About 30 months ago, when John Glaza joined the Arts Council for Long Beach as their interim Executive Director, the organization was in need of some repair. They had debt, the City’s funding had been cut, and the staff was shrinking because of lack of funds. The dissolution of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency further contributed to the ACLB’s staff reduction. They went from nine full time employees to three, with a few additional part timers.
Glaza knew that, more than anything else, the organization’s fiscal house needed to be in order. He also helped to oversee a search for a new Executive Director but, after seven months, and 68 candidates, a new director was not hired. Shortly thereafter, although Glaza had never campaigned for the position, the board then removed the ‘interim’ from his title, and he’s served as their Executive Director for more than a year.
When it was announced recently that he’d decided to resign, I sat down with him to talk about his tenure, and what he saw as the opportunities and challenges facing the Arts Council.
Sander: You announced January 22 that you are planning to leave your position at the Arts Council, and I just wanted to ask you: Why?
John: There is never a good time to leave. I have been, for a few months, thinking about wanting to grow my consulting practice. I love doing facilitation, board and organizational development, strategic planning and executive coaching..
There are a few things that I’m really good at, and I want to continue to do them, and I want to do them as much as I can in the Long Beach community. Even though I live in Huntington Beach, I’m very committed to the Long Beach community — it’s been good to me in the 12 years I’ve worked here.
That includes the facilitation I like to do, and board development, organizational development, strategic planning, and coaching and mentoring, which I’ve been doing for several years, during the time I had this job. But, that was on a very limited basis, because I had my hands full. This was certainly a full-time-plus job at the Arts Council. The Arts Council needs to have, I believe, a full-time Executive Director.
I wanted to get us through the first year of A LOT — an A LOT that maybe didn’t have the attendance that we’d hoped for, but an A LOT that engaged plenty of artists, and paid them a fair wage, and went to parts of the city that often don’t have opportunities to be engaged and experience art. But, it wore me out in many ways.
We’ve learned a lot in this first year, and I hope the second year will be even better. It’s really about engaging community, activating often under-served areas of the city, and paying artists and arts organizations. That’s really what A LOT is about.
I also wanted to get us through our audit, which we just completed, and our re-contracting with the city because, as you know, we get about 45% of our budget from the City. That’s diminishing, not because we’re getting less from the city, but because our budget is growing in other ways.
I wanted to get us through that contracting part, and the re-granting process. Not only the review of grants, but the scoring of grants, the selection through the independent review process of the grantees for ’13-’14, contracts done, and first checks sent. The first checks were sent last week.
It’s never just me. It’s us as a team. We have a team at the Arts Council that I think is well-respected in the community, and a committed, passionate Board, who is probably more engaged today than they were a year ago.
S: I’m sure that is, in no small part, due to you engagement with them.
JG: Well, I think I’ve had a hand in that. There are people on the Executive Committee who have had a hand in that, too. One of the things that I heard from people, a rap on the Arts Council, was that it was exclusive, not inclusive, and people didn’t know how they could participate.
A year ago we did an open call for new board members. That’s an accomplishment, in my perspective. More nonprofits should do it, or consider it anyway. There are plenty of folks in our community who are passionate about certain things, who want to be invited to serve. We had 18 applications, and almost all of them were stellar. I mean, it was a hard decision to make. 8 of those people are currently on the board and, for a few months, 4 of the others were involved and active in A LOT marketing and promotion.
We did that in anticipation of creating an opportunity for other people to participate, based on what some of their skills and talents were, as well as knowing that some key board members who have been on for a long time were going to rotate off soon, so we wanted folks to have some time under their belt.
I still think we have a way to go on the inclusivity part because, if I were to create a tag line for the Arts Council, it would be “Community First.” That’s the way I’ve seen this job the whole time. We need to be the best resource possible to the community. You can define “community” as broadly as you want — for me it’s very broad.
S: How do you define “resource”?
JG: Connecting people with the resources they need to make informed decisions. It’s not just money. There are several people who believe that we need a master calendar in our community, but we may already have a good one that we can make better. As long as it’s available through the Arts Council website, it doesn’t mean that we have to create it.
It’s about recognizing where the resources are. You know, we get all kinds of calls here, about all kinds of things. “Do you know of any affordable gallery space that we could use?” “Do you know of a staging company that has affordable rates?” All of those kinds of things that go into performance-space work, the Arts Council could be a clearinghouse for much of that.
