Board of Trustees Bi-Weekly Recap

Bi-Weekly Recap: August 24, 2020

By August 24, 2020No Comments

Greetings WESTAF Trustees:

This is the first of just three more biweeklies to go until the end of this fiscal year. It’s hard to overstate the shocking whiplash we’ve experienced between the first and second halves of this year due to the sweeping, jarring impact of the pandemic. COVID is like a tidal wave, but instead of demolishing roads, trees and buildings across space, it has obliterated plans, hopes and dreams across time. Visualizing a FY21 budget in the face of such ongoing uncertainty has been quite a task, but the team rose to the challenge, and a FY21 budget will be presented to the board of trustees in short order. In preparation to hit the new year running, the leadership team will be sharing out and discussing with each other FY21 goals, objectives, challenge and threats within each of the six BAR CAT departments in two early-September sessions. These will be mostly informational and relatively informal, with allotted time to share with colleagues what’s most on our minds as we head into October and beyond, including the big projects or programs we aspire to achieve, as well as some threats that may stand in our way. In the meantime, here are some items that have been leading our efforts over the past two weeks:


WESTAF recently reviewed FY20 participation benefits as part of our process for engaging states on FY21 participation. Our review shows that in aggregate the monetary value of our participation benefits increased by 110% from FY19 to FY20 and that the monetary value of our grant funding to organizations throughout the region increased by 136%. In aggregate, WESTAF awarded $1,520,472 throughout the region in FY20 (up from $643,210 in FY19) and the value of WESTAF participation benefits increased from $749,038 in FY19 to $1,574,872 in FY20. In aggregate, the monetary value of our participation benefits in FY20 was five times the investment made by states in FY20. WESTAF introduced four new programs and services that serve states in the region in FY20, the WESTAF CARES Relief Fund for Organizations, the WESTAF Regional Arts Resilience Fund, Federal Advocacy Funds, and the Western Arts Advocacy Network (WAAN). WESTAF will be releasing a survey in early September to gather more qualitative feedback on what value SAAs believe WESTAF provides to the states.


After several months of discussion, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) is contracting with WESTAF to produce a series of 12 creative economy case studies, drawn from across the nation, that explore the potential contribution of the creative industries to economic recovery. The project will involve analysis of CVSuite data as well as a series of interviews with regional experts. These case studies are part of a larger national project that involves a university partner also being engaged by NASAA. 


WESTAF organized a special meeting of the WAAN on August 14 to discuss advocacy strategies in support of state relief funding for arts and culture. Sue Hildick of Cultural Advocacy Coalition (Oregon), Crystal Young Otterstrom of Utah Cultural Alliance, and Joseph Benesh of Arizona Citizens of the Arts took questions from the group as panelists in a discussion moderated by David. Oregon, Utah, and Arizona recently allocated statewide relief funding for arts and culture – $50 million in Oregon, $9 million in Utah, and $2 million in Arizona. Julie Baker of Californians for the Arts and Manny Cawaling of Inspire Washington led their first meeting as co-chairs on August 21, which included a rich discussion on recent state updates and advocacy strategies along with group perspectives on voter and candidate engagement. The co-chairs are working closely with WESTAF to define priorities for the group and have identified sustainability, systems and infrastructure, advocacy tactics, and messaging as themes that will define the group’s work moving forward.


Christian and David continue to be actively involved with the Getting Creative Workers Working group being convened by AFTA. The field, including WESTAF and the other RAOs, is currently being consulted on fine tuning a platform that is being presented to presidential campaigns that focuses on federal policies and programs to support creative workers. This platform emerges from field wide conversations on the potential of creating a next generation federal program that builds on past precedents like the WPA’s Federal Project One and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). 


Christian and David also have had ongoing conversations with Americans for the Arts (AFTA) about a partnership with the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) on regional initiatives that support the arts in the West. AFTA and WGA have developed a concept for a regional TeleArts program that would engage artists and arts organizations in the elder care setting. WESTAF has offered feedback on the concept, and we are considering our potential involvement in this and any future initiatives. 


