Even in a down economy, there are businesses that want to be involved in the arts. And especially in a down economy, there are arts groups who could use a hand from the business community. But how do the two sides meet?
Enter Katherine Wagner.
Wagner is the newly appointed CEO of North Texas Business for Culture and Arts. The group is a matchmaker of sorts, with a goal of linking businesses with arts groups. But the idea isn’t to just have a corporation write a check to an organization that needs funds. The NTBCA also strives to transfer the expertise of area business leaders to local arts administrators through programs like Leadership Arts and On My Own Time. Wagner says forming a bond is usually the key to eventual financial support.
“If you begin with really finding ways to reach individuals and bring them in – have them know you, have them be a part, a lot of times the dollars follow that way.”
Wagner talked about the challenges of her position during a recession and how she goes about finding those business to arts group matches as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: For those unfamiliar with NTBCA, how would you describe the organization’s mission?
Katherine Wagner: We work with businesses in a lot of different ways to build their capacity to impact the arts – specifically arts organizations more than individuals. So, for example, Leadership Arts is a program we’ve been doing for about 20 years, and we’ve probably had over 900 graduates of Leadership Arts by now. … During Leadership Arts, we have corporations that send leaders that they select, and those leaders meet once a month. The program is a hybrid, where part of it is introducing them to arts sites and arts organizations that they might not have had access to otherwise and having arts leaders talk to them. The other part is pretty rigorous, where we bring in experts that are knowledgeable in non-profit management – specifically in arts administration. And we talk to them and provide instruction on how to be the best board member possible.
A&S: How does NTBCA get linked up with local businesses? Do you approach them, or do they come to you?
K.W.: It’s a little bit of both. It is some word of mouth. We also have programs where businesses will become involved sort of as a tip-toe in. They’ll decide that they want to be involved in On My Own Time. An organization might participate in that and then decide there are other things they want to become involved in, and then they join and become involved in other aspects of the company. Some of it is we will find somebody that we think, oh, we really need to have that person or that company on our board. And we’ll go make a presentation to them and say, this is what we’re doing, and this is what our vision is, and this where we’d like to be, and this is what we’re doing now if you’d like to be involved. It’s amazing how many people who are involved in business have secret arts lives.
A&S: With the economy the way it is, has NTBCA participation been a hard sell?
K.W.: It’s not easy right now. It’s not as though everybody else is having a hard time and we’re having an easy time. But there just isn’t that much money around. So what we’re really trying to do is be very sensitive to what it is that they’re trying to do. What are the resources that they can share with the arts? And we’re really trying to provide things that are keeping with what their goals are: We want are employees to bond. We want are employees to be a part of the community. Or we want to get our name out as supporters of arts but also working with children. So I think customization is the thing. And innovation.
A&S: Before holding your current job, you worked at the Dallas Visual Art Center, Trammell Crow and the Dallas Museum of Art. How do you think working at those places prepared you for this position?
K.W.: They each took the arts and looked at them sort of like the parable of the elephant. You know, the person touched the trunk and said, “It’s kind of like an old snakey thing.” You know that old parable. At Trammell Crow, I was looking at arts from the business side. Especially when they were beginning the Arts District, as one of Mr. Crow’s visions, they were very committed to the arts. I think that was a great example of a company envisioning what a city center could look like. I think the [DMA] sets the standard for all arts organizations in that everything is done so well. For example, data basing or collection management is so carefully done there. … And the Dallas Visual Arts Center, which preceded the Contemporary, was a wonderful organization. It was founded by Patricia Meadows and Judy Hurst, and that was an organization that was absolutely, 100 percent motivated towards supporting visual artists and had a fantastic board of directors. So to me, that was a model of everybody working together to make something happen, and I think it was really successful.
A&S: The proposed city budget for Dallas trims more than 20 percent of the funding to arts and culture groups. How can NTBCA help make up for that shortfall?
K.W.: Well, as a parallel to the OCA and the Library merging, companies have been merging. So, there are just fewer dollars all the way around government-wise and business-wise to give to the arts. So what we’re trying to do is look at things that companies have to offer – knowledge that they have to offer, goods and services that they have to offer – that they want to offer in lieu of having lots of cash.
A&S: The budget trims in Dallas have made the most news of late. What is your sense of the funding situations for the arts in other North Texas cities?
K.W.: I think other cities in North Texas are also being pressed. There’s some talk of perhaps the TCA being sunset. What I see is this is happening all across the board. And not just in Texas. We have sister organizations across the country, and there are more drastic cuts in other communities – more than what you’re seeing. Relatively speaking, I think we could be doing worse.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.