“Resource” is defined very broadly. It’s not just about putting out a call to artists when there’s money available for a public art projects. It’s much, much broader than that. The two questions we need to ask are 1) How can we better support arts and culture in Long Beach? And 2) What resources are needed to do that?
S: One of the resources the Arts Council could provide more fully is an opportunity to develop engagement with the non-arts community, the general public. Connecting them, on a more regular basis, with all of the amazing things that go on here every day.
JG: I think there’s all kinds of opportunities to do that. One of the ideas I had, that I wasn’t able to get to, was engaging the business community, particularly Randy [Gordon] and the Chamber [of Commerce] and the Business Improvement Districts in the City, in a broader conversation, perhaps a morning workshop or even a conference, about the business of art, and the connection to our economy. We know it, folks in the arts community know how important arts are to the economy, but engaging the broader business sector, for example, and the rest of the community would have value to all.
One of the things we tried to do with A LOT was to engage the neighborhood associations. I underestimated what that would take. I thought if I met with them, they too would get excited about the opportunity, and get more involved. We moved the needle a little bit, but we needed to work harder at engagement.
Here’s an example: I was thinking that, after A LOT ’13 was over, one of the ways to possibly do this in the future was to use an old political strategy that I’m familiar with, which is knocking on doors, and hanging things on doors that say, you know, “Come to this meeting in three weeks. We’re going to activate that corner lot 300 yards from your house and we want to invite you to attend. We’re going to have all kinds of entertainment. It’s free, so come on out.”
S: That kind of engagement is actually full of potential for the Arts Council, especially if you could enlist volunteers and Board members to go out as a group, and sort of evangelize, if you will.
JG: It’s totally about evangelism, though I wouldn’t restrict it, and I don’t think you would either, to just the Arts Council. It really is about how we evangelize and galvanize the arts and cultural community here. That’s been my lens on all of this.
S: That goes back to another question I have. The Board has its regular meetings; how often do people from the community show up?
JG: In the time that I was here, which was 30 months, 26 or 27 board meetings, I can count on two hands the total number of people who came to a board meeting. To an earlier point, we post it on our website, but we could work harder at encouraging people to attend, and there’s interest in doing that within the Board. Not only publicizing the meetings, but exploring how we make them more accessible, and how we can invite and/or encourage residents to attend.
I can’t take credit for this, because it belongs to a Board member, but I completely support it; she once said that not only do we need to publicize our Board meetings, we need to put a sandwich board outside on the street so people know there’s a meeting of the Arts Council tonight, and we need to get Board member name tags that they can wear to events. Now, we did do that, and they look pretty nice, actually. They didn’t break the bank.
I can’t say that I worked hard enough at it, Sander, because there are only so many hours in a day, and a lot of choices to make, but we need to be very deliberate about encouraging the community to participate. Certainly, one open call for Board members doesn’t move us from a perception of exclusive to inclusive, but it’s moving the needle a little bit.
S: There’s another part, and you were touching on this too. In addition to engaging the community in participating in the Arts Council, there’s also this idea that the more you engage people in the community about the arts, the more that they themselves can become advocates for the arts to our elected and appointed leaders. How do you feel about that?
JG: Anything the Arts Council can do to broaden the sphere of influence when it comes to arts and culture, within reason we ought to be doing. The best opportunity is coming up. Actually, one of the things that preyed on me when making this decision was the local municipal election. We’ve got this huge municipal election, right — of course we’ve got City Attorney, City Prosecutor, and City Auditor, two of those are contested, one’s not. We’ve got the Mayor’s race, which still has 10 candidates in it, which is surprising to me. And then we’re going to have at least five new city council members. This has got to be a really fun time to live and work in Long Beach.
There probably isn’t going to be a better opportunity, at least in my life anyway, where the arts and culture community can have an impact on the election. There’s a forum coming up at the LBMA on February 23 and I hope it will be well attended I don’t know where the arts and culture community is as far as candidates go, but the Arts Council could play a role in encouraging dialogue. We have in the past. We had a forum a couple of years ago that I think went pretty well.
For me, my work here has never been about promoting the Arts Council, and that may have been a rub with some members of the Board who don’t feel like enough people know about what we do.
It’s been about the community for me, Sander — the arts and culture community — which is a slightly different turn, really, for me. It’s not about promoting the Arts Council. It’s about promoting the arts. I’ve always believed that, if you do good work, people will know who helped make it happen. The great staff at the Council are working hard every day in service to the community.
