Board of Trustees Bi-Weekly Recap

Bi-Weekly Recap: June 1, 2020

Hello Trustees:

It’s hard to sound upbeat or “business as usual” jumping into this biweekly report. The world is hurting so bad and I’m mad and sad and tired about where we’re at. Yet justice must prevail, along with an end to systemic racism. Black Lives Matter. I stay hopeful that great good will happen because of this, but it’s up to all of us to see it through. I am grateful for our WESTAF community and send strength, resiliency and growth to each of you as we press on with our work. Although we sometimes feel overwhelmed, I still believe passionately that what we do at WESTAF helps the long arc of the moral universe bend towards justice (to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.). So, let’s dive right in:


Thank you to all of our trustees for attending our Zoom board of trustees meeting on May 21 It was an action packed 2.5 hours and we got a lot of urgent WESTAF work done, so thank you, truly. I want to especially acknowledge our Chair Tamara Alvarado and Vice Chair Teniqua Broughton for leading us through this particularly challenging time, and also special recognition to Secretary Rossi, Treasurer Lange and Development Chair Hanan for putting in some really good and thoughtful work to get us ready for the meeting. I am glad to report that our two newest trustees — Megan Miller at Burning Man and Susan Garbett at Meow Wolf — have each received their formal invitation letters and will be receiving an orientation session prior to their first meeting in October. They both report that they are thrilled to be on the WESTAF board of trustees. They have been added to this bi-weekly recap and I hope it doesn’t scare them off! We’ll also be following up shortly to revise the new WESTAF Public Engagement and Advocacy Policy, based on some really good feedback we received during the meeting. Especially given our packed agenda and our remote situations, I was impressed by the focused oversight from each of our trustees and very pleased that we saw our way through the whole agenda, right on time and in pretty good spirits. I felt so proud of our trustees!


You’ll recall that we have developed a Return-to-the-Office 5-Phase Plan. While we have seen some encouraging recent declines in new COVID-19 cases in the County of Denver in the last two weeks, there is still considerable trepidation and overarching concern about the possibility of a spike in new cases following more relaxed public behavior this past Memorial Day weekend and into the re-opening of some Denver businesses this week — as well as the George Floyd uprising here in Denver. Mustering a first wave of staffers to return to the office when this uncertainty and lack of confidence persists has been challenging and is not in the best interests of WESTAF. We’re also in the fortunate position to be able to hold off and wait to see what the next 2-4 weeks will bring. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely. For this reason, we’re delaying any attempt to re-populate the office at 1888 Sherman until at least Monday, July 6. If we continue to see an encouraging decline in new cases — and the collective confidence improves as we see our communities coming back to some acceptable definition of normal — we may elect to activate our plan at a later Phase 2 or 3 with more staffers returning to the office. If we’re seeing a continuous positive trend, we will also be looking for volunteers in addition to those who’ve already expressed a willingness to return to an office with health and safety precautions in place. On the whole, we believe it’s better to have a plan that we are poised to implement at the appropriate time, rather than no plan at all, as it gives us a common frame of reference.


As previously reported and still confidential, seeded with a $10MM grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the US RAOs are launching a Resilience Fund that will provide non-matching grants to arts and cultural organizations across the US that face economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund will target rural and urban organizations that have statewide, regional or national impact. I am now able to report that WESTAF received our grant notification from the Mellon Foundation on May 21 for $1,970,000, representing the percentage of this grant that WESTAF will be redistributing to the western states. We’re in the process of working with our sister RAOs and the Mellon Foundation to develop a public announcement which should go out in the next 2-3 weeks. As previously reported, The RAOs plan to continue fundraising around the fund over the next 1-2 years.


The WESTAF CARES Relief Fund for Organizations application officially closed on Monday, May 11. With over 400 applicants from all 13 states, the team determined it would be beneficial to extend the deadline for 3 states with a low number of applications – Alaska, Nevada and Wyoming. Chrissy and Madalena finalized the applications and are now preparing to move to the next phase of the process, which involves orienting and convening 4 separate panels of 16 volunteers from the 13 WESTAF-region states over three days — June 15-17. Final funding recommendations will be made the last week of June with an approval and announcement by the end of the month.


Results of the COVID-19 Arts Impact Survey will be announced this week. MarComms and Alliances, Advocacy, and Policy have worked together to develop a press release and resource pages on the WESTAF website based on the recently completed final report.


In a piece entitled, “What does COVID-19 mean for place-based development?,” Christa Wagner, an economic development consultant and researcher at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, cited CVSuite data for the state of North Carolina and quoted WESTAF in making a case for the role of the arts in economic development strategies during these challenging times.


