At the very beginning of my tenure as executive director of the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts, a former board member said something during a meeting that upset me.
Years have past, and it hardly matters now what spurred the misunderstanding, but at the time I was quite angry.
What remains memorable to me about the exchange is the moment our board president closed the conversation. As she worked to negotiate a middle ground, she took the time to acknowledge the board member's volunteer service to the arts council.
It was, for me, an epiphany. Until that time, I had not stopped to really consider that my board was composed of people giving their time to the organization. We may not always agree, but they are at the table because they care.
I know what you're thinking: "Uh, Kathleen, isn't that obvious?" In retrospect, I wish it had been.
I have always been in what they call the not-for-profit world, "mission driven." I deeply believe in the arts council's goals and potential and spend my professional and personal days planning, devising and developing programming. Over time, I have had to learn patience and diplomacy when building consensus among people who are fresh to challenges that I have been wrestling with for awhile.
Not until our board president pointed out the obvious was I able to reconcile my obsessive need to grow and expand all things arts council with some inconvenient truths.
Namely, recruiting people to spend a great deal of their own time on our mission will always be a challenge.
Once they have joined the board, I need to slow down to develop relationships and teamwork. Just because members of the board choose to have professional and personal lives and enjoy recreational activities does not mean they are indifferent to our goals. The least I can do as executive director is make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
What does a board of directors do? Most cultural endeavors are not-for-profit organizations, which means they require board oversight.
Every organization defines the specific duties of board members differently. In some cases, there is no staff and so the board does the bulk of the administrative work and programming, meeting quite often. In other cases, the board provides governance and fiduciary support, while the executive director and staff execute the day-to-day activities of the organization. Ideally, volunteer boards are composed of a well-rounded group of individuals who bring diverse points of view and expertise to the organization.
In the case of the arts council, board members meet monthly to review the organization's progress, approve certain management choices and advise the executive director. They participate in committee work and spend time at social events, such as gallery openings and performances, representing the mission of the organization. They help plan and execute fundraisers, such as the Chili Bowl and our art auction. Sometimes, they even answer the call to unclog toilets, rake the yard and figure out why the ceiling is leaking.
I cannot think of an instance locally, where members of any cultural board receive compensation.
The tables turned recently when I agreed to serve on the board of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra. Perhaps "turned" is not the appropriate word. The tables "grew," giving me a chance to experience the rewards and challenges of board service.
As chair of the symphony's Cabaret committee, I have been spending a lot of time planning its largest annual fundraising event. Cabaret is a great evening, benefiting a tremendous cultural institution. Recruiting guest conductors, designing table settings and decorations, determining budget costs and planning public relations efforts for this one event require time and dedication.
My experience with the arts council and the symphony got me thinking about the enormous collective effort made to bring all artistic events to fruition.
By my estimation, participating organizations in the Otsego County Arts Alliance collectively require a minimum of 250 community volunteers to serve in a board capacity. Add to this number guild service, advisory boards or special committees, and the number of people volunteering their time approximates 1,200.
Monthly board and committee meetings collectively require 1,800 hours annually. That number jumps significantly when you consider rehearsal time, performances and fundraisers.
Keep in mind I am not including cultural organizations outside the alliance or the many other tremendous sports-oriented, faith-based or social-service institutions in the area. There are literally thousands of people dedicating endless hours to make our communities beautiful, inspiring and meaningful places to live.
As we have fulfilled the arts council's mission these past four years, growing its programming and tackling the needs of Wilber Mansion, I have grown to appreciate the process of consensus-building with my board. I welcome their input and direction.
Boards of directors and staff members will always have differing opinions, but it is in the differences that good choices reside. I am humbled by the dedication of our board members who have truly spent countless hours contributing their expertise and sweat equity. It motivates me every day.
Kathleen Frascatore is executive director of the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts.