Cultural Irrelevance

Regular readers of ScottsdaleTrails are well aware of my criticisms of the Scottsdale Cultural Council, a private business with a no-bid, 20-year, $4 million annual “management services agreement” funded by Scottsdale taxpayers. In a previous ST article, I reported the departure of SCC president Bill Banchs.

This morning’s Scottsdale Republic recaps the ‘highlights’ of Mr. Banchs’ tenure, below. I preface by noting that I believe the ticket sales and event attendance numbers are phony, and that there’s never been any serious effort by Mayor Jim Lane or the City Council majority (including former SCC Board of Trustees chair Linda Milhaven) to verify those numbers. In fact, there are no substantive deliverables in the SCC contract to which they can be held accountable anyway. As such, it represents an unconstitutional and illegal subsidy to a private business.

As much as I dislike Mr. Banchs, he’s not the problem and he never has been. The problem is lack of leadership from Mayor Lane and the City Council, and their utter abdication of responsibility to hold the Cultural Council to account for the taxpayer dollars they consume.

Failing in this role, the Mayor and City Council have cemented city government’s complete irrelevance to Scottsdale’s arts and culture. If government is going to be irrelevant in this role, the taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.

No one in the Cultural Council’s leadership has responded to my concerns about this overarching issue.

Cultural Council chief rode out ‘perfect storm’

Efforts leave group well off, Banchs says

By Sonja Haller, The Republic |

Scottsdale Cultural Council President Bill Banchs, often bounded by internal strife and outright public criticism, said he’s leaving the organization in good shape.

Banchs announced his resignation this week. His last day will be Aug. 30. He is relocating to Miami, where he live before coming to Scottsdale 5 1 ⁄ 2 years ago. There he served as the president of the National Foundation for Advance­ment in the Arts. He is not immediately taking another job, but said he had lived in Miami for 28 years and plans to con­sider professional opportunities.

“We had an enormously successful last year and one of the best in the or­ganization.” he said. “I feel like I’ve made a valuable contribution so it seemed like a good time.”

Last fiscal year was a banner one for ticket sales. Earned revenue, which in­cludes ticket sales, was $4 million, up from $2.7 million in 2008-09, when he started.

Banchs, 64, said he came during a “perfect storm” when the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts closed for more than a year for renovation in 2008 and the economy began its slide.

“My entire tenure was during the re­cession, and it took up at least 90 percent of my time,” he said.

But he pointed out that during that time, he had successes. Among them:

  • He said he created efficiencies within the organization. Although the budget, staff and number of events shrank, Cultural Council-sponsored events grew from 100,000 in 2009 to 152,500 in 2012.
  • While comparison numbers won’t be available until the annual report is re­leased in the fall, Banchs said the num­ber of free or low-cost events also has grown during his tenure. Last year, the number of free or low-cost events was 180; this fiscal year is expected to have more.
  • He established a larger, centralized development staff to raise funds for the Cultural Council’s organizations. The dedicated staff is expected to shore up lagging contributed revenue or corporation and private donations, which is only now up to the $2 million it was in 2009. There are now eight staff members, when in early 2012 there were only three.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council oversees the programming and funding for the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Banchs credited the constant support of the board of trustees and the efforts the Cultural Council’s three organizations to provide diverse programming. One of Banchs’ charges when he arrived was to grow a younger audience, and with “cutting-edge” programming, he believes the organization was successful.

“We have rethought and invested in our programming … and that has contributed enormously to attendance and a big jump in ticket sales over the last year,” he said.

During Banchs’ tenure, there were several resignations of advisory board members or leaders within the three organizations. Some of those resignations or retirements followed public or private spats with Banchs.

Bill Heckman, who serves on the Scottsdale Public Art advisory board and has been a member of the Cultural Council’s board of trustees, said Banchs lacked experience with the three operating divisions and failed to empower the heads of those divisions.

He pointed to the departure of three capable directors of the museum, public art and the performing arts center after Banchs’ arrival.

“You have to give them the freedom to do their jobs and Banchs was an overcontroller who wanted things done his way,” Heckman said.

Banchs countered that contrasting opinions were welcome, but after the board of trustees made a decision, it was expected the directives would be carried out.

“You can’t have people who won’t support the direction of the CEO and the organization and have it be a success,” he said.

Paradoxically, Heckman said Banchs’ legacy will be leaving the organization “much stronger than might have been expected.” There is equally capable leadership in director roles now — Scottsdale Performing Arts director Cory Baker, Scottsdale Public Art director Donna Isaac and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art director Tim Rodgers. He also lauded the hiring of Robyn Julien, the vice president of development for the Cultural Council.

Ellen Andres-Schneider, Scottsdale Cultural Council board of trustees chairwoman, said she has called for a meeting of some officers within the board next week.

The group will review documents from the Cultural Council’s human-resources department about choosing an interim president and establishing a national search for a permanent president.

“It’s been six years and we may have to revise some things. We don’t even know if the job description works for the kind of organization we have today,” she said. “I would certainly hope well before the end of this fiscal year (on June 30th), we have someone new in place.”

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