The Board is more excited than they have been in years about the future, with a new vision, a new mission, a new strategic objective, a new Board President in Marco Schindelmann, and Larry Rice before him.
Larry Rice was perfect because he was routinely, and almost always, available to me. I needed him as a sounding board, and I needed him as a conduit to the rest of the Board, and he was always available. I will be forever grateful for his persistent support.
Marco’s been consistently available in the short time that we’ve had a chance to work together, but very different than Larry in his experience of the arts, with Marco being an artist himself, and Larry being the first person to say he’s not. If a printer is an artist, then Larry’s been an artist his entire career. Just like me; I’m a good cook, and my staff likes to remind me that I’m a food artist.
S: Larry embodied something that I think was very valuable for the Arts Council, which is a genuine understanding of the value that the arts play in the city.
JG: Exactly. And I think he’s a fourth-generation Long Beach resident.
S: As a participant and attendee, I was really enthused by A LOT. I think the most exciting event that I attended was the one in North Long Beach, that was shared amongst several other events. [There was a dance performance by Donna Sternberg, and Art Trucks with work by Frau Fiber and McLean Fahnestock, and a performance by Reuben Cannon, and the Taste of North Town] That kind of collaborative engagement did something that the other events didn’t, which was to bring people to the party.
JG: Sander, that’s spot-on for me, too. If I had a favorite event, it would be that day, because it was a collaboration of different types of things going on in the same space. It wasn’t just about arts and culture. It truly felt like it was about community. I think the Arts Council ought to move deeper into the community, to engage the community in things like this.
There were a lot of lessons. Structuring our resources, and sharing the work, so the staff aren’t dead on their feet on Sunday morning. Sharing the work is a challenge for every nonprofit. But also, the broader the collaboration, the broader the engagement. Couple that with some canvassing, and we could further engage the community.
Part of it is how to create opportunity for a direct invitation to participate because, for me, it’s always about inviting. It’s constantly about inviting because, typically, people feel better when they’re personally invited to attend something. But if you use the money to personally invite everyone, you won’t have any money to pay the performers. It’s really important to find the balance – to find the most effective methods for getting people to engage.
Still, there’s a way to do that so that people feel like they’re personally invited. I think that the more the Arts Council, in ’14, can engage community, take that to the next level.
The venues are going to be different this year, I believe. I’m just projecting, but we actually had too many days of performance last year. That long is a lot. No pun intended. It’s going to be compacted now, into Long Beach Arts Month. It makes perfect sense, right? Let’s celebrate the arts during October, and oh, we happen to have these financial resources available to us through the NEA and are other funding partners.
Speaking of that, I was actually surprised, and I think this is an accomplishment, that we were able to match the NEA money as quickly as we did.
S: How did that happen?
JG: For people who are in the arts, or any nonprofit, to get multi-year funding, it doesn’t get any better than that. We got multi-year funding from the LA County Arts Commission — they do two-year grant cycles, and they gave us permission to use the funds for A LOT. We got multi-year funding through the California Community Foundation, and they, too, have given us permission to use it for A LOT. We got multi-year funding through the Parson’s Foundation. It might be the first year we’ve had Parson’s money. I don’t know that for sure, but I’ve been told that we haven’t had Parson’s funding ever. And then we got a multi-year grant from NEA. On the NEA side, for every dollar we raise, they give us a dollar, up to $150,000. Remember, this was the largest grant award — there wasn’t a larger grant awarded in Southern California, other than the one granted to the Arts Council for Long Beach.
Raising money is tricky, and there has to be a compelling story. I think A LOT and community engagement was a compelling story, and we’re really proud of those grant awards. I think it takes a little pressure off.
S: So have you already matched for this year?
JG: [pauses for a moment] You know, it’s easier to to tell the truth then to weave a story, and the truth is yes. My reluctance, by the way, is that I think that the other opportunity that exists in A LOT is to get people on board from a sponsorship standpoint, and from a funding standpoint, so we can own even more of it. It can grow. We don’t have to limit it to the money that was raised. The Arts Council can raise new money for this, and we need to continue to do so. Every competent administrator wants to maximize funding and make sure nothing is left on the table.
For me, for every administrator, whether they’re in the arts or not, the more unrestricted money you have, the better, because it allows you to manage your finances more effectively , which we’ve done very well during my tenure. I want to talk more about that at some point.
S: Go ahead.
