Trena Bolden Fields on The Influence of Artistic Leadership
Join me and Trena Bolden Fields we as delve deep into the topic of artistic leadership, an often-ignored expression of authentic leadership that the world needs now more than ever.
Trena Bolden Fields is an actor, writer, teacher, life coach and international speaker. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts and Mass Communication from Augsburg College and a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology from the University of Minnesota. She went on to study life coaching and received her life coaching certification from the Adler Graduate School and completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Augsburg College. Trena has presented or performed at Hector Pieterson Museum and the American Corner/U.S. Embassy South Africa, the International Engagement Workshop at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Pan-African Student Leadership Conference in Mankato, Minnesota, Gustavus Aldolphus College, African Wellspring Mission, Minnesota College Personnel Association’s annual conference, the Dana Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Sonora, Hermosillo, Mexico.
Trena Bolden Fields is also a member of Actor’s Equity and SAG-AFTRA . Ms. Bolden Fields lives in the United States.
By interviewing people from different walks of life and approaches, I am trying to show that leadership is just as richly layered, diverse and multidimensional as humanity itself. A very often overlooked aspect of leadership is artistic leadership or any type of leadership that does not emanate from traditional quarters like politics or business. The fact of the matter is, we are all leaders and we show leadership best in ways that feel authentic to us and the contribution we are trying to make to the world. Trena Bolden Fields, based in Minnesota in the United States, is one such leader. As an actor, writer, and coach who works with artists to help them unleash their artistic dreams and forms of expression, Ms. Bolden Fields shows that we all have an immense contribution to make whether we’re sportspeople, actors, musicians, fine artists, writers, fashion designers and so on. Trena and I unpacked this topic via virtual means from the Villa Moji at the Fairlawns.
There’s a monolithic view of “leadership” it seems: often male, authoritarian, distant and not so inclusive. How would you define “artistic leadership” and what does it look like to you?
Yes, I agree. Also, with artists, once they become leaders or are recognized, they have to think about their platform and how that can multiply and amplify their views and what matters most to them. Through having a platform that is seen, your message will reach more people and I believe in promoting positive, supportive and helpful messages that help humanity and our world.
Leadership to me is about guidance, good judgement, having a moral compass, inspiring others to be great in their sets of gifts and talents and I think artistic leadership is this, as well as exemplifying artistic excellence helping to guide others along their path. One of my favorite actor/activists is Jada Pinkett Smith who exemplifies artistic leadership and in a very intentional way. She is currently doing Red Table Talk on Facebook and I love how she is utilizing her platform to address societal, family and community-based issues. She is helping us all connect via social media in a real and human way while addressing the issues we face as individuals and collectives.
We all have the capacity to lead, be it in our homes, at work and in our communities. I encourage women who have great talents and something they want to share that will help others, to take action right where they are. This is how leadership is developed.
Artists and sports people face the risk of being ridiculed for publicly expressing their views on the issues of the day, how can they use their voices and athletic and artistic expressions to show leadership in a world that needs all of us to be leaders?
We see this happening now in the U.S. with professional footballer Colin Kaepernick. This is a very public issue and concern that is being played out with very hostile and supportive responses. I think more often than not, athletes face this stigma of being “just players” and that they should focus on their work on the field. Athletes are just as impacted by social issues as everyone else and should be able to speak about them in a way that is constructive. I believe in speaking up or out for justice and human rights in ways that can help move us forward to a better resolution. I would encourage athletes to speak out about what matters to them.
In some cases, you can say that people say this of artists, yet I actually think the opposite of your question. I think artists are expected to comment on socioeconomic issues through their work. This is at the core of who every artist is. We are catalysts, and we create forms of expression of what we are experiencing, learning or processing at the time the art was created. I believe we all have the right or option to express what we believe in in constructive ways. It will be important for each and every one of us to have the room and space to explore and speak out on our social issues.
