Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 12

The following year, we turned the space over to groups to curate their own work and create community events. We were much better at accomplishing our goal of having a more diverse audience moving through our facility, and we were providing our mission of serving the community, by providing this facility to organizations which were much more connected to the culture and what they wanted to see than anything we were going to prescribe to them. We have worked hard in ways like that to provide opportunities in this flexible facility. We need to hear what people want and then provide them opportunities to engage in that. Value is in the person you talk to. To be relevant, we must bring the community together by talking to all of those people. The most important thing is that the center serves the community. What’s most important now is that this is a gathering place. Much of society’s rhetoric is telling us how different we are from one another, and how evil and bad the other side is. Gathering and sharing a cultural experience provides an opportunity for people to have an exchange and to realize the humanity of the individuals around them. We can be a place of healing in a time where a lot is ripping us apart. Our Community Through Theatre program was formed with a mission to create theatrical activity that brings people together across barriers. Bridge building is not always easy, but it is interesting. Our city is divided across political, religious, and racial lines.The important thing to do now is to bring people together. One of our most important elements is education-based programming, since arts programming is strong in only some of our schools. About two-thirds of our Academy students are children, and about 30% of our tuition-based students are on scholarships. We also have a number of programs that we take into schools in Lynchburg and our surrounding counties, since individuals may have transportation obstacles. Kids engaged in participation-based arts are more likely to engage in the arts in whatever community they find themselves in later.

Our donor society, MIX, which tends to be young professionals with financial means, has been a good sounding board to ensure that we have culturally relevant programming, and saying what kind of artists and performers they care about. In a way, they work like a younger board. We are trying hard to stay on top of new music. We read regularly, pay attention to what is happening in arts and culture, and work to stay on top of trends. We are building our future audience, but we are connecting with multiple generations. Leadership Challenges Leadership can be an isolating, lonely place because it’s your job to make sure everybody else is okay. Who checks in on you and makes sure you’re okay? Support systems are key. Before my arrival, the staff had gone through furloughs and other issues. We had to make a lot of culture changes and some staff changes, which was tough. During that timeframe, I was moving through the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program. By partway through, I had taken this job. Experienced arts executives who had changed things in organizations and had faced things I was facing in real time were all around me, and I could ask specific questions. That mentorship is huge. A lot of our service orientation came out of the guidance of that program. Leading and maintaining an emerging initiative requires forgiveness of your staff, your board, and yourself. We’ve done a Silver Lining exercise where everybody discussed things that had gone wrong here at the Academy, and we found the silver lining and learned from those moments. Everybody makes mistakes. I need to be patient and kind with my staff, because everybody has personal and workplace issues. People need to accomplish their jobs and things need to happen, with repercussions for not doing your job. But we also need to build an environment where we are forgiving of each other and ourselves. I need to address and correct my mistakes, but I also need to forgive myself

and realize I am human and these things happen. Trust is the most important thing to make other people around us better. I must empower my team through delegation, and they need to know I trust them. We get emotional here sometimes, but we apologize afterwards. Staff members need to feel that they are in a place where they can grow and accomplish what they need to do in the way they need to. As long as everybody understands the big picture, different management styles and work execution can happen. It doesn’t need to be how I would do it; it just needs to get done, and the goal needs to be met. Taking risks is important. We had to change a lot here and get a lot of people to take a leap of faith with us. We need to do research and spend time thinking and brainstorming. Strategic planning is important. We need to have a plan, but we must be willing to shift from that plan when we see the need, and understand that the ground will always be changing beneath us. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing simply because it’s comfortable. Risk is important, whether it’s programming or testing new things. Mission is key. It’s not about you. A mentor told me that if a paramedic’s job was to bring a drowning girl back to life, then my job in the arts was to make her life worth living. I think about that a lot. Are we, as an arts organization, making her life better? My family will benefit from living in a city with a functional arts center. But it’s about a larger community and people outside of us. It’s about service. Geoff Kershner is a native of Lynchburg, Virginia. When he was growing up, he learned that he was most attracted to crafting and curating experiences for an audience. He is the Executive Director of the Academy Center of the Arts in Lynchburg, Virginia.

SynerVision Leadership .org I 29

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