Rural Program Office

Springboard's Rural Program office in Fergus Falls, MN creates permanent local resources that are 1) local adaptations of our urban offerings 2) new programs based on the needs and assets of the community. Because artists have regular, ongoing access (beyond just a staff member that drops in a few times a year) they are more engaged, more able to shape programming and have an entirely different quality of relationship with the organization and services.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Organizational Capacity

A Learning Agenda That’s Both Internal & External

“Organizational capacity” is actually one of the funding criteria that we use to evaluate our grantees. Continuous improvement is important here, and we consider that not only for the 200+ organizations that we support each year. We need to ensure that organizationally we are doing the same thing, holding ourselves to the same standard. So, we value that even as a small team of eight people running a ten-year old organization, we’ve worked hard to continuously improve our grant program. We’ve sought feedback from those that we support and those that we do not support, to gauge awareness of our organization, and to learn how we can better steward the funds that we have been entrusted in order to best serve the community. We do this all in line with our mission, which is to inspire and strengthen the community by investing in arts and culture. We’ve expanded our capacity in other ways as well: we have grown our team slowly and over time, consistently evaluated ourselves, and committed ourselves organizationally to a learning agenda that’s both internal and external. So, while we provide learning opportunities for the organizations and individual artists that we support, we, too, are committed to building our knowledge of relevant topics to our work. This year specifically our whole team is committed to a learning agenda around diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, because we named that as a primary value of our organization, it’s been something that we know we have to play an active role in promoting. We have to expect to grow in that area through the groups that we fund and serve, but also we must be committed to building capacity for that work internally over time.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Organizational Capacity

Staff Retreats for Reflection and Strategic Development

In the past year, Chicago Artists Coalition has initiated a series of internal staff retreats, each fostering a collaborative space and time for reflection and strategic development. Over a potluck lunch, staff members think through how to innovate within preexisting programs, explore new opportunities and partnerships across sectors and within the arts community, overcome obstacles, and ensure that we affirm the organization's mission in all aspects of our work. Maintaining this ongoing internal conversation and its documentation (often on the office walls) provides an readily available reference point for all staff members in both day-to-day operations, programmatic development, and evaluation.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Increased Revenue from Increased Capacity

We went in the past year from having a full time executive director and a part time clay studio manager at ten hours a week, and then a part time operations manager at about fifteen hours a week to doubling the clay studio manager’s hours. Part of that was funded by a state arts organization operating support grant, but part of it was funded on the hunch that it would lead to increased revenue and be able to sustain itself. What it did was lead to increased revenue, but in a way we didn’t expect. We expected it to mean that she would teach more classes and that would bring in more revenue. In fact, her schedule all of a sudden didn’t allow her to teach classes, so that twenty hours a week had to be more general planning and administrative work, which is great because then I had a colleague as the director. And the way it increased revenue was her presence in our clay studio made it this this magnetic place that people wanted to be. So we are now at capacity with the number of people renting space in our clay studio. That’s leading to increased revenue in a couple different ways, and it’s directly due to increasing her position. So now we’re looking at other ways to grow some divisions that have momentum and promise to be self-sustaining.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Very Entrepreneurial in Our Approach

We have been able to build our capacity by first building our program offerings to the community, and then by capitalizing on that success. That has enabled us over the years to get the funding for the awards program and other programs. Over those five years our staff went from a single full-time position and two part-time positions to now four full time and three part time positions. Our core budget has doubled in size over that same time, even during the recession. So, our organization has been able to do a lot more, but it is because we have been very entrepreneurial in our approach. We have made sure that when we look at our programming scope that we’re adding things that will fill a need and that people will respond to.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Success from Connecting Programs to the Broader Community’s Goals

We’re unique as a local arts agency. We were created by the city, but we were never a city department. All funding besides the 1% for art funding model that we manage for our city, we independently fundraise. In the last seven years, we’ve been able to significantly grow our programming and the number of our staff, where we are currently at eight FTE’s and an annual budget around about $1.2 million dollars. A lot of that work has been achieved by having direct conversations with our local creative community. We hear what they need and what they want, and then we build programming around that and connect it to the broader community’s goals. In addition, planning plays a critical role in our ability to move that forward. We were hearing from many larger funders that investment wasn’t made in a community that didn’t have a cultural plan that was adopted by the city. So, we went out, raised funds for that, and then executed that. Had it formally adopted by the city, and we went beyond the traditional cultural community into the east central city neighborhoods. We invited their residents to talk about what their needs were – again in direct dialogue – and how they saw their opportunities and weaknesses playing out. We integrated those reports into the overall plan to help build the capacity of the smaller neighborhood groups to demonstrate that they were affiliated with this effort. We’ve also, at the same time, facilitated a region-wide economic impact of the arts plan. It was community action – engaging people and getting them out and participating in the arts – backed up with the hard data. That was what was needed to demonstrate the value of the arts during a recession, and those two components combined has really helped build our capacity and organization.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Working on Our Own Leadership Development

