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.”

Arts used as tool to improve graduation rate

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ninety-six percent of students enrolled in the National Center for Arts & Technology at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Bidwell Corporation graduate from high school, and 89 percent go on to higher education.

Based on the Pittsburgh model, the Arts & Science Council in Charlotte has teamed with Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to launch Studio 345, a free after-school program that aims to improve the graduation rate in the county by incorporating the arts in a studio setting into all subjects in the curriculum.

The program aims this school year to enroll at least 100 high school students in the county, where two-thirds of students are at risk of dropping out.

“We believe the arts can motivate students, open the door for students in ways that traditional classroom discussion doesn’t always do,” says Barbara Ann Temple, vice president for education at the Arts & Science Council.

At two studios it has set up at Spirit Square, including one for digital photography and one for digital media art, the Arts & Science Council will be providing four 10-week courses three times a year.

Each course meets two days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and students also meet during those hours on Fridays, either to work on their own studio projects, visit the other studio classes to see what their peers are doing, or visit with artists and see exhibits at locales like McColl Center for Visual Art.

Mecklenburg County is investing $350,000 in the program this fiscal year, and the Arts & Science Council is raising $350,000 from private sources, and already has secured $150,000 in verbal commitments, says Krista Terrell, vice president for public relations and communications.

The Council also has reserved 15 spots for clients of the the juvenile court system and 20 spots for students from West Charlotte High School, a school in Project L.I.F.T., an effort that aims to raise $55 million in private funds to improve schools in West Charlotte. And the Charlotte Area Transit System will provide transportation vouchers for students to travel from their high school to Spirit Square.

Temple says the Arts & Science Council began meeting last spring with guidance counselors at every high school and middle school in the county, and with Communities in Schools of Mecklenburg County, to identify at-risk students who might benefit from the program.

And in September, she and 12 other Studio 345 representatives visited all 20 high schools during lunch to distribute brochures about the program and talk to students.

Nearly 100 students attended an orientation session on September 20, and the program received nearly 130 requests to enroll.

“The studio approach to learning completely turns its back to a factory approach to learning” that is based on a measuring students by standardized, multiple-choice tests, says Temple, who joined the agency a year ago after working for 18 years for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a high school English teacher, national board specialist, and director of teacher professional development.

In 2007, while working for the school system, she received a doctorate from UNC-Charlotte in urban education, with an emphasis on literacy writing, and wrote her dissertation on creating studios of literacy learning through the arts.

She also is inviting teachers to observe the Studio 345 classes, and will be offering courses for teachers from “any classroom, any grade, any subject” that will “show them how they can transform their classrooms into studios of learning.”

Studio 345, she says, “will provide an opportunity for kids to have experiential learning opportunities in the arts, science, history and other subjects integrated within the curriculum.”