How The Listening is making changes for the future
The Listening, a creative non-profit based in Lynchburg, has been connecting writers, artists, students, and the creatively curious for a little over 10 years. Now, they are looking to the future and how they can adapt and grow over the next 10 years and beyond.
“I’ve made a habit of saying that The Listening is for artists, but over the years, it’s become much more,” explained Nicholas Steven George, Founding Executive Director. “Our mission is to engage, change, and save lives with the performing arts, and we hope to provide a safe and brave space for our community to discuss issues like mental wellness, social action, and education through art forms like spoken word, theater, dance, and songwriting.”
With summer reading programs, peer support groups, after-school workshops, open mic sessions, performance showcases, and routine creative conferences, The Listening keeps their reach and approach broad on purpose.
“It doesn’t just impact artists and creatives, but people of all backgrounds,” said Keaira Reese, Co-Executive Director of Programming and Development. “The programs it provides allow for people to have a space to show authenticity with no judgment. For example, having the Open Mic nights allows vulnerability and it helps bring a sense of community to everyone that sits in the room. Moreover, we provide opportunities for our youth to learn how to read, write, and even express their emotions through being artistic.”
The Listening has had growing success with their various programs over the past 10 years under the leadership of George. Now, that leadership model is shifting. As of August 31 of this year, George has stepped down as acting Executive Director and will be passing the metaphorical baton to Reese and Angelina Randolph, Co-Executive Director of Operations and Outreach.
Under this new shared leadership structure, Reese and Randolph will share the overarching leadership and vision casting for the non-profit organization, but will each take on different roles that support its ongoing growth.
“Keaira and I do have titles that help others, as well as ourselves, know what we are leading,” explained Randolph. “For example, I am over the operations and outreach, therefore I oversee the recruiting of leadership council, volunteers, establishing the connection between our community and organization, almost anything that falls within those areas. Keaira oversees the programming and development of the organization, which would essentially be the open mics, the youth programming—as in our Yearly Freedom School—and more. However, though we are the lead in those activities and departments, it does not mean that we will not assist one another. This style offers diversity of ideas, perspectives from outside of ourselves, and essentially the overall manifestation of true teamwork.”
With two individuals now at the helm, alongside the support of a Creative Citizen Leadership Council, Reese and Randolph believe this shared management structure will allow for more outreach, more in-depth events, and the continuation of the legacy that George worked tirelessly to establish.
“Research shows how important it is that organizations continue to grow and evolve and how its leadership should evolve as well,” detailed George, whose departure from a leadership role with The Listening has given him time to focus on his family and pursue his own personal creative projects. “With nearly 10 years of building and leading this organization, I am acutely aware of how much The Listening has changed since 2013. At the same time, I also see the opportunity for new leadership to take this organization beyond my abilities.”
Reese and Randolph have developed a plan to further and iterate on the vision George created for The Listening, and will work to create an environment where the arts are empowering, powerful, and eclectic.
“We are planning to build off of the foundation [Nicholas] created to make it a place for everyone to be heard,” said Reese. “Not only our small little town, but any small town that has an underserved population. Our vision is to sync to what he wanted to create.”
Randolph expanded, “What I want is for those who experience The Listening, for them to walk away thinking about how they can do more, what else they can do to further themselves as artists, where they can make a positive impact, and be present.”
The future of The Listening will continue to evolve, just as art is always fluid. For now, community events like the open mic nights and signature sessions—where artists are invited to share their craft and the community is also invited to hear and even share—will continue, as well as their youth programming. The community who knows and loves The Listening shouldn’t expect any changes to the level of support and connection they receive from the organization.
Reese and Randolph look forward to having more people alongside them to work and further the mission of The Listening. They will continue to show diversity and use that to commune with and understand one another, and they will continue to give back to their community through advocating and bringing awareness to the importance of education, social justice, and wellness.
“If you look at major events in history that have majorly impacted people and society—music and art was produced from that,” said Randolph. “Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come spoke directly about the Civil Rights Movement and the effect he and his community felt. Lil Baby, with The Bigger Picture, mentions George Floyd, protests, and the perceptions that we have of one another. Many people listen or have listened to these two different artists, but one thing they have in common is the fact that they are making art that reflects their lives, their now, their community, and how the community feels.”
Similarly, The Listening will continue to encourage artists to do the same—to expose their hearts, dissect social bias, and find connections with one another that can only sometimes be done through art. And they will continue to be there to listen.