Work in progress

“Be bold, be not afraid – change is good.” – arts organization

“We need to figure out who we are, communicate it, and deliver on it.” – staff member

 “We are the most connected organization you’ve never heard of.” – board member

What would move the Santa Cruz arts community from good to great? What are the most important functions of the Cultural Council? If you could give one piece of advice to the Council staff and board, what would it be? These are some of the questions that we’ve been asking the community over the past few months, and boy howdy, did they answer.

As part of our strategic planning process, we held 17 focus groups. We talked with artists, arts organizations, educators, funders, and community members – including those who aren’t very connected to our work. Our purpose was to get a clear sense of how the community views the Cultural Council, what they think of our work, and where they think we should be going. It was fascinating. Some of what we heard was inspiring; some was challenging. None was a huge surprise. Some feedback confirmed some nagging suspicions I’ve had about areas where we are falling short. All of it, collectively, has inspired action – which will play out over the coming months and years.

The quotes at the top of this post came from the sessions. I didn’t sit in on any of them, as I didn’t want my presence to affect any of the feedback. I wanted it to be as candid and honest as possible. Thankfully, this is not a community that holds back. And now we’ve got a host of juicy, unattributed quotes, thoughts, and ideas that are driving me to – finally – boldly take action. I’ve been at this organization for just shy of three years, and that’s plenty long enough to find my footing, learn the culture, and explore the community. Now it’s time to do something and figure out who we want to be in the coming years.

In late July, we held a full-day strategic planning retreat at the lovely Seymour Center. The full staff and board were present, and it was a brilliant day. The best thing about it? People disagreed with one another. They respectfully fought for their positions and passions. They chewed up ideas and spit out new ones. Board and staff members alike challenged and inspired one another. I’ve long said that all I really want from my workplace is to be around people who care deeply about the things I care about, and this was in sharp, beautiful relief during our retreat. There was no mindless group-think; instead, people came at issues from different directions, navigated some choppy waters, and came together at the end with some really fantastic ideas.

All of this was informed by not just the focus group research, but also a detailed competitive analysis of our current environment, a trend analysis, and business model research. This process is as thorough as it is engaging. The most heartening thing to me is that the vision I shared with the board back in January – that of the Council become more service oriented, of it creating raving fans, of doing a better job telling our story, and that we focus on transforming how people value the arts in their lives – is coming to life.

In the coming months, we’ll refine this work, complete the plan, and figure out how to put it into action. From the outset, I wanted to create a planning process that was as or more valuable than the plan itself, and for the plan to be a highly useful means for making great decisions. There are few things more exciting than seeing a vision come to fruition – and that’s where we’re headed.

In the meantime, to get a taste of not just one of our fantastic programs, but also of the way we are learning to talk about what we do, I invite you to learn a little bit about how we are affecting children and youth in this county. Enjoy!

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