JG: We talked about accomplishments, and creating a solid foundation, and putting in place the necessary funds to have a more stable financial foundation. We’ve managed to do it, and I feel good about that. The Arts Council is now in a position to have more steady cash flow. If you talk to any non-profit executive, he or she will talk to you about the importance of steady cash flow. Nobody likes peaks and valleys when it comes to cash flow. Nobody likes peaks and valleys when you’re trying to pay vendors–which include artists and arts organizations–in a timely fashion.
So, we’ve really stabilized our cash flow nicely. The Arts Council does a really good job doing cash projections. We were able to retire some debt, and now we’re able to have some reserve, and the Board, staff and I are really proud of that.
S: That’s fantastic! Let’s talk about municipal funding for just a minute. I know everyone always says that it’s not about money, it’s about what you do with it, and that’s great, but has anyone looked around the country at cities of similar size and seen if there’s any parity between our city’s funding of the arts and how the arts are being funded in other parts of the country?
JG: The Board has been moving through a strategic planning process, revisiting the Cultural Master Plan, revising the Create Long Beach plan, revising vision mission strategic objectives, and creating strategic goals — all important to our work. One of the objectives for 2014 is to study some other communities, on how they funds arts and culture.
There’s this huge municipal election opportunity, right, and there’s been talk in our community, for I don’t know how long, about creating a more stable vehicle for supporting arts and culture. I think there’ve been all kinds of options discussed, including some of the options in the report by the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Arts Funding that was done like three years ago now. But here’s the one that I don’t really understand what the objection to is, and that’s the transient occupancy tax. I’m guessing that many communities support the arts through transient occupancy tax, what’s called TOT. So, I don’t understand why we can’t just add a dollar to the TOT, to provide a more stable revenue for arts and culture.
S: Well, Mayor O’Neil commissioned a panel for arts funding when she was still in office, when Joan Van Hooten, was the Director. That idea had come up back then, which was a long, long time ago now, and I believe the City took that idea, and said “that’s a great idea”, and added a dollar to the Occupancy Tax, and then earmarked that for police. I think that’s what happened.
JG: I think the projection for 2014 is over a million hotel nights. Do the math, one dollar more would result in a million bucks.
S: Oh, occupancy nights? That could really go a long way. I won’t apply this any particular political philosophy, but I believe there’s some resistance, strangely so, to municipal funding of the arts in the City. It makes no sense to me, because every piece of data that you look at, any metric that you care to use to measure value, shows that for every dollar that you spend, you get a huge return, like 10 to 1, at least.
And this is across the board. This is in reduced crime, so you get savings in police force expenditures. This is in improvement in education systems, which reduces overall costs. This is in tourism, economic trade, business development. Across the board there’s benefit, benefit, benefit. But, despite the overwhelming proponderance of data and facts, municipal leaders seem willing to ignore it. Mayor Foster completely rejected the entirety of his own Blue Ribbon Committee’s findings, for example. How do you get that message across?
JG: The answer is in broader community engagement, and that’s why I think the election is so important. Residents need to hold the Council and the Mayor accountable for that. But the one thing I want to add to what you said , the City has a role in funding and supporting the arts. There’s no doubt about that. They fund and support the arts in other ways. I can’t articulate all of them, because I don’t know all that they do. What I do know is how much they provide the Arts Council and the artists and arts organizations we fund through the grants program.
The City’s only one piece of that funding pie. I think you know best practices when it comes to non-profit management. Arts and culture funding is up, by the way, by individuals. If you look at the Giving USA survey data, it’s up. It’s down for some, but it’s up in arts and culture.
There’s a slice of the pie that’s municipal, there’s a slice that’s corporate, a slice that’s private foundations, and a slice of the pie that’s individuals. Those are all pieces of an important funding mix that supports the arts. So, I’m not one that expects the city to pay a particular portion of that, but the City does need to make a financial commit because the payoff is enormous
S: You want to grow the whole pie.
JG: Right. I also think, at the risk of sounding slightly sarcastic, maybe even cynical — though I can be both, I’m not often both — I don’t think that there’s any convention group that would say, you know, “The City of Long Beach adds a dollar to every room night, so I don’t think we should have our convention there.” One dollar, or even 1%, for that matter doesn’t seem like it would be a deal breaker. I guess Steve and his team at the CVB would have a better sense about this than me. I know we have to be mindful of the other cities that can accommodate conventioneers, and what our TOT is, but does a dollar, or 1%, make that much of a difference to people who are trying to make informed decisions about whether to have a convention here? I don’t think so.
