Laura Callanan was appointed Senior Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2014, and currently serves as a Strategic Advisor to the agency. As a Scholar in Residence at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, Laura authored three MBA case studies featuring James Houghton, founding artistic director of Signature Theatre in New York; Theaster Gates and his community development activities on the South Side of Chicago; and Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco which are available through the Harvard Business Review. She was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship to continue this work on artist social entrepreneurs. Laura was previously a consultant with McKinsey & Company, a Senior Adviser at the United Nations Development Programme, Executive Director of The Prospect Hill Foundation, and Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation.
What do you do best?
I cross between worlds, break down silos, make connections, interpret from one field to another.
What makes you the best?
I think being curious is a big part of it. Looking for patterns and seeing what’s similar, rather than focusing on what’s different. Thinking about it as pieces of a puzzle where you have to find the connections, trusting there always are connections. Getting excited by what excites other people in what they do.
How will you stay the best?
Listening. Being as open as possible. Trying new things even when it’s uncomfortable.
What are your aspirations: business & personal?
Right now, I am trying to catalyze a national collaboration to connect the arts to the opportunities impact investing and social entrepreneurship have brought to the rest of the social sector. If we actively invest in building a stronger bridge for a few years -- make the connections -- the relationships and the opportunities will take over and more fantastic things will happen.
What fascinates you?
Anytime anyone is very, very good at what they do no matter what it is. The fact that great artists and creatives have an entirely unique and recognizable signature in what they do. You walk into a room and you can distinguish something by Andy Warhol from something by Pablo Picasso. To be that unique in the world amazes me.
Artists are essential
All the artists I’m lucky enough to know
India. The inside of any theater anywhere in the world.
Harney & Son tea
I am a grateful student of yoga since 2002.