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Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins and Ohio Arts Council Board Member Neal Zimmers at the 2019 National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Leadership Institute. Photo by Billie Zimmers

Learning, Listening, and Leading: A Few Takeaways from the NASAA Leadership Institute

Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins (left) with OAC Deputy Director Dan Katona, OAC Board Member Neal Zimmers, and his wife, Billie Zimmers, at the 2019 National Assembly of State Arts Agencies  Leadership Institute in Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Billie ZimmersLast week, I had the privilege to attend the 2019 Leadership Institute hosted by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. This biennial institute brings executive directors, deputy directors, and board members together to focus on the work and impact our state arts agencies have on individuals and communities. Together with Ohio Arts Council Board Member Neal Zimmers and OAC Deputy Director Dan Katona, I participated in two jam-packed days of work sessions, panel discussions, plenary sessions, and arts experiences.

To follow are a few of my takeaways from the experience:

We are fortunate in Ohio to have bipartisan support for the arts from the governor and Ohio legislature.
This biennium we have historic funding at $34.5 million for arts and culture. These funds are distributed across all of Ohio’s 88 counties, an important step toward the fulfillment of the agency’s ongoing commitment to bringing the transformative power of the arts to all Ohioans. Over the past two biennia, we have been able to directly fund arts and culture initiatives in every single Ohio county, and earlier this year, we celebrated the awarding of 743 grants supporting Ohio artists, organizations, students, educators, and public arts programming during the agency’s initial and major state fiscal year 2020 funding round. Looking forward to the year ahead, we’re eager to continue supporting artists, arts organizations, and nonprofits who work so hard to deliver impactful arts experiences that strengthen communities culturally, educationally, and economically.

State arts agencies play an important role in achieving greater equity in grantmaking.
For as long as I can remember, the Ohio Arts Council has held public panel meetings “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This past spring we hosted 22 separate in-person panel meetings comprising 160 panelists who reviewed grant applications for FY 2020. Our panelists came from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations, they represented a variety of races and ethnicities, and there was a wide range of ages among the groups. We know that Ohio’s panel process is designed to be fair, equitable, responsive, and inclusive. We always have more work to do for improvement, and we’re counting on you to help us by nominating panelists and participating in the process yourself. Curious to learn more? You can start by engaging in panel meetings as an audience member.

Inclusive leadership means hearing and being open to new ideas from diverse voices.
Inclusive leadership isn’t passive. It is, in broad terms, the ability to create, be grounded, think, and act. Inclusive leadership provides space for all voices, a diversity of styles, an openness to try something new, and understanding from multiple perspectives. It is also intentional and empathetic.

In the spirit of bringing new voices and viewpoints to the table, the Ohio Arts Council recently tried something new. For the first time in the agency’s history, four Ohio high school students co-curated an exhibition at the OAC’s Riffe Gallery. The experience of putting together Natural Expressions: A Student Curated Exhibition provided young people, a professional curator, and more than a dozen Ohio artists the opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively to present an exceptional exhibition. Stop by to see it before it closes on Oct. 19!

Creative aging is an issue we should all be concerned about.
Did you know that Ohio was among the first state arts agencies to have a focus on creative aging? Recognizing the benefits of lifelong learning in the arts, we did quite a bit of work to better understand how our resources could support projects led by artists in places where seniors live, gather, and, in some instances, are cared for.

Ohio continues to support arts opportunities that improve the lives and well-being of older adults. From recording traditional family recipes and histories in an aural cookbook to bringing dance programs into community centers, there are fantastic projects engaging audiences happening throughout the state. We know our investment in this important work goes beyond the seniors; it also supports caregivers, activity directors, and family members.

As you go about the coming months and participate in conferences and workshops, I hope you’ll take the time to reflect on your own takeaways from these experiences. Drop me an email and let me know what you’re learning about, what’s missing from those experiences so that we might help in future learning opportunities, and most importantly, what you are inspired to do to enhance and improve our ability to support arts and culture for all Ohioans.

Until next time,

Donna S. Collins signature

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured photo: Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins and Ohio Arts Council Board Member Neal Zimmers at the 2019 National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Leadership Institute (Photo by Billie Zimmers)

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