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Peer Advisor Training Program

The Arts Extension Service has worked throughout the United States to train peer advisors to provide management and program consulting and training for their peers in community arts organizations. The program develops paraprofessional consultants in response to the increasing need for management assistance services with declining financial resources. Peer advisors are professional managers who are usually not professional consultants, helping other managers in similar organizations. For example, the managing director of a symphony may, after the training, advise her counterpart in a community chorus. The program is intended to complement rather than replace the need for professional management consulting. Peer Advising was first developed by Craig Dreeszen with Barbara Schaffer Bacon in 1989. Craig Dreeszen is the principal instructor.


The program provides at least four fundamental benefits.

  1. It increases the capacity of arts service organizations to better respond to more requests for management and programming assistance from community arts organizations.
  2. It establishes a low-cost, sustainable technical assistance delivery system using local or regional experts trained in organizational development consulting.
  3. It recognizes the competence and contributes to the professional development of a region's best professional arts leaders.
  4. For membership-based service organizations, the program provides a tangible benefit of membership.

Instructional Topics

  • active listening
  • consulting styles and models
  • the consulting process
  • clarifying client expectations
  • information gathering
  • organizational assessment
  • problem definition and solving
  • coping with ambivalence, ambiguity, and resistance
  • written reports
  • disengagement from consulting and
  • ethical issues in consulting

How the system works

The program commences with a discussion with the host agency (a state or regional arts agency or an assembly of local arts agencies) about the possibility of a peer advisor system. If needed, AES staff help refine or develop a technical assistance delivery system that includes peer advisors. With AES advice, the local host recruits a group of 12 to 20 competent candidates for the training. Each receives a pre-training assignment that includes a learning needs assessment, a case study and an organizational self-assessment instrument. The training itself takes place over two and one half days, ideally in a retreat setting. In a mix of small and whole group discussions, case study, role play, exercises, and lectures, the participants come to understand the process of facilitating arts organization assessment and change. The lead instructor is Dr. Craig Dreeszen. The host agency negotiates contractual terms with the advisers and presents a plan for promoting the service. The host agency places the trained peer advisors in actual consulting assignments.

Peer Advisor Network Sponsors and dates programs were established

  • America's Byways (2011)
  • Connecticut Arts Commission (2010)
  • The Maine Arts Sponsors Association (1990)
  • Arts North Carolina (1991)
  • The Arizona Commission on the Arts (1991)
  • The Middle States Consortium of Statewide Assemblies (1991)
  • The Louisiana State Arts Council (1991)
  • The Idaho Commission on the Arts (1991)
  • Members of the Mid America Arts Alliance--Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas (1993)
  • The Network of Local Arts Agencies of Washington State (1993)
  • Assembly of Ohio Community Arts Agencies (1994)
  • The Wisconsin Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (1994)
  • The Montana Arts Council (1995)
  • The Michigan Assembly of Community Arts Agencies (1995)
  • The West Virginia Division of the Arts (1995)
  • The New England Foundation for the Arts on behalf of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts (1995)
  • The Alliance of New York State Arts Councils (1996)
  • Kentucky Arts Council (1996, 2010)
  • South Carolina Arts Commission (1996)
  • Resources and Counseling for the Arts, Minnesota (1996)
  • Wisconsin Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (1997)
  • Iowa Arts Council (1997)
  • Georgia Assembly of Community Arts Agencies (1997)
  • Resources and Counseling for the Arts, Minnesota (1997)
  • Iowa Arts Council (1997)
  • Kentucky Arts Council (1998, 2009, 2011)
  • Tennessee Arts Commission (1998)
  • Colorado Council on the Arts (1998)
  • Society for Art and Healthcare (2000)
  • Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation (2002)


Fees vary. Contact Dee Boyle-Clapp for more information at (413) 545-5243

223 Middlesex House, 111 County Circle, University of Massachusetts Amherst • Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2360 • Fax: (413) 545-2361 • Email:

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