ELI Alumni Perspectives

We caught up with 5 prominent alumni to discover the lasting value of their Emerging Leadership Institute experience. Hear from the participants themselves who shared their reasons for applying, what they learned, how they've benefitted personally and professionally, and more!

Christopher Kaelin

Christopher Kaelin - Class of 2015

How has your ELI experience impacted your organization/professional network?
I now have a massive network of colleagues and friends from all around the country and the world. We stay connected. I can shoot ideas off them, ask for feedback and collaborate on a variety of topics.

What is unique about ELI compared to other leadership development programs?
It’s not easy, because ELI is a collaborative process. You’re already a promising leader in the field, otherwise you wouldn’t even consider attending. ELI is a safe environment to share ideas, frustrations and struggles about your leadership, the leadership of others and your organization. It’s a unique opportunity to gain invaluable, honest feedback. If you love PowerPoint presentations… this program is NOT for you!

What would you tell someone that was interested in applying to ELI?
Sit down and have a conversation with your Supervisor. Express your future goals and ambitions within your organization to gain his/her support. Then ask yourself, “Can I be honest with myself, share constructive feedback and be receptive to the thoughts and opinions of other leaders in my field?”. ELI is an amazing opportunity, because you as a participant make it so. Be ready to contribute.

Aaron Shackelford

Aaron Shackelford - Class of 2014

What prompted you to apply to ELI?
When I attended a conference at Dartmouth College on student engagement with classical music, several of my colleagues at other university presenters mentioned this amazing program. They said it provided an opportunity to meet other professionals across the field and get a greater insight into the whirlwind of APAP.

How has your ELI experience impacted you personally?
Like everyone, there are moments of doubt about one’s career path. I came to the performing arts via a rather circuitous route, and part of me was wondering if I should go back to pursuing an academic career. For me, attending ELI will always be the time when I set aside those doubts. ELI provided the perspective that I have important contributions to make in the field, and codified that I will be a leader who makes a real impact working for a performing arts presenter. A colleague joked afterwards that I came back as though I’d had a vision, and while it was not a metaphysical experience in that sense, it was a clarifying and inspiring milestone in my life.

What would you tell someone that was interested in applying to ELI?
Embrace your doubts. ELI is not about showing off what you have done thus far. The experience focuses instead on what it means to create positive change, to recognize that your passion and insight can be a dynamic force within an organization and the performing arts as a whole, and to embrace that possibility. Uncertainty, in this formula, becomes an asset because it encourages you to find answers.


Chelsea Lafayette - Class of 2011

What did you hope to learn by participating in ELI? Were you successful?
I really didn't know what I would learn, I just wanted to meet people in the arts presenting field. I thought I might learn skills for when I became a leader in the future. What I did learn is that it is possible to be a leader in an entry-level position.

What was the most meaningful aspect of the program?
Solidarity! It's an incredible network of people who are passionate about what they do. Watching each other grow and progress in our careers is encouraging and inspiring.

What would you tell someone that was interested in applying to ELI?
You should absolutely apply. This program changed the way I think about leadership and the leaders in my field. It is important to devote time to getting perspective on the field outside of your current position or organization and ELI provides the space and tools to do that.

Jordana Phokompe

Jordana Phokompe - Class of 2005

What prompted you to apply to ELI?
I had a strong instinct that attending ELI would be a wonderful opportunity for me to grow professionally, expand my network, and learn from my peers. My instinct was right!

What was the most memorable/meaning aspect of the program?
Learning about my strengths and weaknesses as a leader helped me create a sharper and more effective approach in the work place. This enhanced my ability to build teams complementary to my skill set.

How has your ELI experience impacted your organization/professional network?
Being part of ELI is being part of a community. I participated in ELI ten years ago and met wonderful people who are now leaders in our field. We have remained in contact and I can call on them for advice as well as for organizational partnerships. Additionally, through the alumni community I’ve seen my network continue to grow.

Thomas Kreigsmann

Thomas O. Kriegsmann - Class of 2002

What did you hope to learn by participating in ELI? Were you successful?
ELI answered to an urgent need to change the conditions of the playing field around me. I was fiery with ideas about how the field should be contributing more to the evolution of new work and why seemingly inextricable divisions existed between presenters, producers, promoters and regional theaters that prevented new work from being realized, and what role a fledgling, non-profit producer could play to align those strategies. I hoped ELI would be a forum to discuss those strategies with representatives from disparate corners of the field. While there was much, much growth to come, ELI certainly helped in laying the groundwork for the years that followed.

How has your ELI experience impacted your organization/professional network?
My colleagues in that first edition of ELI remain dear friends and trusted colleagues with whom I work regularly, sharing a fundamental vision and passion for what we have dedicated our lives to, and to whom I turn constantly for guidance and support. I keep track of and gain inspiration from their accomplishments and am very proud to be on this journey with them, watching them all grow and accomplish amazing things – Cory Baker, Jeremy Ganter, Anna Glass, Michael Reed, Jenny Thomas, Laura Sweet, Toby Tumarkin, and many more members of that class all remain huge forces in arts advocacy nationwide. It is a great point of pride to have grown up in this business with them.

What would you tell someone that was interested in applying to ELI?
I have recommended the program to all of my associate producers at ArKtype and they gained equally strong footing in industry relationships, so I always recommend it highly to anyone interested in taking a step toward a larger vision of their role and potential in shaping the future of the industry and the public imagination.