I believe artists have to start with what is impacting them or “disrupting their values” as one of my mentors states. I believe when someone feels something deeply and are impacted by it, then they most often need to say or do something about it. It is really important for artists to use their voices, their work and their platforms to show and express leadership in a way that connects with their audiences.
Everyone can tap into their innate capacity to express their authentic voice by really knowing what they came here to express and why. Knowing your “what” and “why” comes from understanding your values, talents, skills, purpose and vision. People can walk through the process of understanding each of the five areas listed and then do more of what speaks to them or engages them on a higher level. For instance, in 2017 I created a one woman show that addressed my struggle with “following” my husband’s career and the struggle I faced navigating systems and thought processes about what I should do or be as a spouse following my husband’s career. The show is comedic and exaggerated, yet it centres around the struggle I faced navigating systems and thought processes about what I should do or be as a spouse following my husband’s career. My goal was to really say that I am me and for me to be able to do the work I am here to do as well. I think that it is fitting and true that artists are also activists.
I think that this is very important in the current and evolving context of women the world over really coming into their own as individuals but who are part of families, communities and societies. Please elaborate on your journey and how you came to that place of reclaiming your contribution to the world? What would your message be to younger women coming up and older women who are dealing with these yearnings?
This was a true journey for me and also a delicate balance. I do understand that I am a part of my family and my community. I decided to marry and share my life with someone else and so yes, I am going to think about this and how my family and I can create together. With this I also feel that I have to be clear, sure and on purpose to be able to come together with my family to create what we are here to create. So, my journey started when my spouse took his job which required that we live in different parts of the world, I began thinking of ways we could navigate this process in ways that would enable me to still do my work. I even tried to not travel with him, but to stay in the city we lived in and do my work, yet we ultimately decided that we wanted to be, travel and live together.
This realization and decision led me to my next goal which was to bring my work with me and to be able to do what I enjoyed no matter where I was in the world. It was a struggle as in my industry relationships are essential and I have to create new relationships wherever we go, yet I do it every time. I get out and meet people. I tell people what I do. I audition for roles. I meet other actors and directors. I also coach people all around the world on creating the career of their dreams. I ask people if they want to work with me. It is about taking initiative and taking action even when I am the “new person”.
I came to this place of reclaiming through the experiences I faced and the lessons I had to learn. I know that almost every human being wants to live a life of fulfillment and this includes me. I know that I feel fulfilled when I am engaging with people in positive ways and helping people to transform their lives. Thus, reclaiming my contribution to the world is about fulfilling my purpose.
My message to younger women would be to explore their passions and listen to their authentic voice, take action and do more of what fulfills them and realize that their lives do not have to be compartmentalized. Women (and men) can make their contribution in the world while raising healthy families. If you are sharing life with a partner, include that partner on the journey and exploration, connect and communicate and create a life where each partner can build a journey that helps each of them shine in their respective fields. I think we cut ourselves off from opportunities when we feel we have to choose between our families or our contributions. I think if we learn how to create balance and do what we love while raising present and conscious children, we teach our children the importance of honoring self and our commitment to our communities. I feel strongly that it doesn’t have to be “either or”. We will always have to make choices, yet overall we can navigate life while raising families if we are present and okay with taking and embracing the journey and really experiencing, feeling and understanding the lessons we need to learn.
You have shown through your extensive portfolio of creative work spanning theatre, film, writing that you do not subscribe to limiting notions about your role in society, how did that come about?
I am by nature an explorer. I like the sense of freedom and expression and learning by doing. I have always had the notion that there are possibilities since I can remember. I practice this in every aspect of my life. I believe I became an actor/performer as I also feel things very deeply. I also needed a way to be able to express this part of me in a way that impacted others or where people could see a different side of a situation or be able to see themselves or their situation in a different light. I wanted to create art to help people process life, different scenarios and be able to make better decisions with their own lives based on their engagement with the art I created.
