Ohio Arts Council Conference

Photography by Shane Wynn
Credit: Ohio Arts Council’s Arts Impact event

It’s been a while since I’ve attended a conference, and never have attended an arts conference before, but let me tell you about my attendance at the Ohio Arts Council’s ‘Arts Impact 2022.’ As the new Director of Finance for ArtsNow, this was a great opportunity to get up to speed on the recent history and the current happenings of art in Ohio. 

I arrived at the John S. Knight Center early Wednesday, October 5, and it was wonderfully laid out. I took my seat at a table with my coworker, Dara Harper. We spent the breakfast hour having coffee and waving and greeting the people that we knew. 

It was time for the opening kickoff and plenary entitled, “The Akron Cultural Plan: The Impetus, the Process, and the Outcomes.” I was looking forward to this since it would give a greater story and background to what I’m currently doing and will do. It was fascinating to hear about the background of the Akron Cultural Plan and how it was created. Doug Piekarz, the Director of the Akron Zoo was so passionate about not only arts and culture but also inclusivity. His passion and energy really went out around the crowd. 

Photography by Shane Wynn

I headed off to the first seminar entitled, “Plentiful Workshop: Reasons to Return: Building Donor Retention” led by Carey Schmitt of Plentiful, LLC. As a financial professional, I was particularly interested in this workshop. It also sparked my interest because of my involvement with other nonprofit organizations. 

This seminar was wonderful. It was interesting to see the percentage of drop-off from first-year donors. I also found it interesting that if you can get a donor past the first year, they are more likely to give an additional amount in future years. The average dollar spent to get a first-time donor was also eye-opening. No easy answers here, but a lot of very good information to think over. 

Scott Woods’s presentation “Getting Past the Brochure: Developing More Meaningful Culture-Facing Arts Organizations” was riveting. I’m so impressed by how open and honest he was. He encouraged me to think about things that I have never thought about before. Woods’s speech was about diversity, words, and how actions don’t always match up with words. He spoke about how diversity (to a lot of black artists) is nothing but lip service. Something is to be said and mentioned, but the actions don’t line up with the words. And how Black artists aren’t being hired or considered for jobs that reflect diversity and inclusivity. If you want to speak honestly about diversity and inclusivity, you have to let people who don’t look like you into the room and let them speak. These are powerful, powerful words and words that need to be expressed and talked about in 2022.

Next, I attended “Healing Through the Liminal Space” by Barbara Fant. This was by far my favorite seminar that I attended throughout the conference. To start, she is a wonderful and accomplished poet. To hear her share everything that she’s been through over the last two years was inspiring. As someone who’s had their share of life changes over the last two years, it was just such a powerful and positive space. In the end, she did turn it into a short-form writing seminar, which for someone who hasn’t been to one in eighteen years, was incredibly powerful. I bought her book of poetry, “Mouths of Garden.” I cannot speak more highly of this seminar or Barbara Fant. 

Next was a very interesting feature. Each table had the opportunity to write down an idea for a seminar. They would put the different options up during lunch and we could vote. Each of us had two stickers in our nametag to vote on a panel. I voted for financial modeling, personally, but that wasn’t one of the options, so I went to a seminar on small staffs. I wanted to get more of an idea about what small staff work culture was going to be like. There was no question or answer section, but more of a roundtable discussion by the attendants of their experiences and questions. It was great to hear people share these personal experiences. 

The evening reception was held at the Akron Civic Theatre. This was my first time visiting the actual theatre. I visited the administrative offices just a few weeks prior. They were lovely, but the theatre was so enchanting and wonderful. To this day, walking into a theatre, especially one all lit up, is a magical experience for me. I liked being able to explore the whole theatre and get to see almost every nook and cranny. I was able to participate in some great discussions, meet new colleagues, and find out more about their organizations. 

Day two started with the keynote presentation “The GAME of Innovation” by David Cutler and Lance LaDuke. Just outstanding. It was a presentation that combined strategic planning with playing a game. And as someone who has a large board game collection, this was right up my alley. Creating a work environment that allows everyone to speak their peace while encouraging ideas, is what their system does. I thought the two individuals presenting, David Cutler and Lance LaDuke, were very engaging and excellent presenters. It was fast, funny, and kept very loose. I’m eager to put their theory into practice. 

After the keynote presentation, I attended the seminar “Budgeting for Bronze: Understanding Design and Maintenance Needs in Public Art,” by Lindsay Jones from Blind Eye Restoration LLC. This was a fascinating seminar on several topics that I’d never even considered before when it comes to public art. The need for maintenance, upkeep, and even the line item in which to take the art down were all points I had not thought of before. Before this seminar, I had not even heard of a warranty for public art. I took a lot of valuable lessons and things to keep in mind from this seminar. 

Lunch on day two was a discussion between Howard Parr of the Akron Civic Theatre and Janus Small of Janus Small Associates “Seeing the Forest for the Trees: How Big Picture Ideas Make Successful Succession Planning. It was obvious right from the start that these two knew each other and were comfortable with each other. They were able to walk through the strategic planning that had been done for the Akron Civic Theatre that continues to this day. It was an honest discussion about what led to their success so far and what will hopefully lead to more success for them going forward. 

At this point, I, unfortunately, needed to leave the conference for a meeting.. When I returned it was just in time for the last session of the conference and creative reflections. I attended “Statewide Arts Service Organizations: Overview and Resources.” I took a lot away from this session, especially knowing that I’m coming in with limited working knowledge of the arts community in Ohio. This session had presentations that were made by Art Possible Ohio, OhioDance, Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, Ohio Arts Professionals Network, and Heritage Ohio. It was great to get a better understanding of the different types of organizations out there and what they do. 

Finally, it was time for the conclusion and creative reflections. David Hassler of the Wick Poetry Center had been collecting words and experiences from the conference attendees through his Traveling Stanzas Poetry Makerspace. This was very impressive as they had parked an entire RV in the John S. Knight Center. This was a space to collectively accumulate experiences, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs from the conference attendees and then share them. With the sun coming in behind them, they performed a powerful choral reading of everything in the rotunda. It was a great way to end the conference. 

Photography by Shane Wynn

All in all, I do not have enough kind words to convey how wonderful this conference was. This by far tops any convention I’ve ever attended before. It was full of new colleagues to meet and was a veritable marketplace of ideas and suggestions. I am looking forward to working with the individuals I met here in the future. It was just nice to see so many people who believe in the arts with everything and who are working so hard to make it better for all people.