Local Heroes (Janet's Blog)

(9-8-2010) Although I was flattered and my kids wrote they were proud of me on their Facebook pages (this is the greatest accomplishment for parents these days), I had to smile at the irony of Barry’s Blog about the 2010 most influential nonprofit arts administrators. Most of the top ten folks work for national organizations or have national agendas or constituencies. They all work hard and all have great passion (this writer included.) Everyone on the list deserves credit for his/her dedication, vision and ability to get stuff done. And for most, the nature of their organization makes them influential (writer included.)

Without demeaning the work that we do on the national level which has its own fast paced adventures juxtaposed with slowly moving barges, I believe the heroes of the nonprofit sector are those people working at the local level. Whether it’s a local or county arts agency, a theatre, dance company, museum, opera, or festival, these are the people who make it happen. They are the ones that produce art, support artists, advocate in their towns, rally supporters and donors and educate children. They are the ones we all want to succeed. They may not be nationally influential but they are the heroes.

The challenge on the local level is the implementation of vision and the sustainability of creative programming, good financial management and strong marketing. These challenges are compounded by local politics, both social and governmental, a barrage of meetings including their own boards, committees, community groups, political hearings and competition for entertainment dollars and audience time. There are gifted professional managers and administrators working in the field today who understand how to keep all these plates spinning. Many of them are on Barry’s list and there are tons more doing a great job making the arts relevant in their communities and supporting an infrastructure to keep artists employed.

Then there are the thousands and thousands of volunteers running organizations that can’t afford to employ staff in small communities and neighborhoods throughout America. To me, they are the real unsung heroes. They do the work, not because it’s a profession and they are making a living but just because they believe in it. For years, I ran a statewide association for local arts organizations in a rural state. I witnessed first hand the incredible determination of arts enthusiasts to present, produce and exhibit in school gyms, community centers, renovated theatres and gallery spaces. Their devotion was inspiring and their hard work was rewarded with community involvement and appreciation. I was continually in awe of them.

It’s nice to be recognized for what one has done or most likely in my case, what people think one might be capable of doing. But the administrators (paid and unpaid) that support artists and make artistic events happen in counties, cities and towns across this country are number one in my book.