Arts council training cultural leaders

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Britt Mendoza and Elaine Hunter were looking for ways to support the arts.

Mendoza, a manager in the Charlotte office of accounting firm KPMG, had taken piano and violin lessons as child, and performed music through college, but lost touch with the arts after earning a master’s degree in accounting.

Hunter, assistant general counsel at Bank of America, had enjoyed drawing and painting as a child, taken art and drama courses in college, and enrolled her young children in arts programs.

In May, the two were among 29 graduates of the inaugural class of a cultural leadership program at the Arts & Science Council.

For their post-graduate work, Mendoza will serve as an apprentice board member at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and Hunter will serve on the board of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

The leadership program “deepened my understanding of the Charlotte cultural community as a whole,” Mendoza says, and showed him the range of opportunities to enjoy and take part in “how the arts enrich the community.”

The council launched the program to address what it saw as a growing need among cultural groups for board members who understood the cultural community and its interaction with the larger community, says Robert Bush, senior vice president of planning, programs and services.

Consisting of monthly three-hour sessions for nine months, the program began with an overview of Charlotte’s cultural system and the council, which raises money and provides operating support for 25 affiliate organizations.

Two sessions focused on “boardsmanship,” including board members’ roles, responsibilities and fiduciary duties, and five sessions looked at topics in performing arts, visual arts, arts education, history and science, and included visits to different groups, discussions with their board and staff leaders, and hands-on activities.

The session on performing arts, for example, included a backstage tour of the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, a panel discussion with executive directors and board leaders from performing-arts groups, and a rehearsal of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Homework assignments included attending cultural events and board meetings, and reporting back to the class, and a final session examined censorship and “founder’s syndrome,” or founding executive directors’ tendency to overpower boards.

All graduates will serve as members or apprentice members of cultural groups’ boards, including three who will serve on the council’s board.

Mendoza and Hunter both say the class prepared them to serve on boards, and showed them the critical role culture plays in the community and its economy.

And Hunter says she can apply lessons about the inclusive and collaborative nature of nonprofit work to her own job.

“You can’t focus on one aspect of reaching a goal,” she says. “You have to bring in other people and consider other people, and that is going to help me in other areas of my life.”

The next class begins Sept. 21.

“Board members are stewards for the community of these cultural treasures,” says Bush. “Having highly skilled boards is critical for the success of the cultural system.”

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