By Amanda Honigfort
The Regional Arts Commission (RAC) is continuing to move forward on their grand vision of harmonizing, strengthening and purposefully directing the work and resources of the arts community.
It started with a survey and a few town halls under the name Evoke, then transformed into an extensive survey of the arts community as well as it’s strengths and weaknesses, and gained a new name – “Arts &”. Next working groups were formed for the following categories: Arts & Education, Arts & The Working Artist, and Arts & The Economy. (for more on those working groups and who comprised them see our previous story.) Those working groups have finished their meetings and reported their findings which RAC and The Rome Group (who facilitated the working group meetings) reported back to the public today.
Felicia Shaw, Executive Director of RAC says it’s a good sign the reports of the working groups in many ways mirrored the reports of the Arts& study and the St. Louis arts ecology by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management presented in February (the last public Arts& event).
“We can be emboldened by the fact that it’s the same. Because if it’s different, then we
know that we’re missing something, but if it’s the same stuff coming back then we know – This is it! People have spoken,” said Shaw.
She expects to present more concrete steps in the fall – likely in October. Those concrete items you can expect soon are a new mission statement for RAC, suggestions for changes to how RAC does business and guiding principles for future decisions.
“These guiding principles that we are creating – they talk a lot about our values. Things that we believe are important in making decisions. What stays? What do we continue? What do we need to change? What do we need to sunset because it’s no longer relevant? All of that is informed by what you heard today,” said Shaw.
They’ve laid out the core of what the working groups came up with on their vision.rac.org site.
One strategy presented today, and that has been heard again and again in the arts and culture community, is that we need a centralized organization to keep track of all the related organizations and opportunities. It’s a role that RAC is willing to grow to fill, but not necessarily volunteering for.
“No! There’s becoming a more crystalized notion that RAC doesn’t have to be everything, but we can help be a catalyst for that entity to take shape. Or if it should be us, we would have to really expand our footprint – a 6.5 million organization can’t do all that. It would require us finding additional funding, it would require a lot for us to take on a lot of the things that you heard today so that becomes part of the strategy – how do we fill that gap, how do we expand into the organization that everyone wants us to be, or find the resources to help establish another organization that’s going to fill that role,” Shaw explained.
She says she doesn’t’ feel that any organization currently in existence is prepared to take on that role in its current form.
“I think there are many capable arts leaders here within some of our institutions, but there’s not a situation where we can say – “Oh if we take that organization over there and make sure they have sustainable funding for the next 20 years. They don’t even exist – that organization hasn’t been born yet. We’re going to have to establish it or RAC would have to expand its footprint to become it. It doesn’t exist yet, unfortunately,” She continued.
Though RAC is doing a great deal of the heavy lifting – they still want to see continued engagement and progress come from the many facets of the arts community.
“I would like all the organizations to continue to follow us, ready the report, debate it, talk about what’s missing, talk about what’s possible and most of all help us surface where we already have momentum. The last thing we want to do is start creating over what’s already been created.” said Shaw “I think the last thing we want to do is assume people aren’t doing things and next thing you know we’re creating another layer of bureaucracy.”
And even with the public comment and working group portions of this project closed, RAC is still happy to hear ideas and suggestions from the arts community.
“We’re still working with Michael Kaiser, and this is really the hardest part of the process,” Shaw explains about the current state of Arts&. “We have all this data, and now we have to make choices and that is the hardest part. I felt some of the tension in the room as people are seeing themselves in this process and saying where do I fit in? What will stay and what will go?”
“We’ll test out those strategies with everybody,” Shaw promised. “I’m hoping we can have a different kind of session [in the Fall] – I think people really want to get into it! We’re at an interesting point, and at the end of the day, I hope people don’t feel like we’re just covering old ground. I hope they feel like this is a progression of thought that will lead to an outcome, but that we’re bringing people along with us. Get in Our heads, be where we are, appreciate the process, journey and the struggles we will have in choosing the right path. Coming along at the end and being like “Ta-da! Here’s the plan!” won’t work. We want everyone to know the painstaking process of how we got here.”