WESTAF is developing and deepening its relationship with other grantmakers and thought leaders regionally and nationally. David recently spoke with the Performing Arts department at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, per their request, about political and policy developments affecting the arts regionally and nationally. David was also recently asked to serve as a grant panelist for Arts in Society (AIS), a collaborative grant program supporting cross-sector work through the arts in Colorado, and recently served on a AIS grantee learning community panel with leaders from Colorado Creative Industries, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, and Denver Arts & Venues. WESTAF is also now represented on the executive committee of the National Creative Economy Coalition (CEC), a loose network of organizations with creative economy portfolios. David recently joined this national leadership team that includes Jonathon Glus, executive director of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture; Jen Goulet, executive director, Wonderfool Productions; Christine Harris, chief connector, Christine Harris Connections; Susan Soroko, director, Creative Economy, Arlington Economic Development; George Tzougros, executive director, Wisconsin State Arts Board; and Matt Woolman, associate dean and director of the VCU Center for the Creative Economy. The CEC formerly produced “America’s Creative Economy,” a comparative study of creative economy research across the nation conducted with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, WESTAF, South Arts, Americans for the Arts, and others.


WESTAF has completed two rapid-response research/technical assistance requests from state arts agencies in the last two weeks, one for the California Arts Council (CAC) and the other for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. The CAC project reviewed the grant program portfolios of large budget state arts agencies nationally and western state arts agencies and compared these with CAC’s portfolio. The resulting briefing also provided recommendations to Council leadership. The Arts and Museums project identified research and data that confirm the positive economic impact of cultural and heritage tourism in Utah. Both projects aim to support the forward planning of these agencies.


On Wednesday, May 27, Laurel and David notified the state arts agencies and advocacy organizations in the region of the availability of the final report form for the 2020 State Advocacy Funds. To receive their final payment, recipients of WESTAF’s State Advocacy Funds are required to submit a final report form describing the use of the funds and its effectiveness in achieving the advocacy goals presented by each state to qualify for funding. The due date for this year’s final report form was extended to September 1 to accommodate potential delays in recipient responses due to complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. All 13 states in the WESTAF region qualified to receive a minimum of $10,000 in State Advocacy Funds this year. At this time, 60% of the total $155,000 in 2020 State Advocacy Funds has been disbursed. In past years, the funds have been successfully utilized by the states to mobilize advocacy communication efforts, hire a professional lobbyist to help secure additional funding for the state arts agency, and establish partnerships with other entities to leverage funds for the arts in the state.


In early 2020, WESTAF began piloting the Federal Advocacy Funds, a new program offering funding (generated from its earned income) to state arts agencies in the region to organize delegations to Washington, D.C. to participate in national advocacy activities and to organize other forms of engagement with members of Congress. From March to May, the guidelines for the WESTAF Federal Advocacy Funds were updated to allow for more flexible use of the funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These updates, the latest of which were released on May 14, include the addition of non-travel related expenses, such as expenses incurred from transitioning advocacy activities to a virtual format, and registration fees for digital and virtual workshops, seminars, summits, or other advocacy-related events. In addition, organizations may now allocate the funds to activities they will be undertaking later in the year. At this time, 10% of the total $27,500 in 2020 Federal Advocacy Funds has been disbursed. WESTAF is making adjustments to the awards in some states to be responsive to the unprecedented crisis and the extraordinary budgetary scenarios facing some states that could see significant reductions in their state arts agency budgets.


Several years ago, WESTAF began regularly convening the SAA performing arts directors (SAAPADs) with the leaders of the region’s state presenter consortia. The meeting provides a valuable opportunity for agency staff and presenter consortia representatives to work together on relevant, field-wide issues related to touring and presenting. The meetings typically take place in Denver, Colorado with WESTAF covering all costs for participants. We began 2020 with the hope of holding the SAAPAD meeting in late July 2020. In light of the pandemic, program staff, Chrissy Deal, director of social responsibility and inclusion, and Lani Morris, grant coordinator, made the determination to shift SAAPAD to a virtual format that could take place over the course of a few workshops to be scheduled in late summer or early fall 2020. Chrissy and Lani will be in touch with agency executive directors and staff regarding details and timing of the 2020 workshops in the coming weeks.


In January 2020, WESTAF surveyed state arts agencies to determine the NEA accessibility peer session states preferred to attend in 2020. The states voted to direct the professional development funds made available to WESTAF from the Arts Endowment to send accessibility coordinators to the NASAA Assembly in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 21-23. (The LEAD Conference scheduled for August 2020, which was the other option, was postponed until 2021). At this point, NASAA has not yet made a decision about the assembly in October 2020. The Office of Accessibility at the Arts Endowment is uncertain about whether a peer session will be held in person and is currently brainstorming a virtual approach.


Chrissy is working closely with the ELC faculty — Salvador Acevedo, Tamara Alvarado, and Margie Johnson Reese — to shift our focus to an alternate format that does not require an in-person convening. Our team is the first to admit that in-person gatherings are not only preferred, but provide the greatest sense of connection and learning. That said, we also have the expertise to ensure that online learning and professional development will be impactful and effective in building relationships — a key element of the ELC program. We have already begun brainstorming ideas for how to adapt our approach and will communicate details of the program, including recruitment of applicants, later this summer.


In recent years, WESTAF has hosted generalist professional development sessions for two state arts agency staff (aside from the executive director) or board members per state in Denver. The convening is geared toward staff with a wide range of expertise and varying degrees of experience at their respective agencies, exploring a range of cross-cutting themes, and these sessions are designed to provide insights into emerging trends in the field for the spectrum of state arts agency staff. Recent sessions have examined a range of topics, including rural arts, diversity, inclusion and equity, and emerging recreational industries. WESTAF covers all travel and lodging costs associated with this meeting. David Holland, director of public policy, has assumed responsibility for this convening, which is tentatively scheduled for early 2021 based on feedback from state arts agency executive directors. Agencies can expect more details about plans for the meeting in late 2020.


Natalie S. is currently working with the Policy Cohort as it begins identifying key areas of focus to use in the creation of their scoping documents. Since giving her first strategic plan update to the trustees at the board meeting last Thursday, Natalie has been in touch with cohort members to formulate a plan of action so that the cohorts and their Trustee Advisors can begin collaborating. Natalie would like to send a sincere thank you to all of the trustees for sharing their thoughts and questions with her at the board meeting.


Our coach Val Atkin conducted a helpful 90-minute session with the LRT on May 19 on leadership, management, communication, feedback and productive goal-setting. Overall, we had a positive response to the session and it was a relief (albeit short-lived) to focus on aspects of our work that moved beyond our immediate response to COVID-19.


The marketing team is working on sending email #2 of the “Come Back to CaFÉ” campaign targeting former clients with 50% off the setup fee through June 30. In May, CaFÉ signed four new clients – 12 is the average. The team also set up 38 new calls from existing customers. We’re looking toward the future and drafting OKRs for next fiscal year as well as reviewing backlog of technical enhancements and system changes and prioritizing those based on budget outlook. Natalie V. and Ben completed mockups of the admin UI improvements and the team now has to review and comment before they can be finalized.


The CVSuite team has been working through an influx of renewal sales. The Indiana Arts Commission, McLean County Regional Planning, Kentucky Arts Council, and Arts Cleveland all have come back to renew their contracts. The team is evaluating whether this influx is due to timing or if our marketing push last quarter and this quarter have made an impact. We are preparing for our planned spring data update on June 15. We also spent the last two weeks planning the OKRs for FY21 and beginning the process of creating the budget. Our team has started conversations about conference attendance for the fall, which would include the EMSI conference and the IEDC economic development conference.


GO Smart is in the contract phase with potential client Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Alaska. It has agreed to a subscription plan for four annual programs plus a one-time COVID relief program for an initial charge of $5,250 and a likely annual renewal of $4,800. Subscription renewal forms were sent to 13 clients. Almost 30% have already returned signed forms and received their invoices. The remaining have largely maintained or increased their use and annual fee. Three clients who typically renew this month – Santa Fe Arts and Culture, Arts Council of Anne Arundel, and North Dakota Arts Council – have asked for a delay in the renewal conversation as their budgets are on hold due to COVID.


PAA continues its COVID-19 public art documentation process. Projects and initiatives that have been submitted to PAA for documentation will be featured in PAA’s resource page, which will launch in early June. PAA signed its newest client, Lancaster Public Art, which will be using both the CMS and Showcase Page features. Within their showcase page functionality, PAA will help to create an artist sign-up register that will help pair artists and businesses, as the downtown pedestrian mall will open next week and artists are sought to help maintain social distancing through creative avenues.


We’re working on preparing for a virtual meeting with the ZAPP partners on June 8, as well as beginning a draft budget for FY21. In the midst of the pandemic chaos, we signed a new client who came from ZAPP competitor, EntryThingy. We also have a promising demo set up next week with a longtime holdout, Arts in the Square Belleville, IL; the prospective client also uses EntryThingy and is seriously considering switching to ZAPP for its 2021 event. We’ll have a release of new features and fixes on June 2, that will improve our internal refund workflow and add easier payment management options for artists.

Stay strong, stay healthy, keep on going and we’ll get there together.

As ever,