In a special session, the Utah Legislature recently passed two pieces of legislation, SB6009 CARES Act and COVID-19 Assistance and Recovery Amendments and HB6002 Supplemental Budget Balancing and Coronavirus Relief Appropriations, which will expand relief and recovery funding available to arts and cultural organizations across the state. The new measures provide a $7.5 million refill to the Create in Utah grants program managed by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums and change some of the eligibility criteria to make the grants available to a broader cross section of the arts and culture field. The legislation brings the total state relief and recovery funding for arts and culture to $16.5 million in Utah and the total sum of such packages across the region to $67.5 million. The measures also provide a $3 million refill to the Multicultural Affairs grants of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, an agency of the state’s Department of Heritage and Arts, bringing total grants to $4 million. The legislation also provides $3.9 million for Wi-Fi access in San Juan County that could expand access for Navajo Nation, a community severely affected by the pandemic. Congratulations again to WESTAF Trustee Vicki Bourns, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Utah Cultural Alliance, and advocates across Utah for making the case for arts and culture and in a manner that strengthens the equity focus. 


Christian attended his first convening of this committee last week. Vice President Biden’s presidential campaign has identified the arts as an important policy area and has established this arts policy committee. The Committee is chaired by Megan Beyer, who served as the executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in the Obama-Biden Administration, and George Stevens, Jr., who was the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities from 2009-2016. Sonia Tower is serving as vice-chair for this effort. Co-Chairs also include Henry Munoz, Kal Penn and Alfre Woodward. During this meeting we also received a presentation from AFTA’s Nina Tunceli on the recently launched Arts Action Fund Arts Vote 2020 campaign.


Christian attended a seminar conducted by Michael Kaiser, president emeritus of the Kennedy Center and others from the DeVos Institute for Arts Management to present a research project launched last year to better understand the current state of arts organizations in the Portland metro area. The study was commissioned through a partnership with the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust and other funding partners. The presentation was attended by approximately 50 arts and cultural leaders from the Portland MSA area. The research was quite revealing, indicating, for example, that 73% of Portland organizations surveyed for the study fell short of the national average for board giving. Kaiser went on to offer recommendations for how Portland organizations could collaborate on strengthening the arts ecosystem post-COVID. Another updated presentation is planned on September 10. If you are interested in dropping into this presentation, do let us know and we can set it up.


WESTAF’s Regional Arts Resilience Fund grant program is progressing, as expected, into the fall. Last week, the SRI team invited 86 organizations that meet the eligibility criteria and are most effectively supporting historically marginalized communities that identify as: Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC); low-income; people with disabilities; LGBTQIA+; and/or rural/remote areas (communities with fewer than 50,000 in population and isolated from metropolitan areas.) Note: It is possible that organizations may opt NOT to apply or, upon review of the grant guidelines, may not fully meet the criteria. There may also be additional invitations made based on a number of factors including organizations’ responses, geographic representation, etc. Additional milestones in the Regional Arts Resilience Fund process include: September 8 – application deadline; September 16 – Advisory panel orientation; September 16-October 5 – application review period; October 13-15 – application panel meetings; October 19 – staff funding recommendations finalized; By October 23 – funding recommendations approved by WESTAF Executive Committee; October 27 – award notifications; November 16, 2020-November 30, 2021 – grant period. Chrissy would like to acknowledge the tremendous contributions and support of Madalena Salazar and David Holland, who have worked tirelessly on this process, especially in the review of the more than 450 nominations WESTAF received between July 15-31, 2020. They, along with Lani Morris as grants coordinator, have been instrumental in implementing this program effectively and expeditiously to ensure these resources can be deployed as soon as possible to organizations. Please feel free to reach out to Chrissy or Madalena with any questions or feedback on the program.


Earlier in August, the SRI team officially launched the CNMI CARES Relief Fund for Organizations, a COVID-19 relief grant program supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and managed by WESTAF on behalf of the CNMI Arts Council. This grant provides general operating support to nonprofit arts and culture organizations impacted by the pandemic in the Northern Mariana Islands and, in many ways, mirrors the WESTAF CARES program. Applications are now being accepted from eligible 501(c)(3) cultural organizations in the Northern Mariana Islands who are being asked to demonstrate the need for funding and the organization’s benefit to the public and community. Awards will range between $5,000 and $20,000 and will be adjudicated on a rolling basis. WESTAF is working with officials from the CNMI Arts Council to develop an additional, project-based program that will ensure the distribution of relief funds to the community who work in close partnership with artists, cultural works and culture bearers on the islands over the coming months.


