The Arts Council for Long Beach has been making a huge strategic shift over the past year, shifting its focus from creating arts programming to instead supporting the existing arts community in Long Beach through marketing, collaboration and dialogue.
“We describe it as a year of having done the groundwork for the organization,” Victoria Bryan, executive director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, said in an interview in the nonprofit organization’s East Village Arts District office. Marco Schindelmann, director of the council’s board, was also in the interview.
Victoria Bryan, executive director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, and Marco Schindelmann, the board’s president, enthusiastically show off one of Long Beach’s newest murals, painted by Jasper Wong. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
During the current (October 2014 through September 2015) fiscal year, the Arts Council has focused on implementing its new strategic plan, which was finalized in June of 2014, and has also had to contend with significant internal reconfiguration. Several of the council’s staff members left last year to pursue other opportunities or because of family moves outside the area, Bryan said.
“What happened was, within a couple of months, we had the opportunity to not just hire new people, but actually rethink how the staff could be better aligned with our strategic plan,” Bryan said. “That gave us the opportunity to bring in an in-house marketing team.”
One of the Arts Council’s principal roles, as defined in its strategic plan, is to promote local arts through marketing. The council is accomplishing that goal in part by launching a revamped website that provides information about arts events and a registry for local artists. The registry provides a resource for people looking for artistic services – for instance, home staging – by giving artists “their own mini website,” Bryan explained. “It’s a website now about artists and arts in Long Beach. It’s not about the Arts Council.”
The Arts Council is also on the precipice of expanding its board. At the upcoming October board meeting, the board will likely vote in nine new boardmembers, some of whom will be additional members, and others who will replace termed out boardmembers. If “all goes to plan,” Bryan said, the board is set to grow from 20 to 25 members.
“That has been a part of the board development initiative during the whole of the past year: to take stock of our strengths of the existing board and look at the gaps that we have wanted to fill,” Bryan said. “Obviously, we are looking at geographic diversity to make sure we connect into all nine districts,” she continued. The new board will also reflect diversity in ethnicity, cultures, sexual orientation, and age. “We also have a very rich set of backgrounds in different arts disciplines,” she added.
Prior to the new strategic plan, Schindelmann said the Arts Council board had more of a spectator’s role. “It was almost a group of people sitting around a table looking at each other, and not aware of what was going on around the city,” he said. To find direction, the board interviewed artists and arts groups around the city. “When we did these interviews . . . many of them said, ‘What does the Arts Council do? Who is the Arts Council?’ It was quite shocking to the board,” he recalled.
With the creation of a new strategic plan, things have changed. “After a year, suddenly everybody [on the board] looked at each other around the table and we knew what the Arts Council was about,” Schindelmann said. “We’re now not looking at each other; we are actually looking past each other and seeing how we can help the community,” he said.
“One of the things I am most proud of is that the organization as a whole has really embraced the strategic plan, even through the bumpy bits,” Bryan said. To which Schindelmann replied, “Sometimes it was sort of like hugging a cactus. It was not easy.”
The council’s new strategic plan aligns its mission “to tie in with the city’s economic development,” Bryan said. To achieve this end, she said the council is focused on collaborating with community partners, including the mayor’s office. “It’s so important to Mayor Garcia – using arts, innovation and creativity as an engine of economic development. And we really appreciate his leadership in that area,” she said. An upcoming example of their collaboration is State of the Arts 2015, co-hosted by Garcia and the Arts Council, on October 9 at the Museum of Latin American Art, she noted.
Additionally, on Garcia’s recommendation, the Long Beach City Council approved setting aside $50,000 to give to the Arts Council through the city budget. The Arts Council must use the funds for marketing purposes, and must match the amount dollar for dollar through other funding sources.
“We are looking at working closely with the university, building those bridges between the on-campus and off-campus communities so that we can keep the amazing resources of arts graduates in Long Beach. They are such a huge asset and resource to us,” Bryan said. “That is a part of economic development. How do we keep them here so they add to and contribute to our creative economy?”
The council is also collaborating with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is hosted by Long Beach City College, to hold workshops “about marketing for artists, to help them support and sustain their own practice,” Bryan said.
The first such workshop is being held through the Arts Council’s monthly Open Conversations meeting, an open forum for artists to engage with different aspects of the community. “That will also be then the kickoff for more workshops the SBDC will be developing specifically for artists to help strengthen their ability to help support themselves and keep them in Long Beach,” Bryan explained.
Overall, the Arts Council seeks to bring visibility to the arts community and provide a platform through which it may contribute to the city’s economy. “The arts aren’t just objects and performances. It’s really a lifestyle,” Schindelmann said.
Bryan reflected, “That’s our role: to help people see and act on the potential of the arts to be at the creative center of all our neighborhoods.”