Questions from the floor

by Jini Stolk

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the energy of the arts board members attending my workshops on The Art of Good Governance: Getting the Basics Right. The Get on Board project, a partnership betweenthe Toronto Arts Foundation and Business for the Arts, is clearly meeting a need: our board members are eager to learn and engage in discussion about their important work.

Many people had questions during the workshop about the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations act: the best summary of what we can expect with ONCA is on the ONN’s website here.

One attender sent a welcome note following last week’s workshop at the North York Centre for the Arts, pointing out that I hadn’t mentioned some absolutely basic board responsibilities such as attending meetings, reading the agenda and materials beforehand, asking questions about issues you don’t understand, donating to your organization, and going to its shows and events. So very true. I shouldn’t take these things for granted.

He included among these basic requirements that board members should maintain confidentiality about board and organization matters, and support a united board position outside of meetings. In fact, I’ve been wanting to write about this very issue.

It struck me that the Globe and Mail’s detailed article about the decision by the Royal Ontario Museum’s CEO to leave before the end of her contract, was based in part on interviews which certainly breached the confidentiality of the boardroom.

That and the sexist undertones to the resulting article – which many other people noticed and have mentioned – rubbed me the wrong way.

Although I don’t know anything about the inner workings of the ROM, it seems inevitable that anyone leading the museum – even if they were male and an experienced “networker in Toronto society” – would face significant challenges following its renovation, including increased operating and maintenance costs, a dearth of good exhibition space, and inflated post-reno audience projections.

The ROM as a whole can’t be pleased that internal board dissatisfactions have hit the news. They look bad on the institution, and could discourage people “from away,” with fresh perspectives and ideas (particularly about the necessary task of making sure the ROM is seen as contemporary and relevant, to apply for the job.

Which are two of the major reasons why board confidentiality is a must for any arts organization.

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