My personal belief is that we all individually and collectively, even through demographic groups, bring something unique to the table that the world actually needs to be whole and healed, in your view what unique skillset do the artists that you work with bring, or could potentially bring to issues of leadership?
The artists that I work with through my coaching services are so innately talented, grounded, awake, ready to really do the work they are here to do and I believe that these artists, and all artists, have the capacity to shift our trajectory towards a more collectively positive and engaging world. I believe artists have the capacity to heal, to transform and help people live more loving and engaging lives. It is always up to the artist to realize this and then express their love and capacity within their environments, communities and the world. Meaning that we all have a responsibility, a call and a choice to make and hopefully we will continue to choose to answer the call and help change communities for the good. I believe you have to learn who your audience is and who you are here to serve and then create what that audience needs that also represents who you are as a person. We each are here with gifts and talents and we each have a way of doing what we are here to do. It is unique to the individual person and so I recommend learning deeply who you are and who you are here to serve and create your art and forms of expression based on the intersection of you and your audience.
What fuels you, drives you to help people and organizations to unleash their artistry and reclaim their artistic dreams?
It is my belief that we can unleash our artistry and claim our artistic dreams for the edification of our God-given purposes and to bring transformation. I believe that we each have individual talents that the world needs. I love artists and I believe artists can help get us to the places we want to go. Whenever we value each other and work together, we create a better product, a better service that many can benefit from. I believe in freedom, community, growth and possibilities and this is why I do what I do. I think for the most part, the artists I work with gain a deeper clarity of their purpose and the work they need to do with their art. I feel fulfilled when I am able to help people in this way.
In what ways could we as societies embed artistry in the work that we do regardless of economic sector? Or why does the world need to adopt, inter alia, an artistic view of leadership regardless of whether it’s titled or not?
I believe art can be embedded through our speaking and sharing of words and in aesthetics. For example; many office spaces, no matter the sector, can embed visually pleasing pieces into their structure and materials. I worked with a leader who loved and collected art from a variety of countries and she spoke so eloquently and was so engaged with people and I believe art, including music, visual and performing arts, helps us to be more grounded and well-rounded people. Art also brings people together in deeper and connected ways. I truly do believe the world needs to incorporate an artistic lens when collaborating and working on leadership. It helps to feel more connected and it helps us to use a different part of our brain to process and problem-solve. When we have critical or concrete, analytical, imaginative and creative thinkers working together or using different aspects of their thinking to solve an issue, it helps create a better workplace and you do get more connected and engaged people working through processes in a purposeful way. I do realize that analytical thinkers are also creative, for instance, I have a sister who is a computer programmer and, in her work,, she has to design code and “create” formulas to help people navigate her system and I think we all have the capacity to “create” a process or way of working through an issue. I think it is always better to learn through experience or being able to see the creative process at work.
In your view, what needs to happen at a societal level for every child, every woman, and every man to have the tools and internal capacity to marshal their innate abilities and impact the world in a way that we will all feel and be the better for it?
This is the work and it is work for us all. We go through the process of growth and becoming. It takes a collective effort for us all to be better. Some societies are doing this in good ways and some societies are doing this in hurtful ways. We have to look at examples of how this works well. I would take a look at the education models in Finland and Norway and see how their systems are engaging the students at young ages to be conscious, to be explorers and great stewards and how their societies are being shaped for the benefit of every citizen. Take a look at how people come together and bond to help in crisis situations. For instance, the recent cave incident with the Thai soccer team. Professionals from around the world united and collaborated to create a successful rescue of these kids and their loving, smart and selfless coach. The first example of humanity is the coach and how he cared for the young boys while they were trapped. He helped keep them alive and met their basic needs while trapped and then the professionals were able to process together a plan that worked. Such examples abound in the world and I think that we need to review them and take note and remember that there is always hope. Wherever you are, whatever purpose you are fulfilling, hold on to hope no matter what.