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Yerba Buena Center for the Arts CEO joins ASU in cultural sector field research


Photograph of Deborah Cullinan, CEO of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts CEO Deborah Cullinan is one of the nation’s leading thinkers on the role of arts organizations in shaping our social and political landscape.

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September 16, 2020

Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts CEO, will join ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts for a 12-month residency called the National Field Leader in Residence. This inaugural residency is a pilot program of the National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation, in partnership with the Master of Arts in creative enterprise and cultural leadership.

Based in San Francisco, Cullinan is one of the nation’s leading thinkers on the crucial role arts organizations can play in shaping our social and political landscape and has spent years mobilizing communities through arts and culture. Her personal work explores the intersection of culture work, employment, belonging and health.

“COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief the systemic and structural inequities that are at the core of our society,” Cullinan said. “These same inequities have plagued the arts sector since its inception. Well before the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and so many others, we had been implored to imagine new practices, structures and systems to transform teaching and learning and to advance new models for civic participation and cultural production that are rooted in equity and justice. In today’s more crisply illuminated environment, I am excited to work with students, alumni, faculty and community leaders to explore new and emerging policy, leadership and organizational models for the arts and culture sector.”

This newly created 12-month residency program is specifically designed for nonacademic leaders who are working at the cutting edge of cultural policy and social change and are seeking to advance an area of their research in collaboration with ASU students, staff and faculty, as well as local Tempe and Phoenix community members.

The National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation, an initiative of the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, seeks to understand and amplify how artists and designers advance social change for public good.  

“One of the core intents of the accelerator is to connect community knowledge and practice with our students, to explore how the complicated work of community and social change through creative practice happens and how we understand how we might support and collaborate on change at the student, community and national level,” said Jen Cole, executive director of the National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation. “This program seeks to connect all of those dots and build a space of shared learning, co-creation and modeling that advances both public practice and student learning.” 

Through this residency, Cullinan will center a core question: “How can cultural and creative practices fuel the conditions necessary for people and communities to thrive?” She will lead a cohort of students and community members, teach within the Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership program, and produce a final public presentation about her work.

Johanna Taylor, assistant professor and director of the Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership program, said that “(our) students are actively creating new futures for art and design that connect to other sectors and shape our daily lives."

"This is a unique opportunity for our students to come together with local arts leaders and Deborah Cullinan to co-create new knowledge and advance community healing," Taylor said. "I'm excited about this as a new model for engaged education, supporting emerging and established cultural leaders in hands-on, practice-based work.”

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