Thursday, September 29, 2011

A year as co-chair

After 3 years on the arts council as a very active member, I thought last summer I should take a turn helping out in an officer role. The existing chair said she was agreeable to sharing the chair position as co-chairs, and I hoped to make progress in that position towards improving our transparency, our visibility, and our external communication. In retrospect, I should have realized there might be trouble ahead when she unilaterally postponed the officer elections for a month.

The work was not easy (more on that below), but I feel good about some of the work I was able to do. For transparency, I put a couple of years of past meeting minutes online, and helped our recording secretary start posting new meeting minutes online. This past summer, I started posting meeting agendas there as well. Our visibility efforts were certainly helped by a program we nominated winning a statewide award. I designed a billboard about the award, and arranged with the city to have that added to the rotation on two electronic billboards along Route 93 for several weeks last spring. I also wrote a detailed guide to the postcards project that I created in 2010, and put that guide on our website. That allowed the state cultural council, which was extremely supportive of the project, to promote it further to other local cultural councils. I led the arts council into joining a new and very active coalition of local arts organizations and served as our liaison to the coalition for the year. The coalition is putting on a city-wide festival of events this fall, which we provided the seed grant for.

I feel my biggest success this past year was advocating for including public art in the city’s new 7-year open space plan. After I spoke at a public meeting about the plan and got a little coverage by local media, the city added questions about public art to a survey about priorities for the open space plan. I got the arts council and local arts groups to ask their friends and supporters to participate in the survey, and in the end a survey which the city was expecting would have a couple dozen responses got a couple hundred responses instead. The responses showed enthusiastic support for including public art in the open space plan and no significant opposition.

The council made a huge conceptual leap forward this past year in planning our first-ever fundraiser. When I joined the council and started advocating for raising funds, the idea met with a lot of resistance. Now that there are new faces, including at least one who is very interested in fundraising, the idea has had time to percolate and it was just a matter of a lot of hard work by a couple of other people on the council. I’m delighted that we’re now willing to raise funds, and impressed at the success of our fundraiser ($1500 raised). I’m also gratified to see someone else on the council leading a significant project from conception to completion.

All was not a success, though. My co-chair fought me tooth and nail the entire year, doing her best to sabotage or stall everything I suggested. She refused to reply to my emails or phone calls, and in fact refused to ever discuss how we should divide our responsibilities other than to say that she didn’t like my suggested division. That left me with no idea of what my responsibilities actually were, no idea what tasks I didn't have to worry about, no way to lead the council forward, and far too much time wasted on one-way communication. I have no real experience working with people like that, and it took me almost 6 months to realize that the situation was hopelessly broken. I decided to remain co-chair for the rest of the year, because that was at least useful in communicating with the world outside of the council.

Another council member volunteered to take over the postcards project for 2011, stalled for several months, and then vanished without ever putting out a call for art. After doing my best to create an easily sustained annual project (complete with detailed instructions), it looks like that was just an absurdly successful one-off. And I wasn’t able to recruit anyone on the council into posting news regularly to our blog or facebook account.

My year as co-chair ended as it began, with a postponed officer election. I’m back to being a regular member now, a little sadder and wiser. My co-chair has reclaimed her throne, has begun actively advocating for identity politics on the council (an attitude I find absolutely repugnant), and appears determined to avoid publicizing our state-mandated grant application deadline. As I said, all was not a success. My energies are needed elsewhere, however.


Amy said...

You know, I meant to post something this summer about the awesomeness of the Medford Public Library summer family performances and I never did. Junie and I had *so much fun* seeing the shadow puppets and the story puppets (she talked about the story puppets for days) and I believe the library is able to do stuff like that with the support of the Medford Arts Council, so, thank you! You might not be doing everything you could possibly hope to do but you are doing some excellent stuff. ::grin::

Michael said...

That is fantastic to hear. We don't hear enough about many of the projects and performances we fund to really know how successful they are. Thank you!

Michael said...

I wrote my letter of resignation from the council last night. I believe that I left to spend more time with my family.