Dear WESTAF Trustees:
Here it is—the last biweekly of 2019! I began these missives not long after I began at WESTAF as a way to communicate regularly with our trustees. My first biweekly was on January 25, two weeks after I began my WESTAF journey on January 14. As a reminder, all of these biweeklies are catalogued right here on the password-protected WESTAF trustees page of the WESTAF website. Feel free to browse back on a busy and productive year! Let’s jump right in:
ARTS ENDOWMENT FUNDING
Our SAA ED trustees are probably aware of these developments, but I wanted to make sure that all of our trustees are aware of recent funding developments at the National Endowment for the Arts. On December 17, the House of Representatives voted to approve a fiscal year 2020 funding package that included an increase for the National Endowment for the Arts (Arts Endowment) from its current level of $155 million to $162 million. The president signed this and other spending bills on December 20, avoiding a government shutdown. This increase of $7.25 million over last year’s budget represents the greatest one-year bump in Arts Endowment funding in a decade, points out Americans for the Arts. It’s the largest grant to the Arts Endowment in six years, and an increase over the previous year’s budget of $155 million. It’s also worth noting that the increase outpaces inflation; last year’s budget, corrected only for inflation, would equal about $159 million. The measure, including domestic programs, passed 297-120 in the Democrat-controlled House. The bill also includes increases for the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of Defense also saw increases for creative-arts therapy programs and the Department of Justice received increased funding for arts-based juvenile justice programs. All in all, this is great news for arts funding!
REPEAL OF NONPROFIT UBIT LAW ON FRINGE BENEFITS
Additionally, Congress included a fix to the 2017 tax code overhaul that forced nonprofits to pay unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on fringe benefits for employees, like transit and parking benefits. WESTAF provides each team member with monthly transit passes (an EcoPass) and we were taxed on this expense (rather than even on income!). Americans For the Arts, among others, led the advocacy efforts to repeal the tax, stating: “We are pleased that lawmakers were able to see the unnecessary burden this new UBIT provision was to organizations like ours and were able to come to a bipartisan agreement to repeal it.”
SFCA HAWAII STRATEGIC PLANNING FACILITATION
Right before the holidays, David Holland and I led a facilitation session for the staff at the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (SFCA) in Hawaii. David developed a two-day interactive presentation that broke down the assets, metrics and measurements of the recently introduced SFCA strategic plan into manageable tasks that could then be operationalized by the SFCA team moving forward. This was a really productive session that involved quite a bit of planning and David’s facilitation skills and talents really shined through here.
In my last update, I had reported on how the city council in Manitou Springs, CO appeared to reject a voter-approved art tax.It now appears a resolution has been brokered, pending approval by the new Mayor and City Council members who haven’t taken office yet. The best strategy here is to keep the heat on elected officials. As Colorado Creative Industry’s Creative District Director, Natalie Johnson remarked, this turned from a discussion on the value of the arts to a discussion on the value of democracy. These events in this small Colorado town are mightily significant because this successful voter-approved tax can serve as a precedent and a blueprint for other similar arts funding ballot initiatives across the state and ultimately across the western region.
Teniqua, Tamara and I met in Sacramento for a day to map out the form and structure of the new Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC). Teniqua put together a thorough and ambitious agenda, but we were able to achieve an awful lot, and we now have consensus around who will serve on the committee (in addition to our trustee representatives), how often the committee will meet (both by telephone conference and in person) and how, specifically, they can support and guide the organization’s inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) priorities into 2020 and beyond. Trustee Jonathan Johnson and I also sent an Aloha and a Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii for our chair and vice chair!
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE CONFERENCE CALL
Also, on December 19, The Executive Committee met for an update via telephone conference on activities and a financial review of the first month of the new fiscal year. We had some new Executive Committee members (welcome!) and a first financial report from trustee and new treasurer Mike Lange (thanks, Mike!). After an introduction by Tamara Alvarado (her first Executive Committee meeting as chair), reports followed from the Development Committee (Karen Hanan), the progress of the EIC (Teniqua Broughton), and a report from myself, which included updates on the November RAO meetings in DC and the January SAA ED Convening as well as the board of trustees meeting coming right up in Reno. These reports (plus any updates) will be shared with full board in mid-January.
The Leadership Resource Team (LRT) has picked up our work again with Val Atkin at Wells Street Consulting, our leadership coach. We have all taken an Enneagram questionnaire, which is good fun and really helps as a catalyst when engaged in group conversation about where we see our strengths and where we see areas for improvement. Val will be continuing her work with us (as well as the whole WESTAF team) into 2020.
New team member, Justine Chapel, will start on Jan. 2, and we’ll focus on training and acclimating her to CaFE and WESTAF. We’re working on cleaning up sales leads lists and combining them into one master document, which will have close to 3,000 organizations that are potential CaFE customers. Along with the MarComm team, we’ll be segmenting the list to first target a public art audience and will develop campaigns toward this segment to launch in 2020.
We’re working toward an aggressive timeline for the CVSuite curriculum, with an anticipated launch in classrooms in August 2020. Laurel Sherman finished her first round of edits for grammar and clarity, and David Holland will begin content editing in January. We’re also developing a network of potential curriculum reviewers/focus group members. Kelly Ernst will present a more comprehensive update on the curriculum work at January’s board meeting. Our team is also working on materials to send with David when he presents on the CVSuite curriculum at the Southeastern Arts Leadership Educators Conference.
GO Smart conducted a demo earlier in the month with the Arizona Commission on the Arts for their annual grant that awards $2.5M. They were previously a client of our GO system before transitioning to competitor, Submittable. We’ve also been working with another Submittable client, Forecast Public Art (a potential PAA client also) to discuss their use of GO Smart. Though GO Smart is out of their price range, there is a potential for in-kind opportunities such as blog writing or ad space in their annual magazine. We also recently wrapped up two additional enhancements for GO Smart users to speed up the time it takes to load their forms and send panel books via email, both of which prevent users from being bogged down by lengthy load times.
Our customer support coordinator, Justina Braziulyte, has resigned from her position at WESTAF to move back home to Illinois. We’ll miss her positive energy and warm, approachable customer service! We’ve started the search for a new coordinator and hope to hire by mid-January. Our team has also started our first round of invitations for artist feedback. Upon signing up, artists will have the opportunity to see draft designs of updated pages on ZAPP and can then complete a survey providing details about the page’s usability and design.
Fingers crossed, but with the exception of the trip to Reno for our ED and trustee convenings, I am staying pretty close to Denver and the office, for the first few months of 2020! Hooray! 2019 was a particularly intense travel year, so I am looking forward to a more reasonable schedule—at least in the first part of the new year. I am also looking forward to getting to know my new(ish) hometown better.
AN END-OF-YEAR NOTE OF THANKS
In closing, I just want to say thank you so very much to each and every trustee for the leadership, trust, kindness, good advice and good humor in 2019 as I began at WESTAF. It has been a remarkable journey so far and I have met some truly inspiring people along the way—not the least of them our trustees. We have so much to do in 2020 and beyond, but with each of you committed to the mission, vision and guiding principles of WESTAF I have no doubt that our greatest achievements lie in the weeks and months ahead. Happy New Year!
As ever, with gratitude and appreciation for your important work,