Our staff includes four people – so we’re tiny. Three of the four of us are artists. The work that we’ve done internally is around our own leadership development and training. I think the biggest thing that we have done most recently is that we worked in partnership on our strategic plan. It was an eighteen-month process, and I think it really galvanized what our mission, what our objectives are, and how we can strategize to accomplish those. That was a kind of paradigm shift and it has provided great clarity to our team around the role and the desired intent of our agency. I think the reason that it is as powerful as it is for us as a small team is that it was so fully informed by organizations, agencies, individual artists, and cultural leaders all across the state.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Our Staff Tries to Know What’s Going On

We do talk internally about how we can build better relationships amongst the artist community. We attend as many art exhibitions as we can. We make sure that those in the artist community are aware of the opportunities we have for commissions and the grant funding and any call for artists that we communicate to the public. We have a desire and a goal to leverage our relationships with artists, and, as individuals in an organization, continue in our personal lives to support the work of upcoming and established artists. Whether it is readings, concerts, art exhibitions, participation on panel workshops, we try to engage. And as a staff we try to know what’s going on so that we can, as a group here, be as supportive as we can.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Finding Funding Has Been a Major Challenge

Our program was highly successful and effective for the artists who participated, but we weren’t successful in developing a program that is financially sustainable in the long term. As of right now, we’ve postponed it, and we’re definitely not going to be able to continue the same format. It’s intensive and it’s wonderful and important to those artists, but finding funding for it has been a major challenge. The reworked program probably won’t have the same level of depth as we had in the first three years that we ran the program.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Reorganizing to More Clearly Serve Community Needs

A recent reorganization that we’re going through is to redefine our staff and board goals to make sure that we’re more clearly serving the direct and changing needs of our community. From what we heard through our listening sessions, it was important that we developed an aggregated opportunity and resources center for the local artist community. Now if we know about it, they know about it. We can become that sort of clearing house for anything from an arts fair, to a Midwestern sculpture initiative, to a poetry competition, to other opportunities in the zipcodes where they’re from.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Organizational Capacity

Organizational Capacity Is Definitely a Challenge

I would say organizational capacity is definitely a challenge. We are a small organization. We’re headquartered in a town in the Northeast, so it is a challenge to go to the West Coast or the Midwest or to really be able to spread ourselves out. We have such a small staff, so we’re looking at what model organization, what kind of structure we might need to best maximize our capacity. But we’re kind of lean and mean at this point.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Organizational Capacity

Relying on Artists to Fill Gaps When Resources Dry Up

One of our challenges is sustaining programs. We received funding from a national partner to start a program where we trained and hired artists as facilitators. We would then coordinate workshops drawing on this stable of artists as our presenters. For a time, it worked well and we were able to hire artists regularly. When the funding dried up, the artists wanted to continue doing the work they were trained to do, but we couldn’t afford to pay them anymore. Now, some artists will occasionally find funding and we’ll partner with them to help host a program. Other artists are volunteering their time. Our board feels that the artists should find the funding themselves and work as a partner to us, but we feel that this is asking too much of the artists to make up the gap left by our lack of funding and commitment to this program. It’s definitely something we need to discuss further to try and get the staff, the board, and our local artists all on the same page.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Organizational Capacity

A Distinct Hierarchy of Artists

For a lot of the projects that we do, we hire artists, but there is a distinct hierarchy. There is a project manager, and then there’s teaching artists, and then apprentices, in that order. While we want to value artists with more experience, the really well-known artists in our community, we find that this “top down” system reinforces those structures so that the same artists always get the best commissions and the other artists are not advancing. Our challenge is that our board is still very committed to traditional notions of artistic excellence and look to measures such as exhibition history, formal education, and even the medium used as the only legitimate ways to evaluate the value and career of an artist. We have a long way to go, but we are starting to have these conversations with our board to help them understand both the intentional and unintentional results of perpetuating this cycle.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Organizational Capacity

Support Structures Must Thrive for Artists to Thrive

Ruby Lopez Harper, Director of Local Arts Services for Americans for the Arts, reflects on how the artists in a community can struggle when the staff of the organizations working with artists are struggling to access the training, resources, and peer network they need to do this work effectively.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Organizational Capacity