Big Shoes to Fill: Taking Over for Ron Bolles


Leadership transitions can be hard on grassroots volunteer efforts, and for Keith Davis, who recently assumed the role of lead organizer for the South Bay Alliance for Arts Education, there was the added challenge of having some very big shoes to fill when Ron Bolles stepped down. 

“Ron had worked as a highly respected VAPA teacher and Facilitator in our  district for thirty- seven years. He’s known as a passionate and credible advocate for the arts in the community,” according to Keith.

Keith himself is a longtime supporter of the arts in South Bay, serving as the marketing director and then Executive Administrator of the San Repertory theater for a decade, then as the manager and go-to guy for  [name] both Eastlake and San Ysidro High schools' state of the art theaters. He joined the South Bay Alliance for Arts Education in 2011.

Located in southern San Diego County, the South Bay group is one of thirty coalitions spread across California that, with resources from the California Alliance, builds support for arts education in local schools. In their first year, the group undertook a Facebook campaign that activated local advocates and made elected officials sit up and take notice; the group built strong relationships with school board officials by offering solutions and taking a collaborative rather than oppositional approach at public meetings; and they used local music events to highlight the benefits of arts education and bring their message to the larger community.

“Ron (Bolles) is something of a legend in the offices of the California Alliance. He joined our Local Advocacy Network in its early days and showed us how you can bring the creativity and passion of an artist to advocacy,” says Alliance Executive Director Joe Landon.

In approaching his new role, Keith didn’t plan or expect to ‘replace’ Ron; instead he planned to serve the group with his own strengths and ideas. From talking to him, humility seemed to be a big part of his approach. He shared some of the thinking he’s brought to his new role. We offer some of the key points here:

  1. Have the former leader continue to serve on the team.
    In South Bay, Ron Bolles has stepped down as the group organizer, but continues to participate as a team member, which has made for a smoother change. The group doesn’t lose institutional memory or his input as they move forward.
  2. A new leader won’t do things the same way -- they must play to their own strengths.
    Of course a new leader will bring a new set of skills and experience to the group. A fresh approach may nurture new ideas and allow the group to grow in directions they haven’t before.
  3. Support the team, help members reach goals

Transitions offer an opportunities for members of a group to step up in new ways. The departure of one leader means that there may be an opportunity for new directions and for individual members to discover or demonstrate skills that weren’t called upon before. For Keith, a big part of his job is to support individual team members and help them achieve their goals. He sees fairness, friendliness and being approachable as important qualities for a leader working with a team as well as in the larger community.

We had a chance to work with Keith at the Local Advocacy Network retreat this past September and are already impressed with his dedication and sense of humor! We are also deeply grateful for the wealth of experience and commitment that Ron brought to the South Bay Alliance and our fledgling program. Ron was a thirty-seven year veteran of Bonita Vista and Chula Vista High Schools, where he founded choirs that garnered hundreds of awards and travelled to four continents to perform. Since his “retirement,” he has created the Bolles Arts Foundation, which dispersed $8,000 in scholarships to dance and music majors in four year universities, founded the New Hope Arts and Sports Academy serving 315 students in an after-school setting, chaired the City of Chula Vista Cultural Arts Commission, launched the South Bay Alliance For Arts Education, and co-authored a 329 page non-fiction award-nominated book about the impact of arts education, Learning That Lasts A Lifetime, with his wife and fellow arts advocate Reina Bolles. It has been our pleasure to work with them both.