S: Another discussion that was also part of the Blue Ribbon Committee was the concept of expanding the Percent For Public Art program that was run through the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency so that it actually encompasses the entirety of the city. There are many cities, I believe, around the country that actually do it successfully, and even some developers here in Long Beach have asked for that because they felt that it would be a really positive way to grow the pie and create more stability.
Sometimes I feel that the vision of the Board reflects the old idea of what the Arts Council was, back when it had 2+ million dollars coming in from the city, and there was a much bigger full time staff.
Now, you have a staff of 7, most of them part-time, and there are these very ambitious ideas that are emerging from the Board about things that the Arts Council can do. Is that in alignment with the realistic capabilities of the organization?
JG: You know, the best part of this strategic planning work is about getting really clear about what the work is, which applies to every nonprofit in the community, arts or otherwise. In my work, in my Board development work, it really is about being clear about what the work is. Once you’re clear about what the work is, then you find the money to do the work.
One of the downsides of the past couple of years, of being in debt, and getting better at raising money to not only retire some of that debt, but to propel us forward, was the need to shrink. We’ve contracted a whole bunch, as you’ve alluded to, over the years. There was a time when the Arts Council budget was over $2 million. That was almost 10 years ago, now. I found an old Annual Report. Between the money that was received from the RDA and the allocation from the city, it was slightly over $2 million. Now, most of that public art money passed through, but it still benefitted our community by installing more public art.
So, we’ve had to contract a whole bunch. Not only have we contracted as a staff, but we’ve also contracted the services we provide. I think the current Board is savvy enough to know that there is a connection between “what is our work?” and “how do we pay for it?”. So I am encouraged by that.
When we had to contract over the past couple of years, we began focusing on what we determined were core services. The grants program is core. Holding onto what little public art we have left is core. Without staff, by the way — I’ve had to do that using a public art consultant. With The Collaborative, we’ve localized that more, staying focused on engaging local artists, in particular our Artist Fellows. We’re also staying focused on our arts learning program. Those have been core.
We managed, and I think this might even fit into an accomplishment, to hold on to as much of our Arts Learning Program as we could because of the generous support of the Miller Foundation. Because we didn’t get NEA support — that’s the irony of federal funding, right — we get this huge NEA A LOT arts grant but, the same year, we didn’t get a grant for arts learning, so we had to shrink our arts learning program a bit. We did manage to maintain all of the elements. When you lose money, if you eliminate a program, there’s always the potential of not getting it started again. So what we did is kept that program, and kept its integrity, and shrunk it a bit, resulting in serving fewer students.
S: Can you sum up, in a little nut shell, what the arts learning program is?
JG: The arts learning program is almost entirely funded by the Miller Foundation, which is a very generous local foundation. It’s focused on Long Beach Unified schools, in 3rd and 4th grade, primarily, and almost exclusively in Title 1 schools. There’s quite a bit of evidence that engaging young people, particularly in 3rd grade, in the arts has a broader impact on their creativity, their engagement, and so that program has been in place I guess more than 10 years now. [Note: It was started in 1999.]
There are three Arts Learning Programs – Eye on Design, which is a 15 week program that ends up in the creation of a public art mosaic for the school, which is totally cool, Passport to the Arts which provides dance, theater, music and visual arts experiences that focus on cultural traditions and Enrichment Grants which support a professional development component for teachers, either a field trip to an arts event or an in-school arts event, and a post-arts event extension activity.
One of the things that came up in our stakeholder interviews is the notion that the Arts Council competes with some of the other arts organizations in the community, that we compete on the programming side, and that we compete on the fundraising side. I think it’s really important that the Council not compete with arts organizations. Our role is to facilitate, promote, educate, fund and advocate for the arts. I don’t think we really compete on the fundraising side, so much, because we haven’t had a robust fundraising program in several years, because we haven’t had the resources to do it.
We’re in better shape now. We have a stronger database, which I think is another accomplishment. We’ve got a way to manage information that’s more effective than what we had in the past.
But, there’s some people who believe we compete on the programming side, so the way I’d like to address that is to do an inventory of what arts programming is being done in our community, and by who. Then we can determine what the gaps are, and then reach a conclusion about what services are needed and who will provide them.
We have a great Arts Learning Program that serves hundreds of local children. What administrator, in his or her right mind, would jettison a successful, well-funded arts learning program? We, as a community, need to hold on to as much arts education as we can. The school district doesn’t have the resources to maintain it, as much. The intent, over time, is to continue to learn and be clear about how the Arts Council best serves the community.
