Cultural Council Reinvention (or not)

This appeared in yesterday’s Scottsdale Republic

Cultural Council celebrates past, looks to future

By Sonja Haller, The Republic |

People may not know what it does or who runs it, but the Scottsdale Cultural Council has reached a milestone that in the unstable world of the arts is worth celebrating.

The Cultural Council is observing 25 years since its first season next month. Invited to a reception Wednesday, Dec. 18, on the theater stage inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts are more than 100 current and former Cultural Council board members and those who have supported its three institutions — the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Public Art and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Interim Cultural Council President Dick Hayslip said as the entity seeks only its third president, it’s time to renew and strengthen relationships.

“It was our view that we ought not lose touch with the past and the great history of this organization,” Hayslip said. “A lot of past board members have been civic leaders and important to this community, and we need to maintain a relationship with them.”

Ellen Andres-Schneider, chairwoman of the Cultural Council board, said in the wake of the resignation of its president and CEO in August that the group intends to improve communication with its primary client — the city of Scottsdale.

“I believe we always wanted it to be a better partnership,” she said. “We want to make sure our relationship is built upon.”

Andres-Schneider said there will be more face-to-face meetings among herself and Hayslip, the mayor and City Council members, and more frequent paperwork to city staff members updating them on Cultural Council affairs.

The Cultural Council receives about 40 percent of its $10 million budget, or $4.25 million, from the city.

It’s a move the city welcomes.

Scottsdale has a long-term contract with the Cultural Council. Many of its activities fall outside the conditions and terms of the contract yet are important to a community that sees arts and culture as an economic-development component.

“We talk a great deal about qualifying and quantifying the resources of the Cultural Council,” said Rob Millar, strategic programs manager in Scottsdale’s Economic Vitality Department. “It’s just important for everyone to be aware of all the activities going on, to discuss, here’s where your tax dollars are going and to give us feedback.”

Former Cultural Council President and CEO Bill Banchs’ 4-1 ⁄ 2-year tenure co­incided with an economic downturn that pinched fundraising but also was punctuated by infighting and public criticism.

Andres-Schneider said the mood among staff is optimistic. “It’s amazing how positive people are. There’s a definite lift in staff morale.”

The Cultural Council this week narrowed the number of search firms that responded to a request for proposals so that one or more can be hired to conduct a search for a new president and CEO. The board hopes a new hire will be in place by July.

Banchs was a proponent of changing the name from the Scottsdale Cultural Council, citing difficulty with fundrais­ing because of a lack of awareness about the organization.

An informal telephone survey conducted in October 2012 found that only 46 percent of Scottsdale residents and 11 percent of those outside Scottsdale knew the Cultural Council by name. Only half of those who had heard of the organization knew what it did.

But the decision was made recently to back off a potential name change and to instead promote its three organizations, which do enjoy name recognition.

The name may not be sexy, but Cultural Council leaders say it ultimately will be judged by the quality and diversity of its programming and a public that feels good about it and supports it.

The Cultural Council has been criti­cized over its 2-1 ⁄2 decades for its programming choices, public-art statuary, transparency and the salary paid to Banchs — $212,000, according to tax rec­ords.

But the council’s original director for 18 years, Frank Jacobson, said criticism is unavoidable.

“In art, not everything is going to be safe,” said Jacobson, who retired as head of the council in 2006 and is now vice president of marketing and develop­ment for Jewish Family and Children’s Service.

“It will never get out of the realm of politics, that’s the nature of art in a city,” he said. “That’s one reason why in the early days they (the city) decided to have a private group, to distance itself from the politics.”

The Cultural Council began because of a lack of confidence in another previ­ous art program, which received some city funds.

The private, non-profit Scottsdale Cultural Council took control of the city’s public-art programs and facilities in 1987-88 and planned its first season in 1988-89. The change marked the end of the non-profit Scottsdale Arts Center Association, which merged with the Cultural Council after running into its own divisiveness and concerns about handling of city money.

Former state Sen. Carolyn Allen, who served on the Scottsdale Arts Center Association as director at that time and now serves on the Scottsdale Public Art advisory board, recalled some disgruntled art supporters when the new organization took over.

Allen said it landed a good executive director in Jacobson, however, and while some people were relieved to see Banchs move on, he left the organization in good shape after an extreme economic dip by bolstering the number of fundraisers to eight from two.

Allen said at times the organization can seem unwieldy with three divisions, directors of those divisions, advisory boards for those divisions, an ultimate and growing Cultural Council board of trustees and a CEO over all of them. “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians,” Allen said.

Jacobson and current Cultural Council leaders, however, say that while it can be a challenge during budget time in terms of resources, it’s also the organization’s strength. Having leaders who specialize in a chosen field, whether contemporary art, public art or performing art, has led to the council’s greatest points of pride. Among them: the opening 14 years ago of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary, Pima Freeway art along Loop 101 and showcasing not-yet-discovered talent, like Vince Gill, before they were well known.

Andres-Schneider recalled the booking of a name for its 2001 annual gala she had never heard of because Kristen Chenoweth had not become a star on Broadway for “Wicked” or TV’s “Glee.”

“We have a history of you-saw-it-here first,” Andres-Schneider said.


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  1. Scottdale was Corky Siegel’s best venue since the University of Illinois in 1974. Maybe the Cultural Council will book John Prine and pay me $200,000 as a consultant. 25 years of incompetence and we still give them millions?

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