Why it matters

by Jini Stolk

Last week’s Get on Board workshop (October 26, 5:30 – 8 pm at the Textile Museum) was a rare opportunity for members of arts boards to hear directly from a major funder about the importance and impact of good governance.

Claire Hopkinson, Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation Director and CEO, made it very clear that good boards do matter to the financial and administrative viability and overall well-being of the organizations that apply to TAC for funding. In fact, the Creative Champions Network (a TAF initiative that’s presented 5 workshops for arts board members in 2016, following an initial 2014-15 series on Getting the Basics Right) was formed to help board members build their skills, understand their roles and responsibilities, and hear about the most important ways to help their organizations thrive – while sharing challenges, triumphs and good ideas with fellow board members.

As always the room was full and Claire, with panelists David Abel, Michael Wheeler and Michelle Yeung, all speaking from an amazing depth and breadth of experience, offered a full slate of insights and useful advice. From Claire’s presentation:

  • Running an arts organization is challenging and complex: it’s always best when artistic, staff and board leaders are bringing their different skills to the task of making an arts organization thrive
  • There’s a huge variety in size, type, vision and “culture” among Toronto’s arts organizations, and an equally varied number of creative solutions to effective board work: the Toronto Arts Council isn’t looking for a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to governance
  • Good governance isn’t only about the board’s work, but about how the board, artistic and management leaders reinforce and support each other‘s work
  • The best boards pay particular attention to the company’s future and sustainability, providing financial care and oversight, building resources and participating in long term planning

From our panelists during the very lively Q&A:

  • Having short (1- or 2-year) renewable (or not!) ensures that board spots are filled by energetic individuals who love the art, “get” the organization, and contribute in positive ways
  • Boards are especially valuable in building connections with the community, drawing new people closer to the organization
  • Every board member should make an annual donation in an amount that “makes them proud” (isn’t that a wonderful way to think about it?)
  • A board’s role evolves as an organization evolves: many boards start out as hands-on supporters, but take on more policy and advisory responsibilities as the company grows and develops
  • It can be lonely at the top: the best board chairs act as sounding boards for their Artistic or Managing Directors, becoming invaluable partners in problem-solving

Next year’s Creative Champions Get on Board sessions and dates will be announced soon, starting with Diversifying Arts Boards and including Fundraising for Boards 2.0 and Succession Planning. Make sure you’re on the mailing list to receive information about upcoming events by sending a note to Natalie Kaiser natalie@torontoartscouncil.org.

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