S: But don’t you think the perception about competition is either true, or it’s imagined? That seems like something that can be absolutely measured.
JG: This may be the perception of some. I know it came up in our strategic planning interviews, so we need to pay attention to it. It’s anecdotal, not hard data.
We can be a catalyst, a promoter, and a funder and, if we can follow the 80/20 rule, that makes perfect sense. A LOT is a great example. Maybe our role on A LOT ought to be as executive producer, catalyst and promoter. I think that’s where ’14 could go, and that’s staying focused on promotion, advocacy, and funding. We can bring people together in a catalytic way, and make things happen.
S: Do you think the Board is in alignment with that idea?
JG: No, I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m a little anxious about saying that but, at the same time, I’ve observed it. When anyone asks the question, yes, our primary role is promoter, advocate, educator, catalyst, facilitator, yeah. We’re not in the programming business. But people still bring things up that are very interesting and exciting programming. People still have ideas about programs we can get involved in. We just need to figure out the best way to support those efforts.
This next year is critical, as the Board begins to implement the new strategic plan, because it’s not always clear about what our role is. I’ll give you an example: If I was staying, I would want to work with the Long Beach Airport in creating opportunities for performers to perform there, for a nominal stipend. There’s plenty of great examples around — Portland, New Mexico, and New Orleans. But there’s also big cities that haven’t touched it. I don’t think it’s rocket surgery.
S: They also do it in Austin.
JG: Austin is a great example. There’s interest at the airport. So the question is: Is that programming, or can we be the catalyst for that? Can we be the funding for that, and engage somebody else to put the programming together?
And people are eager for it, and what a great way to engage our performing arts community. As you know, we have a really unique music scene here, not to mention all the other extraordinary performing arts, and a cool airport that still has the charm associated with it. There are plenty of good examples we can learn from. The Portland program is totally cool.
S: It’s a good idea. Another idea, something that we’ve actually talked about for a long time, is having local music on the City’s phone system. When you call the city of Seattle, and you get put on hold, you hear local musicians as hold music. That’s something that we actually spoke with the City of Long Beach about, back in the day, but it was ultimately dismissed. I’m not sure why.
JG: You know, it is possible to over-think things, but I don’t think it’s necessary, and I always try not to. Sometimes I might be accused of oversimplifying things. The other thing that came to mind when we were talking is, I think the broader we can define the arts, the better, as well.
I remember somebody saying to me, “We didn’t think to call you, John, because I thought you guys only focused on fine arts and performing arts.” And I said, “But music is a performing art!” We have this cool, hip music scene, and I think the Arts Council could engage, in a deeper way, with the music scene.
Just like the dance community. I was asked to convene a meeting of dance advocates, and there were like 25 people out the first meeting , and it was fabulous. They weren’t there to meet me that’s for sure, but they have an interest in collaborating with each other, and growing that scene.
We have the opportunity to find new ways to engage the community. That’s a huge one. The Board seems committed and enthusiastic about that. That effort requires a certain discipline and rigor, and my dream for the Board is that they’re up to that, and that they’ll continue to find ways to engage.
That suggests that everyone be on the same page about what our role in the community is. I happen to see it as being a resource in providing that whole community-first thing that I talked about. Another opportunity is getting people engaged in local government, whether it’s active in their neighborhood associations, but certainly this municipal election. It’s a huge opportunity! I can’t say enough about it.
S: I think, too, that it doesn’t begin or end there. It has to be a growing and ongoing dialogue between residents and elected and appointed leaders about what our priorities are because, so often, the priorities seem to go in the wrong direction. They come from the city, and get foisted upon the residents. Or conversely, it’s one or two people who are noisy, and who foist their opinions on everyone else.
JG: Having worked in politics for a long time, I am amazed how a few squeaky wheels can make things happen in Long Beach. But that can work in the other direction as well. At the risk of you thinking I have rose-colored glasses on, it is ultimately a partnership with the city. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain on that, as much. I’ll take responsibility for that. It extends beyond me, but it rests with the Arts Council, to a certain degree. We haven’t worked hard enough to galvanize the arts and culture community or voice, to communicate with City Council.
Here’s a simple example of what we can do better. Every month, we receive micro-grant applications for arts and cultural related activities in the city, that are free to residents, and reach as many people as possible. The grantees are awarded up to $1,000. Every month, we receive them, we make decisions, and we award them. It’s a great program, and it’s a great way to get money to people quickly. Believe it or not, $1,000 can make a difference as to whether something happens or not.
