Janine Tursini

Director & CEO
Arts for the Aging

Janine Tursini is the leading force behind Arts for the Aging, pioneering directions and its national recognition for best practices, program design and outcomes. Under her tenure, Arts for the Aging has been named a Model Program in Lifelong Learning by the National Endowment for the Arts, a Trailblazer by the Maryland Department of Aging and One of the Best DC Area Small Charities for Excellence, Impact and Cost-effectiveness by the Catalogue for Philanthropy. Janine consults nationally on best practices in the growing field of creative aging.

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success.

My leadership style emphasizes transformation, empathy, and participatory engagement. Arts for the Aging is emerging from several momentous periods in the last eight of our 34 years: from a founder-driven era and from concurrent pandemics of racial injustice and covid-19. Each requires a willingness in decision-making to turn every aspect of the organization inside out—financial, governance, personnel, equity, visibility, partnerships, program development—if we are to fuse our storied past with a realistic and sustainable vision for the future. Transformation takes courage, and success is predicated on respect for dismantling power structures; inviting and listening to our closest stakeholders—clients, teaching artists, staff, volunteers, donors, and board members—in frank conversations about what’s good, what isn’t working, and what else is possible. This happens at all levels in meetings and decision-making, from one-to-one meetings I have with staff, to weekly team meetings, to board meetings, to what we call “equity jams” which are conversations that bring all these stakeholders together. Equity calls for empathy, which can feel radical especially when we disagree; so, we center the art of improvisation and its core tenet of “yes, and…” in our values. To truly embrace all levels of engagement and create a sense of belonging and excitement for future success, we strive to validate one another’s self-expression before offering our own, whether it differs or not—and perhaps especially when it differs! In these ways, I style participatory engagement, empathy, and transformation as part of our every day and our story of success.

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders?

Embrace lifelong learning and foster the awareness to follow your gut plus the courage to change heart when the moment or others(!) beckon. On lifelong learning, I believe we all need to feel a sense of purpose throughout our lifespans in order to be healthy as we age. The cognitive, emotional, physical, and social engagement that it generates feeds that purpose. While I do struggle with what’s called “imposter syndrome” (believing I couldn’t possibly be as bright or competent as other people think me) I recognize this stems from having achieved my position at Arts for the Aging through experience and dedicated tenure (following my gut) rather than because I earned a degree beyond my bachelors—did studying art history teach me how to run a business? So how do I confront the elephant in my room: I think about the philosophies we embrace in our teaching artist methodologies (process over product, progress over perfection); I remind myself that I’m not alone in feeling this way (I recently learned that imposter syndrome can be cultural and is quite common in creatives, women too); I acknowledge that a liberal arts education and studying art teaches critical thinking, which is profoundly important in leadership; and I testify to being a forever advocate of professional coaching (when you find the coach whose personality and style fits you it’s like the Shel Silverstein poem, “Listen to the Mustn’ts”).

What does this award mean for you and your organization?

Arts for the Aging is at its core a caregiving organization. Often as with caregivers, we suffer from burnout, or we don’t put our own needs first because we’re hyper-focused on delivering the service to the community. What this award means for me and for Arts for the Aging is that our small and mighty nonprofit can care for its own caregivers – the leadership and staff who work so hard every day to bring the beauty and transformative power of the arts to especially marginalized aging communities. We envision leadership coaching, professional membership engagements with regional leadership networks, university-level continuing education coarse-work, software trainings, and external cultural equity consultant opportunities. Thank you so very much for this opportunity!