It’s been said that an effective leader knows when to step out of the spotlight and let others shine. This sentiment holds true for The Connecticut Forum. As part of a planned leadership transition, Co-Founder and CEO Doris Sugarman plans to step aside from her day-to-day responsibilities at the end of June 2021. Longtime Connecticut Forum staff member and leader Ruth Cullen has been named Executive Director.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Doris and Ruth about their experiences stepping out of and into leadership roles and what makes The Forum such an innovative organization.
NAN PRICE: What’s it like to step into an Executive Director role after someone like Doris has created such a dynamic organization?
RUTH CULLEN: One of the best things about working with Doris at The Forum is that anything goes, in the best possible sense. Meaning, if you have a great idea, run with it. If you have a suggestion about how to do something, go for it. It was very empowering all along.
I’ve really felt that, in terms of an entrepreneurial spirit, The Forum lives in that space. We’re always thinking about how to do things better, newer, and with more impact and ways to extend our mission, our reach, and our brand.
Through the years, Doris established this very lively culture of empowerment and entrepreneurship that runs deep in The Forum. That’s been especially helpful in our work during this last year of utter disruption. Arts and cultural institutions were hit particularly hard this year. And we’re no exception.
However, unlike many institutions that have buildings and venues, we don’t. The Connecticut Forum is small and nimble. So, we were able to make quick adjustments to fine tune our focus and use that time to figure out how to execute our programming in new ways.
NAN: Doris, from your perspective, how has The Forum evolved and innovated over the years?
DORIS SUGARMAN: We’ve always been innovative from the spark of the idea to thinking: How are we going to get 3,000 people to come to the theater to see this? We’ve always been confident. We have a saying, “We’re small and mighty.” And to Ruth’s point, we’re pretty nimble. And we’re all about running with those good ideas.
The innovation comes from being very inclusive in the way we operate as a staff and invite people into the organization to share their input. A great example of this is our season development meetings. Bringing people together to encourage the free and active exchange of ideas is part of our mission.
I mean, we’re innovative people, but a lot of the innovation comes from including others in these season development meetings. When people get together to brainstorm, and when you think anything is possible, that’s where the innovation starts. So, the innovation and programming come from our constituents.
RUTH: It’s the imagining. How cool would it be for Hartford if we brought so-and-so here to talk about a specific topic with these other people? That’s what’s so incredible about The Forum. That big, wide open thinking about the possibilities is so freeing. That growth mindset is conducive to innovation and creativity.