With that said, we need to broadcast, every month, who those recipients are, and we need to further educate our City Council by saying, “We just funded two micro-grants in your district.” We haven’t done that. It seems simple, but that’s part of a strategy to deepen our relationship with our elected officials.
It’s the same as an individual person who gives money. The goal is to deepen the relationship so they feel more committed. We need to do that with City Council, and we need to do that with the Mayor. So, I think that’s an opportunity. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples on how we can better inform our electeds.
Another is to find a more stable way to fund the arts — and it’s not just on the backs of City government. We need to agree on what the work is then find the best ways to partner on that work.
Another thing that I don’t think we’ve talked about, but it’s been in this mix, is the Artist Registry. If it wasn’t for a Leadership Long Beach class five or six years ago that Rachel Potucek was in, and that Ryan Smolar had a part in, we wouldn’t have the Artist Registry.
We were able to update it, recently, thanks to our former board president, Justin Hectus from Keesal, Young and Logan – and the technology is better. It’s less antiquated, makes more sense, and there continues to be an interest with people being able to find other artists. Whether it’s a business trying to find a muralist, an artist finding another artist, or the cross-promotion. It’s a useful tool and another example of a resource we can provide..
I have, sometimes, trouble thinking about our most meaningful accomplishments. Yes, I was the guy in the ED chair, but accomplished many things as a team during my tenure – board and staff working together with community. It wasn’t me. You know that about me. The financial piece is really important, because, when you’re trying to figure out how to get bills paid, where the money is coming from, and keep it a steady flow, it really hinders your creativity. That’s why we had to stay focused on core, and had to do it in such a way where people wouldn’t notice.
Retiring debt is hard to do. There are some people, I don’t believe within my own organization, but in the community, who love to say “Well, isn’t that the nature of a non-profit?” Not a non-profit that I want to be involved in. Non-profit work in the community, has been almost my life’s work. It doesn’t have to be hand to mouth. The finances are not that different than the finances at home. If you have more expenses than revenue, you’re going to have a deficit. We’ve had no deficit in the time I’ve been here. I think we’ve done it without hindering too much of our work. That’s meaningful to me.
I’m quite proud of the fact that we’ve put out more dollars to artists and arts organizations over the past two years. We’ve managed to increase the amount of money we’ve given as artist fellowships. We’ve moved it from $6,000 to $10,000. It’s still an increase at a time when our budget was shrinking. That’s important because it demonstrated the commitment, under my leadership, to continue to support the arts community.
Remember the criticism that I heard voiced about being in competition, and also about being exclusive instead of inclusive? I heard a similar criticism about not supporting arts and artists’ organizations — particularly not supporting artists. “Support” was defined as “money”. We hired and paid over thirty artists and arts organizations for their work in A LOT and we have a fabulous team of artists we pay that work in our arts learning program. I’m confident the Council will continue to support artists and arts organizations.
Many of the micro-grant dollars go directly to artists who are doing interesting things in the community. We funded more than 50 microgrants last year. We’ve just been flooded with applications. We can always improve what we do.
People have been saying to me, as a result of learning of my departure, that I managed to find ways to engage them more in the work, and in the direction of the organization. They’ve appreciated that about me. I’m accessible. You could poll 10 people who’ve had some experience with me and I think most would say that I’m accessible.
S: As a participating artist for A LOT, I noticed that you were in the trenches. You had rolled your sleeves up. You were working hard, in the sun, doing whatever needed to be done for the majority of the events that took place during that period. I just want to give you a personal thumbs up for taking that on. It may have been out of necessity but, honestly, I don’t know if any of your predecessors would have stepped up in quite that way. I really valued that.
That was one of the things that I was talking about; the disconnect, or the imagined disconnect, between the Board’s ambition and the staff’s capability. Because really, A LOT was a job that required a lot more staff, and you guys did it. I don’t know how. I have no idea how. It was enough of a logistical nightmare just organizing one event, let alone organizing all of it, and pulling it off so that it went really well.
JG: It helped to have three strong drivers on the Board, on the curatorial side, who have endless time and passion, it seems, for the arts, and that’s Marco, Kamran [Assadi], who is no longer on the board, and Victoria [Bryan]. Three people who had the energy. What we were able to do, successfully is be a contagion to the rest of the Board, because participation wasn’t as close to 100% as we’d want it to be. It helped to have Shay Thornton Kuhla (she just got married you know) leading our A LOT site teams. She’s really the one who worked tirelessly at nearly every event. Andrew her husband helped too along with other generous volunteers.
