Judging from comments made at the close of BC Arts Sustainability Semesters, a workshop held in Williams Lake Sept. 24 and 25, participants found the exercise helpful and inspiring.
The ArtsBC-sponsored workshop, co-hosted by the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society, drew a dozen participants from the region and two from Prince Rupert.
Those who attended the session spent a day and a half learning about the field of non-profit arts and culture.
Participants were encouraged to look at governance, planning, skill management, the lifecycle of their particular organization, and offered suggestions on ways to improve financial management, reporting, planning and proposal writing.
In a final exercise, each group set new goals and developed plans that will contribute to their organization’s sustainability.
“It is the best thing I’ve attended since 1969,” Museum of the Cariboo-Chilcotin president Sheila Wyse told facilitators Lori Baxter and Sandra Thompson.
Wyse, who has been volunteering for various community organizations since she arrived in the Cariboo, said she was leaving the workshop equipped with tools she can use either in little or in big bits.
Arianne Loranger-Saindon, a new board member with the Prince Rupert Community Arts Council, who has never been on a board before, echoed Wyse’s sentiments.
“This workshop has given me the vocabulary to ask the right questions and be more effective. I’m feeling motivation and energy because the instructors were so energetic and made it look feasible,” Loranger-Saindon said.
The only person weighing in with disappointment was CCACS board member Graham Kelsey, who said his complaint was that five more participants hadn’t signed up to take the workshop.
“You got 21 in Princeton and 14 here. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the trouble people have recruiting board members or that it coincided with something else going on. I think there’s an optimum size for these types of things and this group was almost there,” Kelsey said.
On Saturday evening during a reception held at the Station House Gallery, Thompson said her role in the workshops is to encourage groups to glean from the knowledge of other groups and determine how to create effective boards.
“People know these things and they think about them, but often don’t turn them into action. We’re finding that groups are starting up and they don’t know that there are groups that already exist that they can connect with so they don’t have to start from scratch.”
For her part, Baxter discusses financial management and fund development, and said again it’s about reminding people about best practices.
“Sometimes people don’t think about common sense things they could do to make life a lot easier,” Baxter said.
For example, she added, when groups go after funding for a project, they may think they know the project so well, but may not know how to communicate about it effectively.
When it comes to financial statements, Baxter has often noticed people become scared of numbers and back away.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option for board members because every single person on a board has a responsibility to understand them.
“A lot of boards will think if they’ve got a treasurer, then the treasurer will look after the finances, but that’s not good enough,” Baxter said, adding that changes can be made so that financial statements are easier to understand.
ArtsBC is offering the workshops to communities around the province and Leah Selk, co-ordinator of the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society, said she approached her board and suggested they co-host one.
“It’s been hugely beneficial to all the groups and for my own position. You’ve given me information I can pass on to groups that are struggling,” Selk told the facilitators.
Support funding for the workshops has come from the BC Arts Council and Department of Canadian Heritage, which ensures there’s no charge to participants, while the BC Touring Council and Centre for Sustainability have been advising partners.
“The funders are funding this because they see that things aren’t changing,” Thompson said.
All of the participants will follow up with conference calls as a group and one-on-one help with project ideas generated during the workshops.