The second of three all-staff workshops with equity and inclusion consultant Carla Mestas is scheduled to take place on August 25. The overarching goals of our work with Carla includes (but certainly not limited to) bringing a sense of togetherness among WESTAF as a staff, team and organization through shared dialogue and learning, and demonstrating our capacity and commitment to the overall responsibility of this work in each of our roles individually and organizationally. The focus of the two-hour session will be on the WESTAF guiding principles: Embracing Identity and will include dialogue around a 20-minute video Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo. The workshop will include small group discussions and personal reflections on race and identity. It is heartening to work in an environment that welcomes these pertinent and timely discussions and provides staff with an opportunity to consider how they, as individuals, and their work intersect with aspects of identity in the workplace and beyond.


Beka Whitson of Whitson Strategies is now well underway in her work to research, vet and provide strategies for approaching at least 10 new corporate and foundation funders that WESTAF can and should approach in 2021. Her findings will include a crafted development strategy detailing a process to raise at least $200,000 new foundations and corporate partner targets. Beka recently interviewed some key staffers to gather more intelligence for her approach. More details to follow soon.


WESTAF is finally able to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness and Amy will work on this in the next couple of weeks. The finance team spent 90 minutes reviewing the more complicated aspects of our financial system with our patient consultant, Gina. We expect to immediately implement what was learned and are confident there will be fewer errors going forward. Amy is working with Christina on developing a ZAPP cash flow plan given the significant reduction in income due to the pandemic. The FY21 WESTAF budget will be presented to the Executive Committee next week for their review and discussion. As this year comes to a close, Amy and Becky are preparing for the audit and building financial documents for next fiscal year, which begins October 1st.


As August comes to a close, the Policy cohort continues to liaise with their TAs to schedule an introductory meeting and discuss the ways that they can engage the knowledge of the trustees in the realms of policy and advocacy going forward. Natalie and Leah will be meeting next week to discuss options around communication and transparency between the cohorts and the best way to optimize cohort-to-cohort workflow. This will help ensure that the cohorts are not duplicating work and can collaborate on initiatives when necessary.   


The ZAPP and CaFE teams met virtually for an art-inspired breakfast. We all joined in for some “face time” where the teams shared a meal inspired by an artist, art experience, or artwork. This is part of an ongoing effort to find ways we can have more team connections while we work remotely.  


We’re working on a joint social media campaign with PAA to highlight the benefits of using CaFE and PAA for public art. A combination of still and video ads will run on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter starting Aug. 25. This past week has also been strong in terms of sales leads, with 10 coming in and 4 having already scheduled demos. We’re continuing to prepare for UI updates to the administrator side of CaFE, a project that will be split between our internal tech team and our external developers, Brownrice. Finally, work is underway to revamp the help center for administrators and move content to a WordPress for easier access and more digestible content.


In the last two weeks, CVSuite has focused on client conversations and customer feedback. We closed our customer feedback survey and received 10 responses from our total client base. This was an important task for the team as it will inform our net promoter score. Attaining an NPS of 50 was one of our key results for our objective of maintaining renewal revue. Our data visualization enhancement has a launch date of Sept. 7. Also, our team has begun to develop a 5-year strategic plan for the CVSuite tool. We have set a goal to have the plan finished by the end of the fiscal year. 


GO Smart released development this week that included a switch to a cloud mail service, Mailgun. This product will help ensure that our clients’ system-generated emails, such as Status (confirmation) and Mass emails will reach the intended recipient without being blacklisted or marked as spam. Adding a service that specializes in email deliverability will also assist with the changing standards regarding mass email distribution to email service providers such as Gmail or Hotmail. The release also minimized the thumbnail details of attached media, added a link to the panelist portal from the applicant login page, and converted text of the Mission Statement and Organization History profile fields to plain text to avoid skewed formatting in Excel reports. 


PAA is finalizing the first phase of the Mural Arts Philadelphia import – consisting of over 2,000 murals reconciled from two legacy databases. This represents two-thirds of the Mural Arts collection migration process. The technology team successfully added two new fields to the PAA CMS Public Art profile (artist bio and county) and has finalized the necessary components to upgrade all clients to Version 5.2 with updated reports. This work will take place over the next month and a half. 


July was a particularly hard month for the ZAPP business because of cancellations, and low application submissions and booth sales. We’re now working on the first-ever monthly cash flow document for ZAPP for FY21, with Christina leading the effort to project monthly income and expenses for the first 3-6 months of the new fiscal year. We are also developing new ways to retain customers who won’t need to jury for their 2021 festivals. One promotion in the works is the offer of ZAPP Onsite, our at-festival booth scoring tool, for free when customers renew by Dec. 31, 2020. 

Respectfully Submitted,