S: Let’s talk about that for just one second. How do you change that?
JG: I have this philosophy, and it’s not just John Glaza’s philosophy, that we all want to be heard. And that, once heard, that has an effect on how we might participate in a particular thing. That’s true when it comes to strategic planning. I think the Board is more engaged, now, because they’ve gotten so excited about having a greater clarity of vision, mission, and this strategic objective about making Long Beach a premiere destination. And it makes sense.
Much of what we’ve been talking about with strategic planning has been talked about in the past. I think the difference now is the Board’s commitment and enthusiasm for accomplishing the plan. The next couple of years will be about execution. People need to be part of the solution. They need to be heard, they need to be engaged, and they need — particularly this is true about Boards — matching skill, talent, and interest with the work that needs to be done.
S: Let’s talk about skill, talent, and interest for your replacement, whomever this person may be down the road. What skills, talents and interests would your ideal candidate embody?
JG: Some would say that, to be the Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, one of my deficits — and I don’t like to talk in terms of deficits — would be a lack of academic preparation in the arts. I acknowledge that, but I’m not apologizing for it anymore. You know, for my first year here I apologized for not having an MFA, but I realized what I did bring to the table, and I know what I don’t know.
Whoever is in this job needs to be really humble, to be able to engage and connect with people. They need to have all the requisite administrative and fundraising skills and they need to be a good listener who appreciates others and all the extraordinary assets we have in Long Beach. They have to be inclusive, not exclusive, and they have to be able to walk that. It’s one thing to say you’re inclusive, but you have to be able to demonstrate that by putting your hand out and inviting them to come in. I also think the Board is going to want someone who has academic training in the arts.
S: That’s what they want, but is that what the person who does the job actually needs?
JG: I never felt like I was hampered, at all, in this work. I was the right guy at the right time. The next person will be the right guy or gal at the right time. It needs to be a person who’s good at executing a plan. There’s this extreme vigor in the Board right now, about plan execution. We’re putting together a good plan, and we need someone who is capable of executing, and that’s going to require a whole bunch of skills. The next person needs to know how to raise money from all sectors. That’s really important. And create the vision for the Long Beach arts community. They need to be committed to meaningful collaboration and community dialogue. And, they need to understand how to galvanize the community to advocate for the arts.
S: When you came on board as interim Executive Director, one of your main responsibilities was to oversee the search for the next Executive Director. At the end of that seven month search, the people who had all of the qualifications that the Board defined as necessary, didn’t want the job. Why?
JG: There were 68 candidates, which went to 12, which went to 5, which went to 3. The search committee extended an offer, through the board, to who they thought best met that criteria. One of this person’s primary concerns was stability of funding. When it came down to having a conversation about the position, the candidate went from accepting the position on a Friday to withdrawing on a Monday. Most of the person’s questions were about funding, and stability. There may have been plenty of other reasons as well, but his questions focused on financial stability and city support.
The second candidate had already taken another job. The third candidate actually wanted the position, but the Board, at that point, wasn’t comfortable extending the offer. And funding was a concern by the Board, about the stability of funding. Remember, that’s when the community, including the City Council, was wringing its hands about the budget, whether there was going to be a budget shortfall. So the Board actually thought it wouldn’t be prudent at that time to extend an offer for a full-time Executive Director. It was a good decision.
That’s why the timing on the strategic plan and the search is really pretty good. There needs to be congruence between what the Board learned from the community about what’s needed, and the new strategic goals for the institution in the candidate that’s selected for the new Executive Director. If there isn’t alignment, that could be a problem.
As far as the search goes, a search committee has been appointed that includes board members, staff and community members. I think the deadline is February 17.
There are some people, particularly the ones who see the cup as half empty in our community, who believe that the talent isn’t here to run the Arts Council, and that the pool might be small. Well, the pool might be small, but there may be a several qualified people in the area we don’t even know about. 12 years ago, when I moved to Southern California, nobody knew about me, either. I’m confident the Search Committee and Board will find the best person to lead the Council.
I just thought of another accomplishment. It’s an internal accomplishment. We’re really a family, here. We’re really connected, and we all love and care about each other. Of course, that was a factor for me in thinking about leaving, because I’m going to miss the day to day with everyone.
John’s last day is this coming Friday, February 14th. To learn more about Arts Council for Long Beach grants, programs, and meetings, visit ArtsLB.org.