United Arts Council chief looks back, ahead

Jeanie Duncan
Jeanie Duncan

Todd  Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 1996, when Jeanie Duncan joined United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro as director of development, the group raised $800,000.

In 2008, the group raised a record-high $1.62 million.

Now, as she prepares to step down after 12 years at United Arts Council, including six as president and CEO, Duncan sees big challenges and opportunities for the organization and arts in the region.

Priorities, she says, include cultivating increased financial support for the arts, especially in the recession, and building “greater awareness and understanding of the
power of the arts to grow a more vibrant community.”

A third priority, she says, will be to continue to use the new grants-investment model the council launched this year that ties funding for arts groups and artists to the organization’s key areas of focus.

Those include educating young people through the arts, engaging and connecting the region’s diverse population to the arts, and positioning Greensboro as a cultural destination.

Raising money for the arts is tough because resources are more scarce in the recession, and “people and companies are not as free about giving of their financial
resources,” she says.

“We have to do a better job as an arts industry of telling our story about how important the arts are and what a powerful force the arts are to addressing many community
issues, like education and health and well-being,” she says.

Raising awareness of the arts, Duncan says, will help the council raise more money so it can make more grants to arts groups and artists using its new grants-investment model that focuses on the organization’s priorities.

“We need to be open to investing our dollars in every corner of the community where these priorities can be advanced,” she says. “It opens us up to serving a lot more
people and diverse populations in Greensboro.”

In addition to increasing annual funding for the arts, Duncan helped United Arts Council raise over $200,000 from 1998 to 2000 to establish an endowment, including a matching grant from the Cemala Foundation, and raise private funds to eliminate a $300,000 deficit that accumulated from 2002 to 2004.

Duncan, a Greensboro native who graduated from UNC-Greensboro, says she is stepping down Nov. 30 because she has accomplished what she set out to do at United Arts

Once she leaves the council, she says, she will take some time to think about to do next and apply the lessons she has learned to a cause she cares about.

Key lessons she has learned, she says, are to “do the right thing” and recognize “you’re not going to please everyone;” keep “the main thing the main thing” and stick to priorities; and focus on relationships.

“In the nonprofit sector,” she says, “we accomplish things through people, and through understanding how to work with a broad range of different people and move toward
a common goal.”

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