders, whether that is through running our own business/organization/project, fundraising, or thought leadership that comes with putting our creations out into the world. Understanding our own story and identifying key values can be central to authentic leadership and direction in our artistic leadership journeys. Allowing ourselves to be transparent and vulnerable in terms of our relationship with our own stories and our art demonstrates authentic leadership.
I am personally going through these processes of analysis on my own work, life, and art in an effort to align them all with my key values and tell my most empowered story. I am going to share some of this process of story-telling and values-identification as it relates to, what I am now calling, the Empowered Artistic Journey!
Mapping the Journey Line
The Empowered Artistic Journey is having a better understanding of our past, gaining lessons learned and understanding how it informs our present perspective. Identifying and prioritizing our personal values by which we live and create helps to guide our Empowered Artistic Journey of the future.
First, we need to build a Journey Line - a map of our highest and lowest energy points from our earliest memories until now. Recognizing these moments for the impact they have had on our life will help to sort out the richness of our personal stories. Do what feels comfortable. It may feel liberating to put it all out there! And, if something feels a bit too intense to identify or process right now, we can leave it, or perhaps mark the dot and leave it without further assessment, always knowing we can come back to that point later, when we might be ready.
Everyone’s Journey Line will be different, and here’s a first iteration of mine:
These energy points are those very memorable moments that were accompanied by intense emotional energy – either positive or negative. While life is about many events, big and small, these are some of those crucial moments that have made me as a person and as an artist today. It’s still a work in progress. After connecting the points, I have a line that diverges and converges at certain points, and I have seen others with just one line throughout. Some lines may seem erratic with extreme highs and extreme lows; others may demonstrate quite consistent steady energy throughout. These points and everything in between are what have given us the experiences and the insights to create from our unique perspective – the celebrations, the disappointments, the triumphs and the failures. Take liberties and have fun mapping out your own.
The Highs and Lows
Now, after mapping them out on the journey line, we can take some time for a deeper dive into a couple high points and a couple low points. A few questions we might ask ourselves:
- What did I learn from these experiences?
- What gifts, skills, and abilities have I gained from these experiences?
- How has my art been shaped from these insights?
- How will my project benefit from what I have learned?
Answering these questions allows us to see all points on our journey as valuable learning experiences. This ultimately is practice for telling our story – and especially the low points – through a new lens. This storytelling could take on multiple mediums: song, speech, or drawing. This is the beginning of knowing and being able to understand and share our most empowered story, and how it has shaped our art.
What are your key values? Values are individualized. In identifying my key values, I conducted an assessment of four types of values:
Core Values: Values that we hold near and dear and practice consistently
Aspirational Values: These are the values that we aspire to have at our core
Permission-to-Play Values: Baseline values that we must have to succeed at our work
Accidental Values: These values just happened for us in our particular circumstance
If you are interested, you can learn more about these types of values in Patrick Lencioni’s Make Your Values Mean Something. Fractured Atlas’s own former CEO Tim Cynova has explored these types of values as they relate to the organization level.
In the practice of spotting our values, there are blurry lines and they sometimes overlap. These values can also shift categories and evolve over time - and that’s ok and even desirable. We hope that our aspirational values can move into core, and then our iteration process continues. The important part is being able to recognize these values for what they mean to us and lean into them to help guide our future.
Let me show you a quick example for me as I go through this process:
Now that I have identified these values, I can post them on a wall, keep them in mind, and plan accordingly! Creativity is core and necessary as an artist. I value activity on several levels – one in terms of health and exercise, and two, so that I am actively working to get my projects done. Being a good steward of the earth and all its creatures is something that I am trying to make more central to my message and my new songwriting has started to reflect that. Right now, I am grounding myself with musical sounds that I grew up with as I reflect on current issues of politics, the environment, and social justice. It’s all a work in progress, and each of these values is loaded in terms of their meaning to me and the opportunities for exploration!
What are your key values and how do they fit into your artistic journey of the past, present, and future?
Out into the World!
The Empowered Artistic Journey is a way of understanding our past that informs the present and inspires the future. These exercises are applicable at the artist, the project, and the organization level. Creating a journey line and value-spotting is an awesome place to start when developing our projects and when planning to present them to the world. Knowing our authentic selves – being vulnerable with regards to who we are and who we want to be – and sharing it through our most empowered story inspires others to follow along and support!
Understanding the relationship with our own key values helps to guide the direction of a personalized Empowered Artistic Journey of the future. If a central part of our art-making is serving the public good, putting our values at the forefront helps others to know what we – and our art – are all about. It is essentially the foundation of authentic leadership – and other branding components (website, blog posts, social media, crowdfunding, and fiscal sponsorship) can be opportunities to share our values through an empowered story that also empowers our art.
About Sarah Ragsdale
Sarah Ragsdale is a Fractured Atlas Fellow. She earned a certificate in the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership, both at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a Master of Arts in Political Science (United Nations and Global Policy) from Rutgers University. Sarah is a singer, pianist, and songwriter. As a performer and independent artist, she has made appearances in piano bars, her own albums, and international song collaborations. She believes in art as an instrument for encouraging cultural empathy. Prior organization experience includes the United Nations Department of Global Communications, Civil Society Unit and the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. As a Peace Ambassador with the Institute for Economics and Peace, she strives to incorporate the pillars of positive peace into her work.