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LLC MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Leadership and Learning Champion Elissa Perry

Submitted by: Anonymous (not verified) on May 29th, 2012 at 4PM PDT

Elissa Perry 2012We are happy to be shining our light this month on a very special leadership and learning champion who was formative in the development of LLC as one of our founding staff members.  We hired Elissa who stood head and shoulders above 300 applicants to be our web and community learning director.  We quickly learned that Elissa had many other talents which we eagerly tapped, ones you have probably benefited from as members of our community.  We thank Elissa for enriching LLC with a deep understanding of adult learning principles, an appreciation for the importance of integrating arts into our work, a strong analytical mind and for those of you who don’t know, a talent for writing (yes, Elissa is a gifted fiction writer).  Elissa warned us that she would probably only stay for about 5 years and we did manage to hold on to her a little longer than that and of course because we would never really let her go we are now delighted to be working with Elissa as a valued consultant on LLC projects.  And to Elissa’s punch line, you won’t have to wait too long, we are putting a stake in the ground right now, Creating Space 2013!

Who: Elissa Perry
LLC Since: 2002

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
--Arundhati Roy

“Art is not a luxury, not akin to an overpriced bottle of booze you buy instead of paying the hydro bill.  Art, in all of its facets, is a necessity in society.  Art allows us to look at the world around us, to interpret, it, discuss it, attempt to make sense of it, re-envision it and sometimes, to change it for the better.”
– Rachel Sa



Art & Social Justice
As a facilitator, I’ve been witness to and/or a part of some great conversations bringing together art and justice.  For the first time that I am aware of, there seems to be a meaningful, intentional and sustained move underway to lift up, celebrate and support the role of the arts in justice work and the responsibility toward justice in the arts. The Akonadi Foundation ( is one organization making this connection explicit and undertaking an “ecosystem” based funding approach ( to act on their understanding of this vital connection.  As a working artist and a person with a 20+ year career in social change and social justice work, seeing the two often (and artificially) silo-ed areas of work come together is almost a spiritual experience!


Partnership in Action
Partnership in Action is a workshop series on shared leadership that I designed with Dr. Theresa Mayberry and have been delivering with 26 participants from 13 organizations in Missouri and Illinois through the Nonprofit Services Center.  Not only is it fascinating to return with what I’ve learned out exploring in the world to share it in the city of my birth (St. Louis, Missouri), I am also learning from the participants.  From 2009-2011 I was able to work with Susan Misra and Mike Allison on the shared leadership thread of the Strengthening Organizations to Mobilize California initiative.  We authored a report Doing More with More ( based on that experience and I’ve been able to act on many of the lessons learned during that project about what shared leadership is in practice and what it means to develop leadership capacity throughout an organization in the direction of greater sustainability for individuals, organizations and missions.  Because the workshop series is designed to be highly participatory and interactive, the wisdom of the participants has been consistently brought forward.  In a metropolitan area that is extremely diverse by experience, political point-of-view and organization type in addition to race and class and sexual identity, there is a sophisticated capacity to connect from a base of commonality across fundamental differences toward a common goal that is enlightening.  I am paying attention to this and learning from it as I share what I know and hold the space for development among these organizational teams.



Extended Epistemology & Shared Leadership
Extended epistemology is a fancy phrase coined by John Heron (generally considered the “father” of the participatory action-learning approach Co-operative Inquiry) that means a broadening of how we know.  It includes knowledge and wisdom that comes from experience, artful meaning-making, theorizing and practice or taking action. The idea and practice of sharing leadership across multiple ways of knowing for social justice ends is on my mind right now.  This cohesive way of thinking about knowing and being and doing is reflected in the recent conversations and work around art and social justice and is connected to many of the theories guiding our current leadership and evaluation practices such as Systems Thinking, Participatory Evaluation, Adaptive Leadership, Collective Impact, Collective Leadership and Theory U. It’s exhilarating!


There are so many highlights from which to choose!  I have been connected to LLC as a staff member, participant and/or consultant since 2002.  In those ten years I have met countless people and been introduced to many ideas, initiatives and ways of acting in the world with a common vision of social justice.  I’ve also been able to share a number of experiences and to connect people to each other in ways that have been significant.  Being able to be transformed by my participation and to participate in ways that have been transformative to others is by far the greatest highlight.  I am still in touch both personally and professionally with many, many people I’ve either met or strengthened relationships with through LLC.  I’m still waiting, somewhat patiently, for the next Creating Space.  I need my fix!