Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arts Council Dumps Staff; Becomes All-Volunteer

My friend Rhonda Morgan and her staff will leave Arts Council
Once again a lack of money is having an impact on the arts in the region. Earlier this week, the Taubman Museum of Art--the biggest of the big in regional arts--announced it would get supplementary support from its deep-pocket board of directors. Now the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, one of the most significant supporters of visual arts, has decided to become an all-volunteer organization, jettisoning its professional staff.

According to a press release from the Arts Council: "Over the next month, the volunteer-lead Arts Council will carefully examine its current programs and services as well as assessing future funding options to help address the key programs/services provided to the arts and cultural community in the region."

The release says, "The board regretfully has made the decision to release the current staff while funding opportunities are pursued. The board is extremely grateful to the staff who have all worked tirelessly to uplift the mission of the Arts Council and provide necessary services to the community in light of these difficult economic times." The director of the Arts Council, Rhonda Morgan, has made significant progress with the programs, but money has always  been a problem for the council.

Rhonda is a close friend of mine and it's hard to be neutral about this, but the Arts Council has never been known for the strength of its boards. I was a member for a short while, but left, frustrated that there was little leadership, no vision and no idea how to escape the morass that the council found itself in. Rhonda was a breath of fresh air, but now that has become smelly hot air, I'm afraid. My guess is that life is seeping out of the Arts Council and that its advocacy will be but a whimper in the future.

Board memberVern Danielsen will serve as Interim executive director, handling the day-to-day activities of the Council and will work with the board in planning. Arts Council President Wayne Strickland says, "Vern has worked in this region for several decades and has a commitment to ensuring the arts and cultural organizations in the region thrive in the future.”

For 36 years, according to the release, the Arts Council has been a significant voice for arts and cultural organizations in the region as well as support the work of individual artists. Some of the important projects the Council has undertaken over the years include:
  • Preparation of Blueprint 2000 (a guide for arts and cultural organizations on working collaboratively to promote the arts in the region and assessing alternative funding opportunities)
  • Sponsoring legislative meetings with State and local officials to advocate for arts and cultural organizations
  • Conducting economic impact analyses of the arts and culture in the region to highlight its economic importance
  • Establishing Roanoke Youth Arts Connections
  • Pursuing its signature events – the Kendig Awards and Downtown Living
  • Establishment of the GAP program (a donor sponsored program which provided grants to individual artists)
  • Developing a comprehensive Arts and Cultural Calendar
  • International Cultural Exchanges


  1. Well they have given me a reason to with draw support for them. Rhonda is the best thing that has happened to this failing org. What is this shake up in Roanoke about, 1st River is basically forced out, Than they Fire David, Sean quits, and now they are forcing a really caring and smart person out. What's up? Do you all really want to fail. Seems like to me

  2. Sad to hear this news, Dan, and even sadder that the leadership in Roanoke who so desire to rise as a phoenix of the south have such little vision, which requires investment in people and consistency of purpose... sad ;-(

  3. Remember that Morgan Griffith and the Virginia Republicans started killing arts organizations years ago when they began removing financial support for them. It's sad, but the locals have tried. The state hasn't and that's a Republican problem.

  4. That loud sucking sound you hear?

    The Taubman Museum’s annual operating budget (around $3.5 million) requires annual donations of at least $2.5 million which is more than one third – more than one third! – the total amount donated to the United Way from the whole Roanoke Valley last year ($6.2 million).

    Let that sink in as you consider the museum’s fate, viability, and place in the big scheme of things.

    Chris VanCantfort

  5. Sad, indeed, for those relying upon administrative jobs in "fine" art.

    It seems to be a time for "survival of the fittest"

    The question now should be: How do we define fitness in the world of fine arts? I think creativity is a part of the answer. I don't think government has an answer.

  6. Please don't digress to an evaluation of my response as being a political position!!!

  7. The Virginia Museum of Art has flourished for years from governmental support on the state level without compromising artistic values. Local art centers, however, became severely diluted by local opinion and judgement. I'm not sure how they achieved their success utilizing public funds, but they have. Perhaps because they have remained a step removed from their local funding sources.
    Local artists are not necessarily a positive resource for promoting their own work. Ironically, they can be a hindrance.

  8. Our most successful ventures as a community have been a result of celebrating who we are and those things unique to our community.
    Forty years ago, the Roanoke Fine Arts Center, with out direct governmental support was one of the most effective contributors to our cultural community. at that time the most burning desire of our board was to expand our experiences with the arts to an even larger segment of our community. The Science museum was borne of that enthusiasm. Completely "grass roots"
    There's even more. I should post this on my blog.

  9. Dan, I apologize for "spamming" your blog with my opinions, however, I believe we are in crises times, particularly as related to the arts & creative/critical thinking.
    Far too many of us have been coerced into partisan mentalities, which I believe is counter-productive.

  10. Eldon: Your opinions are never spam; they are well-thought, reasoned and reasonable. I don't always agree with you, but I always want to hear what you have to say. You influence me. You know how I feel about this issue, so I won't belabor it. Thank you for the responses.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.