Program trains future members of cultural boards

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly a decade ago, Charlotte cultural organizations were concerned about finding the next generation of volunteer leaders.

“The market was changing,” says Katherine Mooring, vice president for culture & community investment at the Arts & Science Council.

While local industry was attracting newcomers and new talent, “people were starting to recycle through arts organizations, with the same faces popping up all the time in board roles,” she says. “We were missing an opportunity to engage some new fresh talent.”

So, building on efforts in cities such as Boston and Portland, Ore., the Council launched a program to prepare people to serve on boards.

Launched in 2005, the nine-month program completed its eighth class, bringing its total graduates to roughly 240.

Classes meet once a month for three-and-a-half hours, with the initial class taking a broad look at the history, breadth and dynamics of the region’s cultural community, with each subsequent class focusing on both an aspect of board service and a particular arts discipline.

Board topics range from legal responsibilities, governance and board-staff relations to finance, fundraising and advocacy.

And each meeting is held at a different cultural organization, giving class members an opportunity to get a first-hand, hands-on look at a broad mix of cultural activities, such as visual arts, performing arts, music, theater and dance.

Students, for example, get a chance to play a child’s Suzuki violin, perform a scene from a Shakespeare play, and create a line drawing of a dance movement and then perform it.

“It’s fun but it also makes it really memorable and awakens in them passion and ideas and energies maybe they haven’t tapped into, and connects them with what the arts really can do,” Mooring says.

Sheila Mullen, chief empowerment officer at Continuous Motion Consulting, graduated from the program in 2008, when she was a senior software account manager at IBM.

“It was alike getting a backstage pass to all the cultural arts programs in town,” says Mullen, who joined the board of the McColl Center for Visual Art when she completed the program and is about to begin a term as board chair. “I was well-prepared to be a board member, and knew what my roles and responsibilities were.”

Taylor Barden, an associate vice president at Morgan Stanley, a board member at the Charlotte Symphony and chair of the committee of alumni of the program who select each new class, says the program helps class members see “how arts organizations can work together” for the benefit of the community.

And Jami Farris, a partner at law firm Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein, says the program connects class members to one another and to cultural and community leaders, making it easier to cooperate and serve as advocates for their own organizations and the arts overall.

And she learned how to be an effective board member, she says.

“If you’ve never been on a board,” she says, “you can hit the ground running.”

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